By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
The Nation Weekend
ACCESSIBLE ONLY by boat, Praya Palazzo – a hotel housed in a century-old Italo-Thai mansion on the Thon Buri bank of the Chao Phraya River – has now reopened following several months of renovations.
Built in 1923 during the reign of King Rama VI, the mansion originally belonged to Praya Chollabhumipanish – a noble of the Royal Court Custom Department – and was known as Baan Bang Yee Khan. After World War II, it was used as two schools then had left abandoned for over a decade since 1996.
The decaying mansion was given a new lease of life by late architect Wichai Pitakworrarat and was reborn as Praya Palazzo in 2009 before being acquired by Montara Hospitality, which owns and operates Trisara Phuket and Prince Theatre Heritage Stay in Bangkok, late last year.
Praya Dining at Praya Palazzo relaunches with an exquisite culinary journey that takes the diner through the history of Siam.
The restaurant Praya Dining is also open again with the menu revamped to track the origins of Siamese cuisine from the Sukhothai era (1238-1438), the Ayutthaya (1351-1767) to the Rattanakosin period (1782-today). The dishes chosen to represent each period are based on both studies and assumptions.
The restaurant is elegant with wooden floors and dark red walls and the vintage furniture and decorative items add to its classic charm.
The savoury dip lon pla kem (salted mackerel relish with vegetables, Bt290) represents the way of life in the Sukhothai era. History tells us that rice and fish were the staples and that the people ate simple dishes based around rice, shrimp paste, fish and vegetables ground together in a mortar. Meat, particularly beef, was not popular because it needed too much firewood for cooking. Lon pla kem combines smoked dry fish, minced pork and shrimp paste, which are slowly simmered in rich coconut cream and served with an assortment of vegetables and small crispy fish.
Ingredients like cilantro, peanuts and spices came into play in the Ayutthaya Kingdom as trade with foreign countries like Portugal, Persia and China flourished. People began to eat pork thanks to the influence of Chinese cuisine and the Chinese cooking techniques of stir-frying and frying were introduced.
The appetiser representing this period is kung sarong (deep-fried prawns wrapped with vermicelli noodles, Bt280) while the main dish is kamon jeen nam ya pla (thin rice noodles with snake-head fish, Bt290), a tempting fish curry served with bean sprout, chopped cucumber and long bean.
Kamon jeen nam ya pla
The appetiser known as la tiang (Bt250) gets a mention in the poem “Kap He Chom Krueang Khao Wan” (“Verse of Food and Dessert”) composed by King Rama II in the Rattanakosin era and is prepared here according to the centuries-old recipe. It comprises minced pork, shrimp and roasted peanuts seasoned with pepper, fish sauce and coconut palm sugar wrapped in egg mesh.
Another appetiser, kratong thong (seasoned minced chicken with corn seed, green pea and chopped carrot, Bt190) is based on a dish introduced during the reign of King Rama IV who embraced Western innovations and initiated the modernisation of Siam.
Many dishes are made according to the royal recipes from the reign of King Rama V but with a slight twist while others follow the recipes from a centuries-old cookbook written by Mom Somjeen Rachanupraphan.
Among the starters are mee krob (crispy vermicelli with tamarind sauce, Bt290) and sang wa kung pla duk fu (grilled and chopped prawns dip with crispy catfish salad, Bt380).
“We use grilled river prawns for the dip and the deep-fried fluffy crispy catfish is made from 100-per-cent catfish meat without any flour,” says Neerapha Wongnikorn, the executive assistant manager.
Gaeng run juan
Thought to have originated in the palace of King Rama V, gaeng run juan (hot and spicy soup, Bt350) features leftover shrimp-paste dip cooked in a broth of pork (the original version uses beef), lemongrass, onion, holy basil, garlic and chilli.
Mu pad som siew
Another main dish is mu pad som siew (Bt350) for which the local som siew leaf – largely found in the North and Northeastern regions – is crushed to extract its unique sour taste then mixed into the curry paste before stir-frying with pork.
“The actual origin of the dish is hard to trace though it is believed that Princess Sukhumala Marasri, a royal consort of King Rama V, visited Wat Som Siew in Nakhon Sawan and was impressed by the fragrance of the som siew plants grown around the temple. Legend has it that she brought the leaves back to the palace and started to cook them in a yellow curry,” Neerapha explains.
Kung mae nam pao kab sadao wan
“One of King Rama V’s favourite dishes was said to be kung mae nam pao kab sadao wan (grilled river prawn served with neem leaves and tamarind dip, Bt690) because it was easy-to-prepare while he was travelling by water.”
Praya Dining at Praya Palazzo hotel is open daily from 11am to 10.30pm.
The hotel’s shuttle boat provides a service to and from Tha Phra Arthit pier or Rajathiwas Temple pier (Soi Samsen 9) where parking is available.
Call (02) 883 2998 or visit www.PrayaPalazzo.com.