Article By Indranil Halder
Travelling has been part of Vivek Saha’s life, especially along the Indian Ocean. He has been cooking food in different parts of Asia and has created a colourful Instagram page to celebrate mango, prawn and lobster dishes amongst others.
Vivek studied at Institute of Hotel Management (IHM),Taratala, West Bengal,India. He started working with Oberoi Grand, Kolkata,India. Followed by Oberoi Wildflower Hall(Shimla), Bengaluru Marriott Whitefield Pre-opening Team(Bengaluru), JW Marriott(Seoul), JW Marriott Pre-opening Team (Kolkata) and Four Season (Bangalore). Now based in Ritz Carlton Reserve Phulay Bay Krabi(Thailand).
The Indian Ocean has been a part of my journey for many years as he has been working as chef in countries across the Indian Ocean. Few years back, after staying in Malvides for a short while, he made my way to Kolkata. While at home in Kolkata, India, he had used Andaman king prawns in Bengali style Malai Curry. It is the same prawn, one can try in the Andaman island of India too. Caught freshly from the Bay of Bengal. Same Andaman prawn is used in popular Asian snack such as Miang Kham which means ‘one bit wrap’. History said, it was introduced to Siamese court of King Rama V by Princess Dara Rashmi. In Malaysia, it is called Sirih Kaduk.
He loves to cook with lobster too. Whether it South Indian lobster curry or Tom-Yam in Thailand or rolls in South Korea, he loves them all. Different varieties of lobster dishes are featured in his Instagram page on regular basis and one of his favourite is Mango lobster.
Mango is his favourite fruit. Growing up in West Bengal, India , he knows the exquisite taste of mango. He loves the use of mango in cooking desert such as Khao Neeo Mamunga. A typical Thai desert with sticky rice and mango that he loves to prepare. Working with of other chefs in Ritz Carlton Krabi, Thailand, he has fallen in love with local Thai festivals and food.
Just like all Bengalis, festival and food are an emotion for Vivek too and he celebrates , “Baro Mashe,Tero Parbon”(12 months and 13 festivals) whole heartedly. During Durga Pujo, his quintessential favourite are Luchi with Aloo Dum and Kosha Pathar Mangsho. Food remains the center of attraction and core part of Durga pujo celebration.
As a chef, Vivek started travelling with the realisation that the world is united by food, festival and celebration. He quickly found, like Bengalis, food is the most emotional and sentimental part for any nationality irrespective of their religion.
Vivek has been living in Thailand for the last couple of years. Being a chef in a luxury hotel, it is mandatory to prepare a festive calender at the beginning of every year involving food and beverage. For example, Christmas starts in Thailand with the cake mixing ceremony reconnecting people from different parts of the community. Other than Christmas, there are other Thai cultural festivals where food goes hand in hand such as Songkran or Loy Krathong.
Songkran : The origins derive from the ancient Indian Festival of Makar Sankriti. The Indian version recognizes the suns celestial path and Thai translates the version recognizing the passing of an old year into a new one. History of the festival traditions originate with the blessings and prayers for Buddhist Monks. So in the month of April we celebrate this amazing festival in Thailand. The festive celebration starts with Khao Chae, a seasonal royal dish made up of cooked rice cooled in flower-scented water with various condiments. It include balls made from shrimp paste, stuffed shallots, stuffed sweet peppers, shredded sweetened beef or pork, stir-fried sweet pickled turnips with eggs, raw mango, fresh cucumber, wild ginger, chillies and spring onions. Above all, this dish is meant to be consumed in the hot season as it has a very cooling and refreshing on the body.
Loy Krathong : Loy Krathong is a Thai festival celebrated annually throughout the Kingdom of Thailand. It significant Worship and ask for forgiveness to Goddess of water and Buddha’s hair pagoda in the heaven. Traditionally food for this festival include Krathong Tong (a minced chicken and vegetables in crispy Krathong baskets), Nua Yang (marinated strips of beef, grilled and served on sticks) Tom Jerdt Tao-Hoo Moo Sap (vegetables and minced pork in a broth flavored with garlic and coriander root).
Vivek also love the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. The Festival is an nine-days annual event, celebrated by the Chinese Hokkien descendants across the island for physical well-being, spiritual cleansing, merit-making, conferring good luck in the future, and ensuring prosperity and long life, this nine day people only eat vegetarian food and so many innovative food fest you can see in the street of Phuket during this time of the year, Mee Pad Jay which is a fried flat rice noodles is one of the most popular vegetarian dishes during the festival. He feels, food may not be the answer to world peace, but it’s the beginning. The diversity of festivals,food and cultures will always be soul of any nation and he is fascinating to be enjoying such festive and food lifestyle. He is excited to be preparing dishes to celebrate the next festival : New Moon or a Sabbath day. For Vivek, being a Chef is not a profession, it’s just a way of life.