Gaggan Anand, from Kolkata is now officially recognized as the best chef in Asia. His self-titled restaurant Gaggan Bangkok is internationally recognized by the key establishment and authority on everything gourmet, San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Gaggan, not formerly trained, owes all of his success to his mother, whom he would watch and assist in the kitchen as a young boy. Still in his 30’s, Gaggan has made his mark on the fine dining food scene with his ‘deconstructed Indian’ experience. Gaggan Bangkok sits at number 23 on San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants and as mentioned, number one In Asia.
Meeting Chef Gaggan:
I was fortunate to meet with Gaggan in Australia where he was the celebrity guest at the Margaret River Food and Wine ‘Gourmet Escape’ in Western Australia. Gaggan, on center stage, cooked up a coconut broth and snow crab with a distinct Thai flavor. I was first to try the crab curry, which was more than memorable.
Gaggan, who learned how to cook in his mom’s kitchen in India as a boy, was given a one in one million opportunity to train alongside molecular gastronomy master Ferran Adria at famed, El Bulli in Roses, Catalonia.
Gaggan’s imagination coupled with his cullinary wit, is bringing Indian cuisine to the world stage and pushing the boundaries, the only way is up for Gaggan.
Eating at Gaggan Bangkok
Bangkok traffic is terrible at its best. The absolute worst time to take a taxi anywhere in Bangkok is during afternoon rush hour. I had a six o’clock seating at Gaggan.
I’m very familiar with the city and always take advantage of the convenient and clean BTS sky train. I was to dine at the number one restaurant in Asia, of course I wanted to wear heels. Stubbornly I took a taxi.
After practically crawling to get to Gaggan, located in the heart of Bangkok, my frustrated taxi driver and I missed the street completely.
The street leading into Gaggan is, to put it simply, blink-and-you-miss, small and narrow and unassuming. I have personally found some of the world’s best food hidden down a dark alley way in a nondescript building.
The most famous being, three michelin star Jiro Ono’s ten seat sushi bar located in the basement of Ginza train station in Tokyo.
The street that leads to Gaggan may be blink-and-you-miss, however once outside, the white colonial facade lets you know you have arrived and something magical is about to take place.
I am ushered up the narrow stairs to the top dining room where I am seated at a white table with a single rose. The dining room is elegant, with old world charm. The furniture, drapery and ceiling fans create an atmosphere that’s very ‘British India Country Club’, the atmosphere is unlike any other restaurant I’ve seen in Bangkok.
I am presented with the menu, which reads: Bites – ‘Please eat with your hands’. This excites me as I know I’m in for some tasty morsels.
There are 18 courses in total at Gaggan, the ‘Bites’ were the stand-out for me, each one as exciting as the last. I will go through most of them, while leaving something to the imagination (I don’t want to give too much of a spoiler alert).
First on the menu is the ‘Pickled Cherry Soda’. I personally didn’t try this in India but I love pickled cherries and this was literally a ‘coca-cola in the dessert’ for me as it was a balmy night in Bangkok and the taxi ride took over an hour. Refreshing and most definitely needed.
The famous ‘Yogurt Explosion’ was next. Curd is a staple in India, I had curd with just about every meal while living in India. The ‘Yogurt Explosion’ pays homage to Ferran Adria’s molecular gastronomy sphere-ified ‘Olives’. Not surprising as Gaggan trained with the history-making team at El Bulli in Roses.
(In another post I will show you how you how to make can make sphereified molecular gastronomy treats at home- this will surely impress guests at any dinner party).
Next up, ‘Edible Plastic Spiced Nuts’. This mouthful brought back a mountain of memories; stopping of at street vendors in the evening in south India to buy some masala nuts to snack on. Gaggan’s ‘Edible Plastic Spiced Nuts’ are sweeter than the kind you have in India and the edible plastic, a mind-bending molecular skill learned from the master himself while at El Bulli.
Perhaps the most surprising and memorable dish for me is the ‘Idly Sambhar’. This morsel that literally brought a tear to my eye, contained all the flavors one would expect from a ‘real’ idly sambhar (pictured). During my time living in India, I lived from (and for) idly sambhar. Gaggan nailed it with one bite, even down to the texture and the curry leaf that crowns the bite-sized idly. I could have eaten 100 of these. The only way I can really describe this is South India in bite.
