Gaggan is crazy! His emoji menu is the work of a nutty professor. In a good way. The world needs more madness. Unfortunately, Gaggan Anand is also exhausted. Done. Tired of fame, glory, and success.
– I’m a victim of my own fame. It’s a curse. A good curse, but still a curse … Gaggan told me when I sat down with him for a chat.
That’s why he’s closing his restaurant Gaggan. Now, after it was just awarded two Michelin stars in 2018 and voted Asia’s best restaurant for the 4th consecutive year. Only a true madman would do something like that. If you want to experience this meal – get a table now. Preferably, in 2019. By 2020 it could all be over.
Emoji Madness at Gaggan
Situated in a 19th-century whitewashed, wooden, colonial townhouse, in a quiet neighborhood near Lumphini park, right in the middle of the bustling metropolis Bangkok, is the world’s leading progressive Indian restaurant. If you can score a table in the Lab, you should go for it. This is Gaggan’s exclusive 14-seat countertop dining experience. You’ll enjoy mostly the same tasting menu as the rest of the diners, the emoji menu, but you’ll sit closer to the cooking and there’s a show included. If you are lucky, Gaggan himself performs.
– People fly in from all over the world, from every continent in one night, and the common language is emoji. I can’t say banana in seven languages, but I can say banana in emoji, Gaggan explains about his wordless menu.
Gaggan’s goal when he opened in 2010 was to elevate Indian food to the same level of fine dining as other cuisines. He got a lot of his inspiration from working at the legendary three-Michelin-starred restaurant El Bulli in Spain – known as the cradle of molecular gastronomy. Yet, chef Anand didn’t want a classical luxury restaurant himself.
– I wanted my restaurant to be about storytelling combined with fun. The biggest problem in the industry is that we are too pretentious. We try to make service more elegant. Are you wearing the right clothes? The right shoes? These are all things we don’t care about at all. You can come here in bathroom slippers. You can come here as a hippie. A foodie doesn’t have to be looking good. A foodie just needs to be a foodie.
“I’m a victim of my own fame. It’s a curse. A good curse, but still a curse …” – Gaggan Anad
In the Lab of Bangkok’s Nutty Professor
One of the first bites at Gaggan is Yogurt Explosion. This dish was inspired by the Ferran brothers at El Bulli. They made a famous dish of capsulated olives, which captured the essence of Spanish cuisine, and Gaggan wanted to do the same for the Indian kitchen. One bite that explodes with all the flavors of India in your mouth. Sweet, salty, sour, and spicy. The Indian umami, or chatpata as he calls this balance of the four S’s.
One thing I could immediately relate to was Gaggan’s taste in music. Just like me, he was bred on progressive rock, represented by bands like Pink Floyd, the Doors, and Led Zeppelin. One of the most iconic dishes on his emoji menu is Lick it up! A plate painted with a trio of sauces and purées, including mushrooms and peas, that you literallyt have to lick off your plate. Accompanied by the 1983 Kiss classic Lick it up blasting over the speakers.
“The common language is emoji. I can’t say banana in seven languages, but I can say banana in emoji.” – Gaggan Anand
Goat Brain – The Indian Foie Gras
The Gaggan experience costs 6500 Baht and includes 25 courses – a lot of which are eaten with your hands. Gaggan wants his first ten snack courses to come out like rapid fire. Perhaps that’s why we didn’t pay too much attention when the emoji menu showed a flower and Gaggan introduced the dish as Indian foie gras. He didn’t reveal until after we had finished that it was actually a rosette cookie filled with a goat’s brain mousse we just ate. Despite having watched the Chef’s Table episode on Netflix (season 2, episode 6), we still got tricked. I guess I forgot that part. That being said, Anand’s comparison to foie gras is not that far off, and I really liked this dish. It sort of reminded me of the rosette cookie with actual foie gras at Hantverket in Stockholm.
Rice is Gold
When Massimo Bottura said bread is gold, Gaggan Anand said rice is gold. Rice is the daily bread for Indians, especially in the south. In fact, the traditional idli bread is eaten by half a billion people several times a day.
– In Asia, we were poor, and most breakfasts included varieties of leftover rice. […] The next course is a bread from India made from leftover lentils and rice that is fermented and steamed.
Except that Gaggan’s version of Idli Sambar, according to himself, has been made two hundred times lighter, more expensive, and more photo-friendly than the original.
The next dish, banana and chicken liver, came about in a desperate attempt for Gaggan and his wife to make healthy and nutritious food for their child. They wanted to make a baby-friendly curry, but it was the Slovenian chef Ana Roš from restaurant Hiša Franko who gave Gaggan the idea to make it from chicken liver and banana. And odd, but tasty combination served on a sesame bread.
Speaking of odd, we also ate fish that had the distinct taste and consistency of granola. If chef Anand had not told us the truth, I would still believe to this day that it was just granola.
