Sonkran festival at Neung Roi, the Thai new year brings cheer

It is interesting to know about the festivals celebrated in south East Asian countries, especially the ones that have similar significance and are celebrated around the same time of the calender. Thai festival of Songkran coincides with the Hindu Sankranti which is celebrated in India by the names of Baisakhi, Poila Baisakh, Bohag bihu, Vishu or Vaishakh Sankranti, basically to observe the beginning of the Hindu New year (solar calender) in different states of the country. It is fascinating to see how it is celebrated in so many different ways, a harvest festival that is deep rooted in the culture.

Songkran (celebrated between 13th to 15th April) is Thai new year and each such festival involves a feast. Neung Roi at Radison Blu (Mahipalpur, Delhi) is celebrating Thai Songkran festival and I had the privilege to taste the menu. Neung Roi is known for one of the best Thai spread in the city and I have had a real good time learning some Thai recipes from Chef Yenjai Suthiwaja at Neung Roi.

The festival menu was as good as the last time with a few low points that I don't mind when most of the menu hits the spot superbly. What made the day for me was a genius of an 'amuse bouche', half of a betel leaf topped with  roasted peanuts, few slivers of baby shallots, one slice of red chilli, few crumbs of rice crackers and a yummy tamarind sauce drizzled over it. The betel leaf is supposed to be wrapped around the ingredients and popped in, and it was the most amazing burst of flavours in the mouth. The meal started on a great note.

We ordered 2 starters from the a la carte menu before digging into the festival menu head on. The Taro fritters with Sriracha sauce and Mushroom skewers were really good. These Taro fritters are little pakodas that can be addictive and fill you up fast. Mushrooms were meaty and very flvourful when combined with the shallots sweet and sour dip it came with.

The Songkran starter platter had panko crumbed prawns, chicken lemongrass skewers, fresh spring rolls and raw mango salad. My favourite among these was the raw mango salads, captivating all my senses with it's beauty. Sweet and sour thin slivers of raw mango sprinkled with slices of shallots and red chillies, green coriander and generous bites of fried cashew nuts. This salad is going to be staple summer salad for me this season. Find of the day I say.

The second favourite was this chicken skewered upon a lemon grass stick. Quite aromatic, succulent and very pleasant to sink your teeth into. Panko fried prawns were meaty, succulent and crisp as it should be, I tried it dipped with the three sauces this platter comes with, and loved it. The fresh spring roll disappointed though, the wrapper was too chewy and a bit thick, the fillings (radish and bean sprouts) insipid and too mushy. The three dips were all great, a sweet chilly dip/jam, shallots and lemongrass salsa type dip and a plum jam dip, all required with the starters in small doses, adding flavours.

The soup (Tom pok teak, fresh seafood soup with hot basil and dry chilly) was served in a green coconut shell, scalding hot, so beware when you take a sip. Rich seafood stock loaded with chunks of prawns and fish, rings of calamari, and assorted mushrooms, I loved it.

Among the mains, I loved the kale and asparagus stir fry with oyster sauce since I am a sucker for greens and it was perfectly done for me. Retaining a bit of bite and preserving the flavours of kale. The Deep fried sea bass with kaffir lime scented Penang curry was just one word. Delicious. Loved the kaffir lime notes in it and the generous amount of snow peas that comes with it.

I quite liked the wok tossed tenderloin with black pepper too. A multi-hued base of green and black peppercorns and red chillies, the sauce is flavourful and flavours the tenderloin well. I had a bit of disappointment with the steamed Pandan infused rice. It seemed a bit dry and underdone to me, and I was a bit confused with the green colour. Pandanus leaves don't impart any colour to rice as much as I understand.

Desserts were also a bit disappointing sadly. I love Thai desserts to bits and was excited about the black sticky rice with fresh mango as I make it myself a lot, but then I know how and why it gets a bitter aftertaste when done wrongly. It actually had a bitter aftertaste because of the faulty cooking of the pigment rich black sticky rice. The corn coconut custard was interesting, really flavourful but the texture was too rubber like. Note that I am not a dessert person and am extremely picky about desserts, these were just rightly sweet for me but lacked the punch on other counts.

A great meal I would say, I will go again to Neung Roi for more salads as they do really really great salads. Arvind loved the food as much as I did and definitely wants to go back again.