There’s No Place Like Nahm

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Yesterday I ran around Bangkok and tried not to look at the grilled chicken satays, or the zingy papaya salads, or the roasted bananas…or any of the enticing food offerings that tempt with seductive scents.  We were going to David Thompson’s Nahm at the Metropolitan Hotel for dinner and I did not want to spoil my appetite!  My friend cum colleague Will, who had eaten there last week, said it was one of the best meals he’d had in a really long time.  Will is a chef that has worked all around the world, so I felt these were meaningful words indeed.  I wanted to be prepared to eat alot, so I tried not to indulge too much during the day.  But food sometimes just happens and I ended up eating pork wonton soup laden with a mound of crab.  Life can be so cruel sometimes…!

So after a day of meetings and subway hopping and lots and lots of thinking about food, it was finally time for dinner.  We walked in the doors of the restaurant, and first off, the dining room strikes you with stunning yet simple decor.  Low lit, primarily wood, ample space and beautiful purple orchids make for a refined and tranquil setting.  It certainly doesn’t prepare you for the party that’s about to start in your mouth.  I practically ran to the table in the back and said my hellos as I smoothed the napkin on my lap.  Ready!

A glass of champagne was poured as a gentle opening to a grand ceremony.  I’m one of the only ladies alive who will pass on bubbly, but this champagne was incredible. Sweet, smooth and light.  The procession began. We started with several rounds of small bites–big flavors to start the meal rolling.  We had pineapple with shrimp paste, peanuts and chili.  It was chewy and crunchy, sweet and spicy.  And then the food started coming in waves.  Big, big waves.  I don’t even know how many dishes we ate…but I’m going to venture that there were no less than 30 different dishes.  We ate traditional salads (cucumber and shrimp, an incredible coconut and lemongrass dish, pork and ginger salad..), curries, accompanied by lots of fresh greens to cool the heat, several different chili dips, fried sour and sweet fish…dish upon dish.  We ate a special dish that is considered to only be eaten by the lower class– a strong dish of unpasteurized fermented fish.  It was bold, to say the least.  But not bad.  Some of my eating companions loved it, while others passed.  I enjoyed it for the new taste, but wouldn’t recommend it for a timid eater!

We passed dishes round and round, and new dishes kept getting woven into the dance.  Eventual Chef David came out to check on our progress.  In his hand, he held a small knife and a little bowl.  He held up a chili and exclaimed ” This is the hottest chili in the world! Who wants to try?”  Now, if anyone knows me well, they know I adore fiery heat.  I can eat more chili than most people (truthfully I think something’s wrong with my heat detector!)…but I wasn’t up for the challenge.  There were so many incredible flavors on the table that I didn’t want to take a break for 30 minutes and wait for my ears to stop ringing.  But that’s not to say it wasn’t hilarious watching everyone else do it!  The burn started off slow, but after a few minutes, everyone’s eyes were streaming, cheeks were red and noses were running.  Everyone sat with water and rice in their mouths to try and tame the fire.  Joy asked what he used the chilis for.  He responded, “to get people like you to eat them!”  Nice one chef.  I just kept on eating that delicious lemongrass salad!

We sampled a few bottles of wine that one of the guys, Fluke, had brought from his personal collection.  We drank sweet whites, mild reds and a few bubbles.  It was fun to see how the French wines paired with the enormous flavors of the Thai food.  After hours of eating, and breaks, and eating, and drinking, we arrived at the desserts.  Perfect tiny dishes of local desserts done with fine attention to detail.  We ate durian with sticky rice (my favorite), black rice with coconut milk, puffed rice, corn and jellies, a plate of fresh fruit with sweet and tangy ice, and a dense cake with mango and coconut.  I think I will be full for days to come, but all is worth the slightly tighter fitting jeans.

I’ve eaten in Bangkok for years and it’s almost impossible to have a bad meal.  The vendor down the alley with one burner and one pot, cooking for 80 people a night, will put out better food than most restaurants you’ve ever eaten at.  Thailand is full of skilled cooks and a cornucopia of fruits, herbs and vegetables that play well in the mouth.  Your worst meal will still be exciting! I’ve only eaten in a handful of restaurants actually.  I prefer to see the variety from one vendor to the next.  But last night was truly exceptional.  Out of all the eating I’ve done in my life (and I think I’ve consumed more than the average 28 year old), I’m going to say that Nahm is one of my top 5 meals ever.

The chef, David Thompson, has been living, breathing and studying Thai food since the ’80s.  He is not into fusion.  At all.  He aims to take the street food culture and elevate it to fine dining, but in keeping with the same flavor profiles.  He wants to make the food shine, not adapt it to a Western style cuisine nor palate.  He uses more purveyors than most massive hotel dining establishments.  One vendor for one kind of herb, another vendor for cabbage and yet another for chili.  He shoots for the pinnacle, and then surpasses.  I wasn’t sure if I was the only one having internal dialogue about what was going on in my mouth, but as I looked around at the table, even our Thai friends were reflecting (and some were still sweating and holding their ears!).  And even now, I just want to go back and eat at Nahm just to see if it wasn’t all really just a perfect dream.  Ok, truthfully I just want to eat there again because it was so ridiculously impressive.

When you’re in Bangkok, book a table and order like it’s going to be your last meal.  So it’s pricey.  Fact.  But it’s one of those meals that you should save up for and then go big.  Really really big.  And just take it all in, and smile. You’re welcome, mouth.

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