Monday, February 16, 2009

Sala Rim Naam at the Oriental Hotel -- Bangkok, Thailand

Upon entering the Oriental Hotel's Sala Rim Naam Thai restaurant in Bangkok, you are confronted with a unique dining interior: traditional Thai tables with bench seating and in the center of the long, rectangular room, raised stage for the dancing to be held later. It's an atmosphere which lends itself to the food and entertainment that follows. The Sala Rim Naam is reached after taking a boat ride across the Chao Phraya River from the hotel. You get a great view of the hotel across the water as the boat slowly makes its way across the crowded river. The hotel bought this land several years ago and it houses the Sala Rim Naam and the Oriental Spa. The intention here is to give the guests a true look at traditional Thai culture, including architecture, food, clothing and dance. It's so authentic, in fact, that you must remove your shoes before entering the dining room.

Upon entering and seating yourself in the comfortable benches, you'll be struck by the beautiful wood and carved detail of the interior. And, unless you're in a larger group than two people, you'll be seated at close proximity to another couple, so the opportunity to meet and talk to someone from another country (or perhaps even your own) is presented. The seating is also another reminder of traditional Thai meals only here each person is served individually. The meal consists of a set menu with 10 different dishes or courses. Mixed appetizers and rounds of mixed pork in silk threads started us off and each were delicately flavored and lightly spiced. There is a misconception among many that traditional Thai food is too spicy for Western palates, but that is not the case. A traditional Thai dish is predominantly hot but there must be harmony in the dish as well. The sharpness of the chilis and the spices in a curry dish, for example are toned down by the sweetness of the coconut cream, which also enhances the flavors and tastes of other delicate ingredients and herbs. Thai meals are served pretty much all at once so that you end up having a number of dishes in front of you at once, giving you the opportunity to take a mouthful of this and that as you prefer.

The next dishes served were deep-fried taro with herbed crabmeat, an herbed pomelo salad with prawns and chicken, sweet and sour soup with sliced fish, red curry with roast duckling, deep-fried honey chicken, stir-fried vegetables a, of course, white rice. Dessert followed later. There was obviously plenty of food to taste and the combination of tastes made for a very interesting meal.

As we were finishing, the entertainment began, consisting of a number of traditional Thai dances with musical accompaniment that depict folk and fairy tales and other aspects of historical Thailand. The costumes are superb and the dances themselves, if somewhat hard to completely understand, are at the same time, very enjoyable to watch. The combination of food, dance, and overall ambiance gives you a true idea of the nature of traditional Thai culture as mysterious as it may seem to Westerners. The Oriental has done a good job of preserving the authenticity yet making it accessible to visitors from any country.

See for info on Bangkok restaurants.

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