Thai food is arguably the effervescence of Southeast Asian cuisine. Sour, sweet, salty and the occasional bitter can be all experienced in one plate, bringing both zest and character to a dish. The colours are vibrant and fresh, reminding us of warm, cheerful summer days and, at the same time, beckoning us to take a bite. Diners can expect to be teased by the food presentation and uplifted by its verve. There is also so much green that guilt eating can almost be guilt free. And when it’s vegetarian Thai food you’re eating, you know you can afford to indulge.
Mak Mak, an edgy, retro-inspired restaurant, serves up punchy, aromatic Thai cuisine in Central. They dole out the classic flavours of central Thailand, including a mouth-watering spread for vegans and vegetarians.
But all good things must be shared, which is why Mak Mak invited some of us to a hands-on workshop where we learned how to make two very fresh and colourful vegetarian salads with Chef Josh Hartland.
Like the restaurant philosophy of Mak Mak, Chef Hartland’s new curated vegetarian menu stems from Thai traditions. He wants the herbs to take centre stage, using only natural sauces without additives and packing bold flavours into his greens. Coriander seed and peppercorn are a must in Thai kitchens, and cumin seed too, for added depth. Chef Hartland is a familiar face at the spice stalls of Wanchai market, and he shared his latest find with us: roasted ground glutinous rice powder, a bold seasoning with a wasabi-like heat.
We began the workshop with laab hed – a tofu and mixed mushroom salad. We stir-fried some diced fried tofu, enoki mushrooms, shimeij mushrooms, straw mushrooms and fresh shiitake to form a pan of mouth-watering, savoury funghi heaven.
The dressing was easily assembled – some gluten-free soy sauce, a couple of squirts of lime juice, a few teaspoons of palm sugar and some roasted ground glutinous rice powder for a unique tang and aroma. These were then mixed with red shallot, sawtooth coriander and spring onion as well as a handful of regular coriander and mint leaves. I took my first bite. The soy was sweet, the lime was piquant, the greens were crisp and the mushrooms were exquisite.
We learned that the mushrooms we used can be substituted with other funghi, such as dried shiitake or black fungus, and that ingredients can be blanched instead of sautéed if you prefer to cook without oil. Chef Hartland also shared a herb fact: sawtooth coriander is a great alternative for people with coriander allergies.
We made yum som O J (a vegetarian pomelo salad) next. Chef Hartland instructed us to be keep the flesh intact and to be extra cautious so as not to squish the pulp – all this for a good mouthfeel. I peeled the rind without much difficulty, but as it was my first time working with the fruit, I ended up with mostly pulp bits, so my salad had a lot more texture.
I mixed some palm sugar, gluten-free soy sauce and lime juice for the dressing and added coriander leaves and plenty of crispy shallots and garlic, shredded roasted coconut and julienned red banana chilli for some crunch and heat. It looked almost too pretty to eat. But I tried a forkful. Chef was right – plumper pomelo pomelo flesh has more juice and it also stimulates the palate. For non-vegetarian variations, you can add shrimp and/or poached chicken breast to the salad.
This vegetarian Thai workshop at Mak Mak was enjoyable, and the Southeast Asian flavours reminded me of my home of Singapore. I can’t live without meat, but I'll gladly relinquish my steak if you give me that pomelo salad.
The laab hed is part of Mak Mak’s seven-course vegetarian set dinner ($350/person) and the yum som O J is a mainstay salad. Other vegetarian items in the set dinner include Thai favourites such as thod poh pia (fried vegetarian spring rolls with sweet chilli peanut sauce), tom kha (vegetable coconut soup), makheaw wan daeng (aubergine and tofu green curry), pad seeuw (wok-fried rice noodles), pad pak (fried morning glory) and the classic Thai dessert khao neaw mamuang (mango sticky rice).
Shop 217A, 2/F, LANDMARK ATRIUM,15 Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2983 1003
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.