11 July 2024

A simple yet very effective way of elevating any culinary is to add a splash of color with edible flowers. This is applied to both savory and sweets including drinks. For a long time, Thai dishes are professionally rendered with an aesthetic touch of edible flowers. Currently, a number of fine dining Thai restaurants and leading café have increasingly used edible blooms as seasonal ingredients. They are pleasing to the eye, and are very photogenic for Instagramers.

The edible flowers are quite common for home-cooking with the likes of  Butterfly Pea (Dok Anchan), Cowslip creeper flower (Dok Kjon), Sesbania flower (Dok Sano) or Humming bird Sesban Agasta flower (Dok Khae) are common among Thai foodies. Those are mainly served just like vegetables on the side of dishes. Yet the use for seasoning and aesthetic purposes – mainly for creation and elevation of the dishes – has just been increasingly popular in the past several years.

“Personally, I think I’ve exhaustedly used flowers in my creation as I have been doing so for the past two decades. I started by picking flowers from my friend’s garden to create dishes and from that beginning point, there is no return. Right now, I’d like to find a new twist to my cuisine as this time around I’d like to pursue forest cuisine,” Jarunwan Boonwiwatana, self-taught chef and owner of Homemade Cooking restaurant, told Thai PBS World.

Appetizer served at Homemade Cooking. (Photo by Dae Warunee)

Homemade Cooking (Tam-sua Tam-suan in Thai) is open for booking only. In fact, it’s well known among foodies as “chef table” restaurant. The tiny-sized in an old-style raw house on Decho Road can seat around 10 people each time but the restaurant has drawn the likes of famous chefs, gourmands, foodies and loyal fans from offices nearby for over 20 years thanks to its different approaches in Jaruwan’s creativity in gastronomy.

For two decades, Jaruwan has mastered the science of edible blooms in each of her fine-dining dishes. First thing first, not all the flowers are edible but a lot of them can be eaten safely.  The chef knows the best edible flowers to pick. “An easy rule is that if it is a flower of fruit, then it can be eaten. And those without “rubber” can be eaten,” she said.

The flowers on any plate at Homemade Cooking brighten the dish and they come in fresh and colorful form such as on top of rolls, salad, on the side of chili dip; or deep fried like in the case of Somtam Tod (fried papaya salad).

Fruit salad at Homecook Restaurant. (Photo by Dae Warunee)

Although the flowers are to please the eyes, but they have a purpose in the dish that any Thai chefs can tell. Homemade Cooking is obviously not the only “small yet beautiful” restaurant when it comes to fine-dining with lots of edible blooms on plate. On Koh Chang (Chang Island) in the eastern province of Trat, Khao Kwan Restaurant has made it the top in Thai fine-dining dish and all dishes comes with colorful flower.

Nongrat Noppawan, chef and owner of Khao Kwan, uses the flower as a beautiful garnish and also to complete the flavor profile of the dish as well. She’d surprise food patrons with spicy local fish (Pla Yum Sawad) salad which looks like a colorful round-shaped cake. The flower together with dragon fruit on top gives the overall pleasant texture of the dish. Like Jaruwan, Nongrat who also has a Thai cooking school on the island uses a lot of flower-like Chickpea and Dianthus in a fresh spring roll or appetizer dish.

“I wanted to create Thai food that gives patrons new experience. I’d decorate and create the dish differently and beautifully for the satisfaction,” Nongrat told Thai PBS World.

Miang Kleep Bua at Divana Signature Cafe. (Photo by Panee Chevapark)

The flower looks like a finishing touch in each of deliciated Thai menu but in some cases, it could be the main ingredient as well like in the case of Miang Kleep Bua, an appetizer that is now increasingly popular among leading restaurants. In Bangkok, Divana Signature Café serves Miang Kleep Bua (toasted coconut flakes, herbs and caramelized fish sauce served on fresh lotus petals) as an appetizer to go with its flowery drinks and high tea set. All drinks are beautifully decorated with flowers which goes in line with its garden-style setting in the middle of Central World shopping mall.

Edible flowers are always best when picked fresh from the garden. They’ll taste best if being picked early in the morning before they’ve had too much sun. Pattanapong Ranuraksa, co-founder of Divana Signature Café, said that he first incorporated flowers in drinks and snacks from his own roof-top garden so it is fresh and safe. As for the lotus petal which is used in Miang, he has to make sure of the pesticide-free and cleanliness before serving it to patrons. It is very important that they have to be free from pesticides for safety consumption.

Nongrat from Khao Kwan is a passionate flower grower so what the customers see in every plate is from her own garden. From growing flowers as a hobby, she has expanded her flower garden so that she has enough to use in the restaurant.

“So, you can be sure that all flower at my place is totally safe,” Nongrat said.

Although she uses more than two dozen types of flowers in her menu, Nongrat said the main types are Wishbone, Mexican Creeper, Pentas and Butterfly Pea.  “It also depends on the season but normally I use about one big bowl of Butterfly Pea and two cups of Wishbone flower a day. Some flowers such as Star Fruit flower is hard to find during the rainy season.”

Most of those offering flowers know well how to combine the natural beauty with the taste and luckily they are all aware of food safety so next time one goes to a fine-dining and see flower like pinkish-red dianthus or nasturtiums – don’t hesitate to finish it up. What is served is what is good and safe to eat in fine-dining restaurants.

By Veena Thoopkrajae