Have you heard of Gaggan? It was just named #7 restaurant in the world. It has been the #1 restaurant in Asia for several years. The chef (Gaggan Anand) was featured on Chef's Table, the food-porny Netflix original series, so you might have seen it there.
I went there. Isn't that crazy? I went there!!
To understand why Gaggan is significant, we have to talk about El Bulli. El Bulli was a restaurant in Spain, near Barcelona that was run by Ferran Adria, where he basically invented a type of cooking called molecular gastronomy. Molecular gastronomy is what happens when you take a chef and you give him (or her, but usually him) a lot of really expensive scientific tools with which to cook pretty normal ingredients. Adria was really well-known, for example, for this liquid olive that looked like a regular olive but then when you bit into it, it was a really intensely olive-y juice. The idea is that you basically f*ck with the diner's mind. Make them think they're getting one thing, and then give them something else. It is the meeting point of cooking and a chemistry lab.
Gaggan worked at El Bulli for several years before it closed, and his cooking style is influenced heavily by Adria's training. The chefs at Gaggan are doing molecular gastronomy, heavily influenced by Gaggan's upbringing in India. The restaurant is in a beautiful modernized old house on a backstreet in Bangkok, which was recently renovated to include "The Lab" which is a 12-seat community table on an open kitchen where the team of chefs preps each course and talks you through them. That's where I sat.
One of the biggest reasons I wanted to eat at Gaggan is because he is one of only three non-white people in the Top 10 of the World's 50 Best List. The list is very Euro-centric and largely Western to say nothing of the very messed up gender issues of the list. I was really excited to experience a tasting menu of a cuisine that is generally not "elevated" to fine dining.
Honestly, I don't think the experience would have been worth it if I hadn't been sitting in The Lab. Gaggan himself wasn't there, but listening to the sous chefs talk about the dishes and explain how they are developed made it so much more than a meal. Eating there felt a little like visiting an art gallery exhibition with the artist there to explain each piece, except I don't like art. I like food. So I thought this was way better. In the same way that a modern art exhibition is more than just aesthetically pleasing, the food I ate at Gaggan wasn't always focussed on being tasty. More than anything else, it was surprising.
These days, you can eat food from all over the world without leaving your couch. This is great, obviously, but I think about the experience that my parents had on their honeymoon in Italy, and how they talk about the meals they ate there being completely different than anything they'd ever had before. My dad describes the first time he had ensalata caprese in Italy as "a revelation."
For most of my life, I've had access to tons of amazing foods from all over the world, but because of that I've had fewer of those revelatory moments - fewer moments of total shock and awe at the food I'm eating. Gaggan gave me more of those moments than I've ever had in one sitting.
The menu was 25 courses, which seemed like an unbelievable amount initially, but about halfway through the meal I was like "Oh shoot, am I going to be hungry when I leave here?" I wasn't, but I also wasn't as full as I thought I'd be, considering. I was also disappointed that they tasting menu didn't come with wine pairings, and there was no option to add them. One of the things I'd been excited to see what the sommelier would do about pairing wine with Indian flavors.
I won't walk you through all the dishes we had, but here are 9 of my favorites and a little about them!
1 - The first dish of the night was a combination of a slightly savory lemon drink, which when sipped while sniffing the vapor that flowed over it, tasted like cola.
2 - A reconstituted mushroom filled with uni cream, topped with caviar.
3 - One of my favorites of the night. A ball of white chocolate with a thin layer of Indian chili on the outside and filled with the same chili liquid. We were instructed to let it melt on our tongues and experience the waves of sweet and spicy as the chocolate melted.
4 - An eggplant layer cookie-ish nibble filled with onion chutney.
5 - A traditional Indian snack filled with shrimp paste, dipped in a charcoal-infused batter and deep fried.
6 - A savory ice cream cone with wasabi ice cream and fresh uni.
7 - Gaggan's interpretation of another Indian street food snack.
8 - A reinterpretation of a hot dog, a lamb dog fried and served on a bun.
9 - "Apple snow" a sweet/sour dessert bite topped with flavored snow.
What's the weirdest meal you've ever eaten?