Actor Ananda Everingham takes small screen viewers on a gustatory exploration of the Thai capital
Savour Bangkok’s melting pot of culture, traditions and modernity with Ananda Everingham and discover the vibrant flavours of Asia’s leading culinary hub in Life Inspired’s new original series, “Taste Bangkok”, which premieres on Sunday.
The series follows Ananda as he samples traditional Thai cuisine from top Bangkok restaurants like Nahm, before moving on to progressive Thai cuisine at Issaya Siamese Club. Bangkok’s formidable array of international traditional and progressive cuisine are also highlighted through award-winning, fine-dining establishments such as L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Gaggan and trends in international cuisine as seen through the eyes of world-acclaimed chefs choosing to live and cook in Bangkok are explored.
The two-part food travelogue produced in collaboration with the Tourism Authority Of Thailand (TAT) aims to highlight Bangkok’s gastronomic scene and the traditional, progressive and fusion cuisines that are inspired by Thailand’s food culture and which are elevated into elegant dishes in the city’s finest establishments.
We sat down with Ananda, who is also producing the series, for a chat about the show.
How did you get involved in the programme?
I was initially involved in the project as producer and scriptwriter. I’ve never been a TV host and it was not really my thing so I offered suggestions on who should be the host of the programme. But in the end it was agreed that I would host and provide some insights to the programme, too. So here you go – my debut as a TV host.
Are you a foodie?
Yes, big time. I love eating and looking for new places to eat. A lot of time I travel abroad just to eat. That’s especially true of Japan where I spent 90 per cent of my time eating. I enjoy food programmes by chefs like Anthony Bourdain because they present food and cooking in new, interesting ways though I am not keen at all on those corny, mundane cooking shows.
What kinds of food did you grow up with?
My mother is Laotian and my father is Australian, so I grew up with both Eastern and Western cultures and I loved the dishes from both worlds. As a kid I spent a lot of time in the Indian restaurant, Himali Cha Cha, which was owned and operated by my parents. I guess that was how I developed an adventurous palate and mindset about food. I couldn’t be picky or fussy because my father would force me to eat whatever was on my plate, from pasta to pla ra. And when I grew up, I started to like travelling and sightseeing. I soon realised that one way to learn about new cultures is through indigenous food. So besides looking around and visiting places, I taste the local food, too. Food is universal, and you know instantly when you are talking to cooks, chefs and people who are passionate about food. There are two things I spend most of my money on: motorcycles and food!
What’s your favourite cuisine?
I can’t pick one! But if I had to survive on one type of cuisine, it would definitely be Thai. Generally, I like salty, smelly food. Any dish with a pungent smell is really attractive to me. My favourite ingredient is the uni or sea urchin. It’s great with just about anything.
Do you also like to cook?
Normally no, but I tend to cook when I’ve had a few drinks [laughs]. When I get tipsy I take whatever’s in the fridge and make something. But I like the restaurant business and the service industry. Like most people with an urban lifestyle, I eat out a lot, especially around Soi Ari where I live.
Where do you like to eat out in Bangkok?
I don’t have “favourite places” but more like favourite Italian places, places I go for seafood, places I go for Thai and things like that. But I eat at khao tom restaurants a lot, because I like that kind of restaurant. I usually go to Lao Lao near Ari and Soei near Sam Sen railway station.
Are your favourite joints included in the programme?
I made a list of places I like, and we’ve tried to meet half way so we have a variety in the selection. My personal request, Pla Dib in Soi Ari, is featured as the entry point to Bangkok’s gastronomic world. It was very exciting to go to new places and try new foods, especially at Nahm. It literally blew my mind.
Why are they all up-market, high-end places?
That’s actually our intention. We want to show that Bangkok is not just about street food, and Thai food is not just tom yum, phad tai and som tum. We want to show how flavours in Thai food are created and constructed, and how diverse they have become. But we also talk a little bit about the history of Thai food. We are not trying to educate the audience and tell them what Thai food is – no one can. Our aim is to make “Taste Bangkok” an entry point for foreign and Thai audiences alike to get to know Thai food and the culinary scene in Bangkok. We scratch the surface for you, and hopefully that gets you to explore further and fall back in love with food again.
What do the two episodes entail?
I’ll take you around town, visiting the restaurants we have selected and meeting with the chefs who are the masterminds behind these wonderful gastronomic creations. You’ll get the basic information about their foods, the highlight dishes and the concepts. We are not reviewing the food but taking the viewer “backstage” where the chefs talk about their techniques, their inspiration and how they create their food.
What did you learn from making the programme?
A lot. It’s been a real eye-opener I thought I knew Thai food, just like a lot of Thais that think they know Thai food, but actually we don’t. What we think we know in this globalised world is very superficial. Once you know how each dish is made the traditional way, you have much more respect to the cuisine. I had never been to Nahm and I must admit I was a little sceptical. But David Thompson just blew my mind and opened up the world of Thai food. He has been living here 30 years. He took me to the kitchen and made some home-cooked dishes for us, explaining the history of each dish, telling us how each dish got its name and why and how certain ingredients are used. I learned a lot from each restaurant that we visited. We also went to Italian, Indian and Japanese restaurants to showcase Bangkok’s potential to become one of the world’s leading food destinations.
As a foodie do you think of Bangkok as food destination?
Yes definitely. During the past couple of years, we’ve seen much more diversity in terms of levels of the restaurants and styles of cuisine. You could say that people can now come to Bangkok just to enjoy food, and we’re second to none in Asia in that regard. Also the Thai playfulness and friendliness makes the culinary scene light-hearted, genuine and not stuffy. Thai people know how to adapt and make it their way. You get fine-dining French restaurants here that feel more relaxed and comfortable than their counterparts in France and at the same time the quality is top-notch. Not a lot of cities in the world can do this.
I don’t normally agree with everything Tourism Authority of Thailand does, but the project to promote Bangkok as a food destination gets my full support. For so long we’ve been branded with the “sin city” cliche, a chaotic town and a place where everyone can do whatever they want, and it’s time we showed the world a different side.
”Taste Bangkok” premieres on Sunday at 9.30pm on Life Inspired.