‘Uncooked Curry Cookie’ is a crumbly curry delight. The buttery crumbly curry hit all the notes and flavors. This little cookie is complex and comes complete with your very own Indian memory (well, it did for me). It amazes how so much flavor can be condensed in such a small mouthful.
Indian traders and travelers have carried Khakra as a staple for centuries, and the ‘Khakra Eel Sandwich’ is a crispy piece of history, the pairing with eel is unique. I must admit even I have lived in Japan but never took a liking to Unagi (or Eel). The combination of flavors is one that could only come from the fertile mind of a real gastronome. I was concerned I wouldn’t like this, but I loved it!
Cones have become common place in modern molecular dining. The creamy uni in ‘Mango Uni Sundae’ was the freshest I’ve ever tasted. I personally don’t like the fishiness of uni, which is more present if it’s not ocean-fresh, however at Gaggan Bangkok this is not the case. This little concoction is no less than genius. Even for those who cannot palette sea urchin, the combination of the sweet mango cone takes all the fishiness away. I admit this is the best uni I have ever tasted (sorry Japan). I’m sure that urchin was still in the ocean that morning.
The ‘surprise bite’ is ‘Charcoal’. I’m not going to spoil this one for you. There is something magical about not knowing exactly what you are eating and this charcoal-battered bite makes you feel like a kid again. The wonderful waitstaff at Gaggan playfully coerce you to guess. A fun and skillful addition to the evening.
* You can find out what ‘Charcoal’ is online now due to some other blogs publishing it but I really urge you not to look and to just experience this for yourself.
The number one stand out dish by far, and not just because I adore mushrooms, is ‘Magic Mushrooms’. This course demonstrates the highest of culinary skill and presentation. To put it simply, it’s edible art. Even the log pictured here is a mushroom itself. Magic!
The Red Matcha Tea Ceremony, a theatrical turn in the evening and freshly breaks up the courses. This is very deep and condensed tomato soup dish (it tastes more of tomato than tomato itself), the experience taking me back to traveling in Kyoto, Japan. This course is presented as a traditional matcha tea ceremony is done in Japan with the server ‘frothing’ the soup with a ‘chasen’, a traditional Japanese tea ceremony whisk.
Served in true Indian style, the ‘Curry Course’ comes out in a tiffin with a side of hot, fresh naan. I feel this dish has been added to satisfy those wanting what westerners would classify as ‘real Indian food’. It’s the comfort course. Fresh, tasty and of course comforting as one would expect. Nothing new here.
The ‘Peach Snowball’ reminds me of the snow egg phenomena that everyone was crazy about. This ‘snow egg’ style dessert is one that’s been around the food scene for a number of years. The ‘Peach Snowball’ at Gaggan, a dish meant to be shared, is accented with ginger ‘snow’. I cracked the ‘Snowball’ underneath my spoon to reveal a light Japanese peach sorbet-style dessert with a kiss of chutney (the Indian component). A great cleanser after the previous courses.
Gaggan takes you back to his childhood in India with the ‘Mango Duet Lollipop’ an ice-cream and mango white chocolate. This last dessert is India in a popsicle for me. Hot days in India are best finished with a sweet, cold mango kulfi.
What I loved about Gaggan Bangkok is that all the usual masala suspects are there, cumin, fennel, fenugreek and chilies. Each course is unique and tasty. I did not get one dish that wasn’t deserved as the number one restaurant in Asia. The stand-out for me was the ‘bites’, I will go back to eat at Gaggan just for the ‘bites’ section of his 18-course menu.
I’m sure this modern menu will upset a few purists who think they are in for hearty Indian banquet. In my view I believe Gaggan is taking Indian cuisine to a whole new level. Yes Indian food can be ‘comfort’ food and familiar, but Gaggan has clearly shown it can be elegant and magical, just like the land itself.
I enjoyed the experience and the food at Gaggan Bangkok more than many three michelin restaurants. Gaggan Bangkok is more than worth a trip to Bangkok for.
*Note: My experience at Gaggan took place last year as of this year, 2017 his menu has been updated to a 25-course menu. I will be back.