Gaggan’s clockwork menu

A report on the 25 dishes served at the number one restaurant in Asia. A Progressive Indian Cuisine journey destined to end

29-01-2018

Using a torch, Gaggan Anand burns banana leaves. We’re halfway down the 25-course tasting menu that every night he serves at his restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand, number 7 in the World's 50 Best Restaurant. The establishment will close in 2020 and reopen in 2021 in Fukuoka, Japan. Gaggan will speak at Identità Milano, on Sunday 4th March, at 11.30 am in the Auditorium

Photogallery

The sign appearing on Soi Langsuan in Bangkok, the little road where you can find restaurant Gaggan and, in front of it, the new-born Gaa, same ownership
The entrance to the restaurant, which recently got the second Michelin star. It’s open only in the evening. There are 65 people here who serve 100 clients daily, divided into two shifts (photo from themalaymailonline.com)
Gaggan’s famous emoji menu: "We first create the dish, then we sum it up with an emoji", he points out (photo from Andershusa/Instagram)
1 
Pink elderflower and watermelon
The tasting menu starts with the notes of the Foo Fighters. The entire first part of the menu is to be eaten with your hands: "This is how it works in India", he explains. First dish: a pearl among elderberry flowers and watermelon in an edible oyster shell. A debut to rinse the palate

After compiling the profile of the galaxy that Gaggan is building, we focus on the meal that the Indian, number one in Asia for the past 3 years, serves daily at his restaurants above Lumphini Park, in the heart of Bangkok.

In 2010, Gaggan Anand colonised a beautiful wood building with just one goal: redeem Indian cuisine and the social image of Indian chefs around the world. «When they said», he’s been repeating for years, «that our tradition is too poor to aim for the top in fine dining, I got completely pissed off». It is to accomplish this mission that he did an internship at El Bulli in 2009: «Ferran Adrià changed my life and my approach to the profession», he says.

You can clearly notice this tecno-emotional heritage in the current menu, a breath-taking sequence of 25 bulli-style dishes: you find the entertaining side (loud music from Marshall amplifiers) which is never idle, unusual texture explorations, a large use of maltodextrins, spherifications and alginates and a well-designed sequence of growing intensity. It’s like staying in Sitges 6 years after it closed, but a continent apart.

Of course, the main characters in our films change. When you don’t spherify olives nor cavialise any ingredients, but change the look of traditional Indian recipes such as idly sambharvindaloosamosasheek kebab… [details in the photo gallery]. «It’s a heritage unexplored in fine dining», he says with pride, «hundreds of reinterpreted recipes based on at least 36 different traditions, from the very damp Tamil Nadu in the south, to the peaks of Himalaya, thousands of kilometres to the north».

Gaggan Anand is also a great cook when it comes to traditional Indian cuisine. The proof is on this table. Left to right, clockwise: poppadum, rice, coconut chutney, fried lentil doughnuts, fish curry, curdled rice

Gaggan Anand is also a great cook when it comes to traditional Indian cuisine. The proof is on this table. Left to right, clockwise: poppadum, rice, coconut chutney, fried lentil doughnuts, fish curry, curdled rice

An Indian pride that ridicules British imperialism: «There’s no such thing as curry. The British imported it, when they arrived here to annoy us because they wanted opium, in the 16th century. They imported tea, started to build factories. They destroyed our heritage and started to sell English products but labelled 'made in India'». A polemical and sacrilegious attitude, enriched with lots of quotations and hints to Hinduist and Buddhist iconography and to the Thai universe, his current home.

Yet Japan is Gaggan’s latest true obsession. As soon as he can, he gets on a plane to Tokyo, takes the Shinkansen to Hokkaido in the north or Fukuoka in the south and eats as many as 5 meals per day, amazed «by a product based culture that has no comparisons around the world, in a country where seasons are well defined», with all respect to the single season and limited biodiversity of Thailand.

It is in Fukuoka, as we mentioned, that he’ll open his new restaurant Gohgan, in 2021. «Meanwhile, I enjoy leadership and fame», he ends, «I’m ready to start from scratch, once again». The Progressive Indian Cuisine, his greatest contribution to contemporary fine dining, will be a distant memory.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso

See also
The Gaggan galaxy by Gabriele Zanatta


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Photogallery

The sign appearing on Soi Langsuan in Bangkok, the little road where you can find restaurant Gaggan and, in front of it, the new-born Gaa, same ownership
The entrance to the restaurant, which recently got the second Michelin star. It’s open only in the evening. There are 65 people here who serve 100 clients daily, divided into two shifts (photo from themalaymailonline.com)
Gaggan’s famous emoji menu: "We first create the dish, then we sum it up with an emoji", he points out (photo from Andershusa/Instagram)
1 
Pink elderflower and watermelon
The tasting menu starts with the notes of the Foo Fighters. The entire first part of the menu is to be eaten with your hands: "This is how it works in India", he explains. First dish: a pearl among elderberry flowers and watermelon in an edible oyster shell. A debut to rinse the palate
2
Yogurt Explosion
Gaggan’s most famous dish. It’s the result of his early internship at elBulli in Roses, Catalonia. "If Ferran Adrià has had Spanish people accept a spherified olives", he says, "why shouldn’t I do the same with an emblem of India?". The spherified yogurt is made with low fat yogurt dipped in a sodium alginate
3
Lick it up. Mushroom peas
With "Lick it up", a hit from the Eighties by Kiss playing in the background, they serve this dish which you must hold with both hands and lick. The sauces, from bottom to top, in "licking order ": tomato, dehydrated mushrooms and mashed green chickpeas. On top, shaved truffle.  "Music, words, food. This is how we represent lightness"
Gaggan holds a cone
4
Tom Yum Kung
This is his version of Tom Yam (or Yum), a popular Thai soup. It’s a cold purée of tom yam served in crispy rice paper with a head of scampi to add flavour. It’s a sort of prawn cocktail in the shape of a cone
5
Goat brain, flower power
A cracker of goat brain ("to us Indians, it’s like foie gras", beams Gaggan) and rice flour. It is served to women first, playing with the similar sounds of flour and flower
6
Eggplant cookie
A cookie of aubergine, a sandwich the size of a coin, held together thanks to some onion chutney. "Out of 20, in Asia ingredients are usually worth 5, technique 15. With this dish I wanted to go in the opposite direction, return to Western minimalism with a universal emblem, that is to say aubergines. It’s a recent dish, which portraits the restaurant as it is now"
7
Chilly bon bon
Chilli pepper spheres. "Chocolates" filled with cumin, chilli pepper, ginger, and other spices. "In India there are four degrees of spiciness: hot, hotter, very hot and hell". The bon bon was mildly hot
8
Idly Sambar
Idly Sambar is a Tamil recipe, from the south of India: vegetable stew, tamarind and varying spices. "The world can be divided into two: those who eat rice, and those who eat bread. In this case, the base is bread made of fermented rice"