I had spent the previous 24 hours in bed, and I was not sure I was going to make it to dinner. About 4pm the previous day I got very cold, in Thailand. By American standards, it’s really hot in Bangkok all of the time. ALL OF THE TIME. But that night I wore a long sleeved shirt and a jacket to dinner and I didn’t take it off all night. I had been really excited about my three nights in Bangkok because I had reservations at Issaya Siamese Club, Nahm, and Gaggan, the #21, #5 and #1 ranked restaurants in Asia, respectively, according to Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
I had been to Nahm before and had been blown away by the citrus, chilis and funky flavors that meld into beautiful harmonies. Most people don’t think of Thai food as fine dining, but David Thompson can easily change that opinion. Unfortunately, that night the food didn’t sparkle like it did the first time. I could barely eat more than a few bites of each dish, not because the food wasn’t wonderful, but because I felt so full. When I returned to my hotel after dinner, I realized I was sick, and likely had been since the afternoon. I got in bed and stayed there. And throughout that night and day, I worried. Not about being sick and alone in a foreign land, not about all the things I’d eaten on my culinary walking tour that day, and not about anything except whether or not I was going to make it to Gaggan. The time ticked by and I alternated between sleeping and worrying. By 3pm I could sit up and watch TV. By 4pm I was starting to get bored by sleeping, lying down and watching movies. That is always a good sign for me and usually means I’m getting better, so I decided to risk it. I showered and headed downstairs, and was extremely relieved to feel really hot as soon as I exited the hotel lobby. Maybe I was going to make it to Gaggan after all.
The restaurant is down a short alley off the main street. As per usual in Southeast Asia, never judge a destination by the griminess of the path to get there. You never know what you will find, and in this case it’s a bright, welcoming fusion of a colonial building with an ultra modern glass entryway. This is the perfect setting for the melding of traditional and modern food inside. Gaggan is a modern Indian restaurant started by Chef Gaggan Anand in 2010. Chef Gaggan had been frustrated with the status of Indian food in the world, and he set out to change that by cooking fine dining, modernist Indian food. He has succeeded dramatically, winning the top spot on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for the last two years in a row.
When I sat down, I found the menu on the table and it was written in emojis, 21 of them. The titles of the dishes are not given until the end of the meal. Until the last savory dish of crab curry, the dishes are one or two bites of beauty and intensity. Surprisingly, this is a great way to eat after 24 hours in bed suffering from what was likely food poisoning. One bite at a time over the course of many hours is the perfect way to recover! And if you are lucky enough to be in Bangkok and have a reservation at the best restaurant in Asia, it’s also the most delicious way to recover.
I loved the creativity of the entire menu. My two favorite dishes were the yogurt explosion and the chutoro sushi. Spherification has almost become a cliche in creativity driven modernist kitchens, but not at Gaggan. The key is that it tastes amazing. It is tart and sweet, with subtle flavors of cumin. If yogurt was always this good, we would all live to 100. The chutoro sushi was another great example of over-the-top flavor combined with originality and creativity. Good fatty tuna sushi is a gift from the food gods, but every sushi restaurant in the world carries it. No one else has Gaggan's version though. The rice in the sushi is a crisp, dry foam that dissolved on my tongue. My guess is that it is a dehydrated tight foam made from pureed rice. Chef Gaggan has more than proved that Indian food can be luxurious, creative and modern. If you are in Bangkok, I hope you get the chance to experience it.