It's the Thai Water Splashing Festival in a few days (April 13 to 15), and the festivities have already started. Shanghai restaurant and bar Flair has specially flown in chefs and ingredients from Thailand for the occasion.
Flair's resident chef Tang Wan Thim, who ran a restaurant in Dubai for more than two years, summarizes the secret of Thai cuisine in one sentence: "Shuffle the seasonings and that makes perfect Thai flavors - sweet, salty, sour and spicy."
Thailand, like Italy, is a country of many regional cuisines. Some areas feature cloves, cinnamon and other spices we associate with India, there are areas where an abundance of chilies makes the food fiercely hot and still others that rely heavily on fresh green peppercorns. The country's geography ensures that spice is the essence of the cuisine.
"Chilies usually provide the heat. Palm sugar and coconut milk offer the sweetness, salt in the form of fish sauce, lime and tamarind make up the sour, and herbs are used to freshen dishes," says Thim, who sounds as if he's conducting an orchestra when cooking Thai food.
Curry is the chameleon on the table. It not only comes in assorted colors - yellow (with turmeric), red (with chilies) and green (even hotter with green chilies) - but can magically transform an ordinary dish into something aromatic and exotic.
"Thai (curry) dishes are not like the usual curries," says the chef. "Although they may contain some curry powder, they are more often based on a combination of herbs and aromatic vegetables, rather than on dried spices.
"A typical Thai curry usually features a mixture of garlic, shallots, chilies, lime leaf, sugar and galangal, and is made with fresh ingredients. Indian curries use dry powders made up of ground spice blends, which better emphasize their earthy intensity."
The first spoonful of Flair's roast-duck red curry tells you the difference. It fills the room with an infectious aroma, and the slices of tender roasted duck meat in a red curry and coconut sauce leaves you no choice but to clean the plate.
Apart from the regular attractions such as prawn cake, golden bag and beef satay, there are signature Thai soups including tom kha black chicken (a refreshing soup of black chicken and organic galangal, served in a fresh young coconut) and tom seb salmon (a traditional North-eastern style spicy soup with salmon, fresh herbs, chili and tamarind leaves). These are all secret recipes from the Blue Elephant, a renowned Thai restaurant that has 12 branches across Europe and the Middle East.
As for the drink to go with Thai food, Singha beer is a perfect choice. The pilsner-style beer, found everywhere in Thailand but rare in Shanghai, will be available at Flair during the promotion.