The Japanese Influence
Gaggan hated uni, or sea urchin, the first time he tasted it. I can also confirm that it’s definitely an acquired taste, and it does require a skilled chef to balance the flavors correctly. Once you taste a good version, however, chances are you will end up falling in love. Now, Gaggan described uni as sea chocolate because of the salt and sweet flavor, the creaminess, and the fact that both are claimed to be aphrodisiacs.
– Cucumber, horseradish ice cream, and sea urchin topped with Key lime, inside a temaki wrap made from dill with Hendrick’s gin, and Indian tonic water. Indian tonic water … Gaggan stressed, and we laughed.
Any raw cuisine is a one-way ticket, Gaggan claimed. If you go higher, you can’t come down, he continued. What he meant, I think, is that once you’ve tasted a good sushi place, you’ll see everything below that quality as less superior.
– This is my ode to raw cuisine. A dashi or fish soup meringue, with fresh wasabi on top, and Otoro which is in season now.
Miraculously, the fake nigiri sushi tasted almost exactly like the real deal. The meringue had the creaminess of rice, and the balance of acidity, saltiness, and sweetness.
The Japanese influence continued for a few more dishes, including my favorite bite from the entire meal – a mini carrot waffle filled with foie gras. Enjoyed with a spray of yuzu aroma in the hand. Finally, Gaggan’s interpretation of a matcha tea, that was not a matcha tea at all, but made from green apples, green asparagus, cucumber, and celery. In true Japanese style, the team did the whole routine of making matcha tea in front of us.
– This dish explains what our restaurant has become. A simple tea to celebrate my cooking history. Ten years in India. Eleven years in Thailand. Twenty-one years of cooking professionally. In Thailand, I became Gaggan, and the techniques came from Spain and other parts of the world. Now, the last four to five years I’ve become very Japanese. Less is more, more is less. This recipe looks like Japan, behaves like Gaggan, and tastes like India. Enjoy the journey of my life in a bowl.
“This recipe looks like Japan, behaves like Gaggan, and tastes like India. Enjoy the journey of my life in a bowl.” – Gaggan Anand
I Want My Curry!!!
Gaggan used to have a dish on the menu called I Want My Curry!!! He called it a comfort pillow for the traditionalists. But not anymore. The dish has been replaced by a series of more progressive dishes. First out, a Pork Vindaloo coated with Japanese panko, prepared like tonkatsu, with small dots of English mustard. Intense flavor in a small square. Then, raw scallops in uncooked curry. Before we eat it, we get a lecture on the word curry by Gaggan.
– Curry is not an Indian word, it’s British. Chicken tikka masala is their national dish, not ours. Curry is not a cuisine.
When the British colonized India, they referred to everything that was saucy or soupy as a curry. However, curry is also a leaf that you find in almost every Indian dish. The name is anglicised from the original word kari. Gaggan and his head chef, Rydo Anton, brought out two different pouring bottles. One marked Sex, and the other marked Making Love.
– This is red chili oil. It represents sex, because it’s hot, aggressive, and strong. This is green curry leaf oil. Emotion, sensuality, affection, and romance. I come from the country of Kamasutra! That’s why we have the second largest population in the world, because we eat curry. Because this and this together makes curry. The perfect relationship. Heat and flavor.
But, curry is an ugly dish, Gaggan argued.
– You have spoons and knife. Make it ugly!
“Curry is an ugly dish. […] Make it ugly!” – Gaggan Anand
Gaggan’s Next Project is a 10-Seater in Japan
Gaggan told us the story of the first time he left India and arrived in Thailand back in 2007. He had never eaten sushi before when a friend asked him out to try it. During that night, Gaggan went to the toilet several times to spit out food. Over the years, however, he fell in love with Japan. It was a dream of his to go there for a long time, but it didn’t happen until 2012. Since then he has been to Japan more than 75 times! Thus, it may not come as a surprise that Japan will be the location for Gaggan’s next project. A collaboration with the Japanese chef Takeshi “Goh” Fukuyama of La Maison de la Nature Goh in the city of Fukuoka. The name? GohGan
– I want a restaurant that has ten seats only and is inaccessible, Gaggan says.
Gaggan Anand will still be linked to Bangkok through his business interests and investments in his staff. Like his former sous chef, Garima Arora, who has opened restaurant Gaa right across the street from Gaggan. The head sommelier, Vladimir Kojic, is scheduled to open a natural wine bar called Wet right next to restaurant Gaggan, and most likely Rudo Anton will take over the old restaurant some day.
– All good things come to an end. Everything has a journey and a lifespan. I believe this restaurant is headed towards the end of the journey, where it will reach its peak of what we can do. I wanna leave it there. I believe the last two years will be the most intense of this restaurant.
“I want a restaurant that has ten seats only and is inaccessible.” – Gaggan Anand
What’s your craziest and most experimental dining experience? Please share in a comment below.