High class hotels are supposed to offer the best of everything: luxurious rooms, attentive service, and cuisine to die for – but in some cases it’s to die from. I stay in a lot of hotels, and have to say my second biggest disappointment is usually food, especially when I’m staying in Thailand and want to order something local.
With professional chefs, top drawer ingredients, and top dollar prices, it’s hard to figure out exactly how you can go wrong with a basic Thai dish like beef with rice and basil… but frankly there are times when I could do a better job myself and I haven’t been in the kitchen since Thailand was a democracy. This should definitely not be happening.
I recently stayed at a hotel in Thailand on business for ten days. As usual I was missing Thai food before too long, so I ordered a simple ka pao beef with rice from the hotel restaurant, only to be presented with a sad and watery-looking concoction sitting apologetically beneath a pair of symbolic basil leaves. It tasted even worse than it looked, but having paid six times what a far superior version would have cost in the local market I felt obliged to persevere.
I discretely called the waiter over and asked him if the chef was a local Thai. The waiter confirmed that he was, thereby eliminating the only possible excuse for the dish. In the end I told the waiter I simply couldn’t eat it. It was sweet, watery, and the beef was too tough to chew. I asked him in a friendly manner, “Would you eat this?” He said “No” with the most hospitable smile.
And yet this was a hotel where I’d been staying long enough to have access to the staff canteen, where they served amazing Thai food. Maybe not quite 5-star amazing but at least it had the real Thai taste and the staff weren’t scared to tuck in, which tells you the chef definitely did know his way around a Thai kitchen.
So what went wrong? It is a sorry state of affairs if guests in a hotel in Thailand cannot get authentic Thai food. Thai chefs know how it should be done, yet it seems that ordering a Thai dish in many “good” hotels is a lottery. Perhaps Thai people have the idea that real Thai food is somehow too Thai for the international visitor, or too challenging, and needs to be turned into something safe, bland, and watered-down. It happens too often to be coincidence, and if this is indeed what hotels are thinking, then it is a big mistake. Foreign visitors come to Thailand from all over the world, including from countries which are more than accustomed to spicy food. In addition, many are repeat visitors who are perfectly familiar with the local food. They know exactly what they’re ordering and they will be just as disappointed as Thai clientele if your restaurant misses the mark.
Guests in Thailand should, as a minimum, be able to expect that their hotel will be able to serve up Thai cuisine which is at least as good as that available on the street outside. Simple, genuine Thai food that tastes like food. The less spicy option is a fair and sometimes necessary compromise, but the bottom line is this: If your staff wouldn’t eat, why do you serve it to your guests?