As we walked in through the gates of Royal Lotus Bua Luang, we were immediately taken in by the lovely peaceful atmosphere of the garden. The choice was almost automatic; we were going to sit in the garden basking in the pale winter sun.
Mei Woo, the proprietor greeted us and introduced us to her Thai chef, Tanakorn Saythong who was even then, busy carving some vegetables. Mei remarked, “He’s very good in carving vegetables besides cooking.” He seemed engrossed in his art and almost reluctant to get up.
Mei had been coming to Nepal on a regular basis for her holidays, but was soon enamored by the country’s natural appeal. “I used to come here to rest and relax,” she says. Two years ago she began thinking of staying back and starting something of her own. A Thai friend who is now her business partner (lives in Bangkok), suggested opening a restaurant. The result is the ‘Royal Lotus’. It has been a boon to those who love Thai cuisine. Although Mei hails from Singapore, she adores Thai food. “Thai food is intricate, and not easy to make. It takes time to learn how to cook. It has exotic taste, and the good thing is, you never get tired of Thai food,” remarks Mei and further adds, “Even though the sauces have herbs, we use fresh herbs to give our food the genuine taste.”
Saythong who is better known as ‘Tang’, graduated from Sripatum University in Bangkok. He then worked as a trainee in a hotel before moving on to work at Hotel Montein, a very old and renowned hotel. There he honed his skills preparing Thai food for hotel guests. He later worked in the prestigious Sofitel Central Plaze for a year. Mei’s Thai partner contacted Tang and brought him to Kathmandu. “The way we present the food is different from how others serve. The food must not only taste good but must also look nice and smell good. We present a five star menu in a more relaxed atmosphere,” says Tang. He has experience working for Miss Thai Universe, Trade Fairs and Expos in Thailand. Asked to elaborate on what they specialize in, Tang adds, “We use the real herbs. We make real Thai food not missing out on any ingredients. A lot of people here have tasted Thai food in Bangkok, so we need to give them the real taste.” So true—I, for one have tasted the real stuff in many different parts of Thailand.
After the briefing on their background and finer points of Thai cuisine, we moved to the more important phase of actually eating what Tang had prepared. Sitting out in the little shady part of the garden, we waited for the arrival of real Thai food. As luck would have it, we were first served Tom Yam Kung, a favorite of mine. Kung stands for prawn and it looked fresh in the bowl. A few sips of this typical Thai soup and we knew the taste was authentic. Not many Thai restaurants can match that sharp delightful taste of Tom Yam that Tang served. The prawn not only looked fresh but also tasted fresh, which cannot be said of what you are served in many Kathmandu eateries. Laid on the table was plain rice and Green Curry. This curry was made up of chicken, long beans, egg plant, green curry paste and fresh herbs. The curry is cooked in the paste and has quite a unique taste— ideal with rice. Accompanying them was a Somtam salad. That translates roughly as ‘young papaya salad’ and consists largely of shredded young papaya, carrots cut in little shreds, tomato, French beans and served with cabbage, garnished with peanuts and lime juice. This is an excellent appetizer and unlike other salads is very tasty. We could not of course, do without those Satays. Go anywhere in south Asia, and you find satays. But wait a minute before you jump to conclusions. These satays were quite different. Very well marinated, strong yellow in color and they had a milky taste. Yes, very different from Malay cooking. The peanut sauce that we were served to go with the satay was not spicy like they serve in Singapore and very different from the Malay sauce. By the way, this was the ‘Chef’s special peanut sauce’.
The other special dishes we sampled while the sun began to hide behind a large cloud were Vegetable Springrolls, known in Thai as ‘Porpiea’. Try that for a tongue twister. We enjoyed the sharp taste and asked what lay inside. It has black fungus which they import directly from Thailand, cabbage, carrots and bean vermicelli. Mei tells us, “This is a very popular dish.” We could tell why. The other noteworthy dish was fish cake served with Thai sweet and chilli sauce. This tasted peculiarly good. The taste of fish mixed with herbs and spices. And to top it all, was the really exotic Pineapple rice known in Thai as ‘Kao Ob Saparod’. This has rice similar to palau, fried chicken, cashew nuts and Chinese sausage imported from Thailand. This unusual mix of ingredients makes it absolutely delicious. No wonder it is popular. That was a lot to eat and eating a lot is something I do only when the food is good. This was authentic Thai food prepared by a well trained Thai chef. Mei Woo concluded, “My Thai partner and I want to share our passion for fine and intricate Thai cuisine with the people in Nepal. Our aim is to make dining more enjoyable and memorable in our relaxing and comfortable environment at a price one can smile at.”
Royal Lotus is unique in many ways. It is also the only Thai restaurant located in Lalitpur. Away from the buzz of Thamel or crowded Kathmandu, the restaurant lies in quiet Bakhundole off Kupondole. Sounds of birds rather than motorcycles fill the air.
Royal Lotus now offers a buffet of Traditional and East meets West Thai menu at a very reasonable price. The enticers are: barbeque prawns, squids and mixed seafood with herbs. Royal Lotus’ fine cuisine can also be sampled at the BICC, New Baneshwar on 3rd and 4th December, when seven Thai Restaurants come together to celebrate the Birthday of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. It is also celebrated as the National Day of the Kingdom of Thailand.
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In a bygone era, there was no such thing as a hotel in Nepal. Travelers would stay in a home...