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‘Essence’ of Asian cuisine captured in latest list of 50 best restaurants

Mar 17. 2021
Photo credit: 50 Best
Photo credit: 50 Best
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By The Nation

This year’s list of “Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants” includes the “Essence of Asia” – an unranked collection of restaurants that aims to represent the spirit of Asian gastronomy.

“This collection presents travellers and gourmets guidance to some of Asia’s most authentic and diverse dining experiences. Reflecting the breadth of the region’s gastronomic scene, the range of establishments spans street vendors, time-honoured institutions, philanthropic businesses and pioneering newcomers,” said William Drew, director of content for the annual Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

The collection comprises eateries in 49 eateries across 20 countries and territories – stretching from Pakistan across Japan. These restaurants honour culinary traditions, reinvent indigenous cuisines, and revive centuries-old recipes, all while playing a pivotal role within their communities.

Six restaurants in Thailand made the list this year, ranging from chef’s tables to local specialities. They are:

100 Mahaseth, Bangkok

Chef Chalee Kader’s root-to-fruit, nose-to-tail, farm-to-table approach to dining had already won plaudits. But his 100 Smile Meals initiative to help farmers and suppliers during the pandemic deserves special mention. Instead of simply handing out food, Chalee sought cash donations, which were then used to buy products from farmers and suppliers, thereby providing a living to overlooked partners in the restaurant ecosystem.

Barefood Bangkok, Bangkok

Started in 2016 by chef Edoardo Bonavolta and partner Taksina Nuangsri to produce cultured vegan cheeses, Barefood Bangkok has grown into a destination for plant-based foods. Their cashew cheeses, ranging from ricotta to herb and Thai chilli cheese, remain at Barefood’s core. Customers have reportedly been unable to distinguish the cheeses from the dairy versions in blind tastings.

Na Café at Bangkok 1899, Bangkok

Art, design, food and social betterment come together at Bangkok 1899, a female-led cultural and civic hub with a café that promotes positive change through food and beverage. Drinks are made in-house using local ingredients, as is the food, which changes according to the chef in residence (currently Peruvian), though a Thai menu is always available. The café runs a zero-waste programme, which includes turning old juices and drinks into clothes dye. Training programmes for at-risk youth and refugees are also provided.

Wattana Panich, Bangkok

Nattapong Kaweeantawong has a legacy to preserve, both physical and metaphorical. The physical is a master stock that’s been bubbling away for more than 40 years, and the metaphorical is his family restaurant’s legacy. The stock is the secret sauce that has brought the family’s beef noodle soup such acclaim, with meat that’s been simmered for hours in a giant pan and is heady with a viscous blend of star anise, garlic, black pepper, coriander root and other mystery spices.

Locus Native Food Lab, Chiang Rai

The lush, mountainous terrain of the North is home to several hill tribes, each culturally distinct but with close ties to the land. It is their food that chef Kongwuth Chaiwongkachon interprets, albeit through a fine-dining lens. The multi-course tasting menu takes a twist at the end when the contemporary version of every dish eaten is presented once again, but this time in all its rustic glory.

Samuay & Sons, Udon Thani

In the far Northeast, near the Laos border, chef Weerawat “Num” Triyasenawat is cooking food unlike anywhere else. Weerawat forages and fossicks for all manner of local and indigenous ingredients, working closely with local farmers, suppliers and artisans to create contemporary Isaan cuisine. He also hosts education and training workshops to help farmers promote their work and preserve indigenous wisdom and traditions.

The Essence of Asia collection was created based on recommendations from chefs of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2020 and 2021, as well as 50 judges and trusted gourmets in the region.

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