Expat Voice: On An Indian Food Trail
Thai chef Tham loves Indian spices and fresh catch from the sea, and dreads wearing a sari.
The journey of Tham-Napharphak Prompaksa in India began with food and perhaps it is this love for food that has kept her going ever since. The 42-year-old chef hails from a district called Isan that is tucked away in the northeastern corner of Thailand. Her tryst with the culinary world of India started with Mumbai in 2005. Today she heads the Thai restaurant Rim Naam at The Oberoi hotel in Bengaluru.
Chef Tham talks to Little India about all that spices up her life in India.
India, a Land of Opportunities
My journey dates back all the way to 2005 when I came to Mumbai to work at the Thai consulate. The reason I chose to come to India is very simple: it is closer home and our customs are very similar. India, to me, felt like home away from home. It was my first foreign assignment, and the fact that I could reach Thailand in four hours was very comforting.
After working in Mumbai for seven years, I decided to explore other opportunities and that landed me in Doha and then took me to Maldives. But India beckoned me once again, and I joined the Oberoi Hotel in Bengaluru in 2015.
Similarities Between India and Thailand
It is not difficult to see that both India and Thailand are very similar, especially in their cultures. As I spent more time here, I began to realize that Indians are very respectful towards their elders and seniors. The way they express their respect and love to the elders in their families is very similar to ours.
What is exciting for me as a chef is that we share so much with India when it comes to food. In fact, the rich ingredients used in the coastal towns of the country are very similar to those used in our food. Even our festivals are very similar, whether it is Songkran, the harvest festival, or Loy Krathong, the festival of lights. These festivals seem like distant cousins of Sankranti and Deepavali.
The Spice Trail
In Thailand, we are very fond of our spices and it gives me great pleasure to see that some Indian cuisines can be a close match to the spices that we use in our food. I am especially fond of Biryani and love indulging in some when I have time.
Another favorite is neer dosa and spicy fish curry. I relish the aroma of fresh spices in these delicacies. Mumbai, I feel, is unmatched when it comes to getting fresh catch from the sea. Also, the city is very dynamic and there is no ingredient under the sun that Mumbai will not have — an easy guess why it features in the top cities to cook for any chef. The city is always on the move, day or night, and the people are warm and friendly.
My team is like my extended family. We take care of each other and we stand by each other. We spend most of the day at work and it is important that we bond as a team. It makes life easier for people like us who are away from our families in a foreign land. Besides, I also spend time with the small Thai community in Bengaluru whenever I get time.
Sari — The Most Complicated Six Yards
I admire the sheer grace and elegance with which women in India carry their saris, but wearing it can spell disaster for me. Let alone wearing it, I can’t even imagine taking a step out of my house in a sari. However, it is lovely to see the wonderful way women here drape it. Even at the end of the day, it looks as stunning as it was in the morning, it is incredible.
The Positive Indian
I am a very positive person and I feel that we should not burden ourselves with the baggage of the past. India is a country where positivity underlines the lives of most people. People here are hardworking and prefer to stay positive even in times of difficulty, and that can pep anyone up. For now, India is home and the best part about this country is that the energy here is no different than Thailand — something that comforts me every day.
The interview has been condensed and edited.
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