Of all my travels, Thailand is the one country closest to my heart for a multitude of reasons, ranging from the warmth of its people, its similarities to India (to walk down the street in both countries is to invite an assault on your olfactory senses), the fact it can be whatever you want it to be, and of course the fact that their currency is inexpensive in Indian terms, a double whammy that hits home when you realise there’s a lot of cheap shopping to be had.
Among those reasons is also the fact that their food, like their culture, has all the bases covered. Sweet, savoury, bitter, amazeballs; Thai food comes in a wide variety of flavours to suit all palate. Indeed, more often than not moderately adventurous newbies will find that they have the Midas touch when it comes to trying Thai food, for almost everything falls on the spectrum of “nice, but I won’t sell my soul for this” to “so this is what they meant when they talked of manna from the heavens.”
This is not the Tuk Tuk I dined in.
Tuk Tuk looks to serve up that authentic awesomeness one plateful at a time, and this blink and you miss it eatery in the bowels of Andheri doesn’t have much of a come hither look to it. With a pastiche of yellow, red and green livery spelling out the words Tuk Tuk on a simple little signage, it can only be said that the choice of colours are either ironic or deliberate or both, given that there’s a signal in the signage too. Go figure.
But I’d prefer to go with the theory that they chose to go with the tricolours of Thailand’s national curries; red, yellow and green.
To lay eyes on Tuk Tuk’s interiors for the first time is to see the words “that’s all she wrote” brought to life. The place is best described as Spartan and utilitarian, with chairs and tables fulfilling a purpose and not serving as eye candy of any sort. There are some touches of style such as the paper table mats telling tongue in cheek tales of Thailand, and the vibrant colors of the signage extend to the interiors as well, with oversized bulbs hanging like the sword of Damocles over us.
We ordered for the Som Tom salad, some Tom Kha soup and Thai Extra Spicy Sweet Wings to begin proceedings, and then to tea things off while we bided our time, we ordered for 2 pots of green tea (Lemongrass and Pandan) as well.
The Pandan Tea I would most liken to a book with a fantastic abstract that doesn’t live up to the lofty heights promised, while the Lemongrass was exactly the opposite. The latter would be too droll, I thought, but I thought wrong. The mellowness of the Pandan screamed “Save Me” as its flavour was drowned in a sea of hot water, but the Lemongrass characteristic bite chomped its way through and won favour from all of us. No surprise to see it finished off earlier than its brethren then.
I once had a friend with a cute little pooch named Bobby, but don’t be fooled by Bobby Darling’s cute demeanour if you were ever to meet him. Bobby is a vicious little son of a bitch. Legend has it that he’s the pooch that first inspired the “beware of the dog” sign you se outside some doors these days.
The Som Tom salad did a Bobby.
“Ooh, cherry tomatoes, sprouts, beans, et al, what a pretty little dish you make”, said I.
And hearing me say that, the sprinkling of birds eye chillies snickered among themselves, for they knew what was coming. I hate those goddamned chillies, they’re a conniving little bunch of no gooders.
No sooner had those little para troopers landed on my palate than they got to work, firing away with gay abandon and setting off fire bombs all over the place.
In the words of Ace Ventura, “that’s-a spicy meatball”. It was not the mellow, sweet little girl you knew as a tot. That little girl is all grown up now, in her teen years and rebellious and she can be a nasty piece of work, so proceed with caution.
In the Thai Extra Spicy Sweet Wings, sweetness and spiciness were married in a happy, happy Union and they lived happily ever after. They were like that sickly sweet couple that finishes each other sentences, holds hands all the time, regularly does public displays of affection and remembers (and celebrates) each milestone moment, such as the time slickness bought sweetness her first balloon. Yeesh. Get a room you two.
The secret sauce (with a mix of tamarind, kaffir lime, oyster sauce, dark soya sauce, bird’s eye chilli and rosemary) that was born of their marriage was delightfully two-faced, and it’s not often you’ll find someone eschewing the protein and instead dunking their face in the sauce it came slathered in. But that’s exactly what happened here, minus the face dunking bit. What kind of animals do you think we are?
The Tom Kha too was a hit with us, with creamy layers of coconut milk mixing beautifully with assorted vegetables and chunky pieces of chicken. I’d pick this soup any day of the week over your cookie cutter manchow and hot and sour soups. Flavoursome to the last, I almost got down on one knee at one point to propose before realising I am a married man. I then tried to pretend I was tying my shoe laces before realising I was wearing loafers that never came with laces in the first place.
I am not a clever man.
We stuck with the tried, tested and trusted for the mains, and went with helping of Jasmine rice complemented by some Red and Yellow curry and some Pad Thai, at my little lady’s insistence. I eschewed the yellow curry and the surprisingly enjoyable Pad Thai, and while the latter blended flavours and crunch beautifully via a handful of peanuts, I had eyes only for the Red Curry.
With its smooth mix of chillies, ginger, a hint of lemongrass and creamy coconutty goodness, it had me eating out of the palm of its hand, or the bowl it was served in, depending on how you looked at it. I would happily chow down on this all year long if it was the only food dish left in the world. Like the best of comfort food, it spoke to my soul and soothed it so.
By this point, the 4 of us were stuffed tighter than a Dadar local overflowing with the good people of Mumbai, but the staff were kind enough to cajole us into digging into a portion of Chocolate and Coconut Mousse. I appreciated the fact that the chocolate wasn’t cloyingly sweet, but the coconut drizzled on top of it did nothing for me. It ended things on a sweet note at the very least, if not a high note.
While I wouldn’t hail this Tuk Tuk (see what I did there?) as the greatest thing since finely sliced crispy lotus roots, I found my meal at Tuk Tuk satisfying enough to be completely on board with the idea of taking another culinary joyride with them down the streets of Thailand. At Rs. 2000 for 4 (including all taxes, tips and charges) this was a VFM meal that left us with a happy ending of the right kind. More power to this Tuk Tuk for sure!