Thai flower power takes on fried insects
NAKHON PATHOM, Thailand, Jan 8, 2003 - Thailand is known for its street stalls which sell fried scorpions and other creepy-crawlies, but a resort here is catering for vegetarians with exotic tastes -- by serving up fried orchids, roses and bougainvillea.
At the riverside Rose Garden in this town just outside the Thai capital, the rainbow-hued roses, orchid blooms and ixoras please not only the eye but also the taste buds of connoisseurs.
Flower tempura, served at a restaurant overlooking the Ta Chine river, is accompanied by hot Thai chilli sauce and a promise that the flowers are hand-picked and chemical-free.
The flowers are also thoroughly washed to make sure the dish remains vegetarian, with no insects accidentally left inside.
The tempura is made with red and purple orchids, orange bougainvillea and ixoras. Roses are also served.
The orchid salad, meanwhile, comes with a garnish of fresh orchids -- although a prawn garnish is available on request -- with a side sauce of sugar and vinegar.
Rose Garden owner Suchada Yuvaboon came up with the idea of turning the crop of cut flowers from the 75-acre (30-hectare) resort here into delectable morsels, and the dishes have been on the menu since October.
Chef Wanwipa Thep-arts says Suchada wanted the kitchen to experiment with the crop of organically grown flowers so that guests could be served a home-grown vegetarian delicacy.
Even though the orchids are native to Thailand, a plate of mixed flower tempura cannot be ordered in a hurry. It takes two days for Wanwipa to organise her main ingredients. But at 80 baht (less than two dollars) a plate, the dish has a down-to-earth price. The orchid salad is slightly pricier at 120 baht. "The orchid tempuras are a success. Especially the Japanese tourists like it very much," says Rose Garden marketing manager Nuttaya Vechasit. "We have included this in a special menu because of its success."
Fried to a golden colour, the wheat flour-coated petals largely retain their colour inside and shape. The purple orchids have a distinct taste, sharper than the crunchy bougainvillea. Vechasit says she is not aware of any other restaurants in Thailand serving exotic flower tempuras, but local residents say some other hotels have been trying out the dish.
The Rose Garden takes pride in caring for its 11 gardens, with an army of 73 gardeners overseeing the manicured lawns and flower beds, which are overlooked by more than 100 of its 188 rooms. The hotel also receives technical assistance from Thailand's agricultural Kasetsart university, particularly in pest control and caring for the bigger trees. The hotel, which hosted an international orchid show in the late 1970s, traces its history back to 1962, when the then-mayor of Bangkok Chamnan Yuvaboon built his holiday home here surrounded by a lush tropical garden.
While the Rose Garden hosted Sri Lankan peace talks here this week, some of the delegates were offered a sample of the fried blooms -- a welcome respite from the flowery speeches.
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