Aksorn by Chef David Thompson invites Khun Pao to revive classic Thai dishes from 1950s – 1970s
The late 1940s to 1970s was a time of remarkable transition: modern Thailand was emerging out of the rich Siamese past. The food of the period reflected these changes.
Aksorn on the top floor of Central: The Original Store on Chareonkrung, the site of the Central family’s first store in Bangkok. When it opened in 1950 the bookstore was a hub for avid readers.
Aksorn acknowledges that past, and like those earlier readers, we browse through a large collection of cookbooks from 1950s to 1970s to draw on the best cooking from that fascinating time. Every few months, Aksorn team will select a cookbook and use its recipes as the basis of the menu to revive some forgotten classics that truly deserve to be enjoyed by today’s diners.
The current recipe used is by Khun Nutchanand (Pao) Osathanond – a food columnist, cookbook author and presenter in Bangkok. Her authoritative knowledge comes from her deep experience with all matters culinary. For generations her family has been renowned for their cooking. Pao’s memories stretch back to her grandfather’s time just after the Second World War when a little girl found joy and snacks in the kitchen. So began her enduring love of Thai food. Along with her mother, Pao recorded the family’s favourite recipes, many of which are rarely seen today. It is from this unpublished repertoire our cooks have been working with Khun Pao to bring some exceptional dishes onto Aksorn’s menu.
The Hors D’Oeuvres
Miang Mhark (prawns and wild ginger wrapped with coral leaves) – I have never come across a miang quite like this.
Fresh Thai chilli, ginger, dried prawns, lime, toasted cashews and grated coconut are placed on a coral leaf. It is dressed with a mixture of palm sugar, toasted coconut, wild ginger and fish sauce. Then wrapped in the same way that betel nut was. It is sweet and sharp with the gingers and lime, the smoky richness of cashew and coconut with a bitter astringent tang from the coral leaves.
Song (pork, salted fish and duck egg wafers) – This wafer is elegantly simple. Finely minced pork is mixed with plaa gulao and salted duck egg. It is wrapped in spring roll sheet and deep fried. And there it is: simple to make yet so mellow and sophisticated.
Ray Rai Nah Phoo (fresh rice vermicelli with crab, coconut and chilli) – The freshly made rice vermicelli is steamed to order. Meanwhile, a thick sauce made with crab, chillies, deep fried shallots, garlic and toasted mung beans simmered in coconut cream. The sauce is napped over the noodles and then topped with more crab meat, chillies and coconut cream. It is a delectable introduction to the main courses.
Yum Yord Grathin (grathin and torch ginger salad with chilli jam) – The salad uses an old fashioned chilli jam made from grilled chillies, garlic, shallots, shrimp paste pounded to a fine paste. The jam is lightened with fresh coconut cream then seasoned with lime juice and fish sauce and sugar. This dressing is mixed into a handful of tender grathin shoots, minced pork, home-made dried prawns and toasted cashews, deep-fried shallots and garlic and chillies.
Kaeng Chud Muu Yang (smoky pork and bamboo broth) – Crunchy pork is smoked over the charcoal to intensify the taste. It is simmered with a garlic and peppercorn paste before simmering in stock with blanched bamboo. It is a rudimentary soup, a relief from the complexity of the other dishes. It is such a comforting broth, it’s my favorite soup.
Kaeng Kiew Waan (green curry of tiger prawns with roasted coconut, thai basil and chilli leaves) – This curry is outstanding, in fact it’s a verdant revelation. The curry paste has a surprising amount of freshly pureed chilli leaves added to the paste before simmering in coconut cream and finished with toasted coconut water and meat. The result is extravagant in taste and colour. We add some wild tiger prawns to the curry and finish with thai basil and more chilli leaves. This dish is worth a visit by itself, I promise you.
Prik Khing Pla Salid (stir-fried gourami with pork scratchings and lotus seeds) – This is an intense flavoured dish, salty, smoky and perfumed. The gourami is grilled and smoked then deep-fried. The filleted meat along with dried prawn floss are stir fried with a pungent red curry paste in pork lard with scratchings, lotus seeds and salted duck eggs. It is finished with a dusting of finely shredded kaffir lime leaves. It is deeply aromatic and pungently seasoned. It is a memorable dish.
Nahmprik Nakornbarn (relish of smoked fish, chillies and prawns accompanied with fresh vegetables) – Is a legendary relish from Rama V’s court. Pao’s great-grandfather was the physician to the King and so the recipe came into her family and thus to us at Aksorn. Chillies, prawns and catfish are grilled until imbued to a deep smoky redolence. They are pounded with shrimp paste and some tart fruits are added, in season and consequently in this relish, sour snake skin fruit, fuzzy yellow eggplants and asian citron. The relish is finished with a little palm sugar and fish sauce. This relish is deep with layers of flavours and seasonings: rich, smoky, spicy and sour. It only needs some fresh vegetables to complete the dish.
Plamuek Tomkhem (squid braised in palm sugar, soy, black pepper and ginger) – The youngest, most innocent and tender squid is washed then braised with palm sugar, garlic, fish sauce, ginger and black pepper. It is simmered for an hour or more to end up with a sinister stew, dark and black as the devil. It is delectable like the taste of sin.
Mafuang Loykaew (macerated starfruit) – Of all the dishes, this is the most unexpected. Half ripe starfruit is macerated in Asian citron juice, zest and white sugar. It is left to steep for a day or two. The result is a quenching succulence. Much, much greater than the sum of its parts.
Thong Plu (Thai choux) – These are Thai choux but made with some rice flour. It is dipped into some toasty palm sugar, freshly grated coconut and perilla seeds. Et voila, choux a la Siamois…
Grayasart with bananas (crunchy rice cake with local macadamias and sesame served with finger bananas) – Toasted flattened, popped rice, local macadamias and sesame seeds are smoked with a Thai candle and perfumed with jasmine flowers before being set softly in palm sugar and coconut caramel. We gild this crunchy rice and macadamia cake with gold leaf and serve with slender ripe finger bananas.
Additional to the food menu, a well-crafted wine list as well our signature cocktails such as cha kam riddled with Grandma’s jinn and Butsaba, sweet sipping with Kosapan rum and honey.
The Food set menu is priced at Baht 2,800++ and Wine pairing at Baht 1,400++. Additional wines available by the glass or bottle. All prices are subject to 7% VAT and 10% service charge. The restaurant is open for dinner from Tuesday-Sunday 6pm -11.30pm (last seating at 10pm).
It has been such a rewarding exercise to recreate dishes from exceptional cooks of three or four generations ago. The dishes are distinct and often quite different from current versions. But many dishes sing with flavour and zest. They are as delicious today as they were 80 years ago. They have stood the test of time and are a delectable testament to those cooks and the remarkable continuous heritage of Thai food.
“At Aksorn we hope to do justice to this heritage.”said Chef David.