"And then, along came my beloved: a large steaming bowl of green curry, floating with adorable golf ball sized Thai eggplant cut into quarters and, of course, the shrimp…" Rachel Wagner takes a trip to Thai heaven at Beit Thailandi in Tel Aviv.
After 9 years on the corner of Bograshov and Ben Yehuda Streets, Beit Thailandi (Thai House) is a Tel Aviv institution. Anyone who knows anything about international cuisine knows that this is the place – quite possibly the only place – to get authentic Thai food in Israel. And it's not just that it's authentic, but absolutely, gorgeously, deliciously authentic. If that didn't sell you, how's this? The Thai ambassador eats there.
On the night we visited this intimate, bamboo adorned restaurant, there was a special seasonal menu featuring a mysterious Thai vegetable whose name was only mentioned in the Thai language – pak-kana. The pak-kana was yet another product of the Beit Thailandi's very own farm, yes farm, where 2 years ago they started growing hard to find Thai ingredients such as Thai eggplant, sweet Thai basil, papaya and pri ki nu (hot Thai pepper).
There were more than 6 or 7 different pak-kana dishes on the specials menu, each more appealing than the rest. Upon recommendation, we selected a main dish of the pak kana in Thai oyster sauce with slices of veal liver. As a second main we went with my 'can't live without it' Geang kiao waan gaiq goung (shrimp and Thai eggplant in green curry). For starters, we ordered Som tam (Papaya salad), Yam pla-muek (Calamari-mushroom salad) and an additional dish of seared rare beef off the specials menu.
I may have already mentioned that Beit Thailandi is far, far cry from your typical Tel Aviv Thai-style take-away. It's also a cut above most North American Thai restaurants I've tried. And good things, well, they take time. But soon enough, all three of our starters arrived.
The papaya salad was as refreshing and peanuty as ever. The calamari salad was chock full of perfectly cooked thick calamari rings, which were still a bit warm, along with meaty mushrooms, fresh cilantro, tomatoes, and, of course, chili, providing that much desired zing! The special seared beef, however, was the real standout. A true testament to what top quality ingredients – in this case a mighty fine cut of beef – and skilled chefs can produce. The beef was charcoal grilled on the outside and completely rare on the inside. The accompanying chili rich sauce perfectly complemented.
Finally, it was time for the inexplicable pak-kana to arrive. To my utter delight, it turned out to be Chinese broccoli, which I adore. Still bright green and tender, yet crisp, as they should have been, these lovely long-stalked vegetables were perfectly at home in the delicately savoury Thai oyster sauce and generous portion of bite-size sliced veal liver.
And then, along came my beloved: a large steaming bowl of green curry, floating with adorable golf ball sized Thai eggplant cut into quarters and, of course, the shrimp. Oh the ritual of placing little mounds of steamed rice on my plate and then carefully topping with just the right amount of coconut curry sauce so as to moisten and flavour the rice without turning it into a soup. Creamy, spicy, and richly flavourful, the green curry, like all the coconut milk based dishes at Beit Thailandi, is made from home made coconut milk. All day, every day, one of the six Thai chefs is grinding, pressing and boiling the ton of coconut that is used weekly until it becomes a creamy milk.
Tongues still lightly burning, we ordered the tapioca and fruit in cold, sweetened coconut milk for dessert. The lightest of the traditional dessert options (the others being sticky rice with fried banana – so tempting, yet so intimidating after a large meal – and banana cooked in coconut milk), the tapioca refreshed our palates and provided the perfect ending to a stellar meal.
Thinking back on this meal some time later, the flavours of each dish are still perfectly clear on my tongue; the result, a wise man and culinary purist once said, 'of being authentic to not only a country, but a specific region. Fusion', he said, 'is utterly forgettable.' It won't be long before I head over for my next 'unforgettable' Thai experience.
Beit Thailandi 8 Bograshov , corner of Ben Yehuda , Tel AvivTel: 03-5178568