For the past 26 years, The Bourbon St. Restaurant has brought the best of Cajun cuisine from the Deep South of America to Southeast Asia.
By John Howe
Last night I dreamt I was sitting on the banks of a vast river enthusiastically devouring a Cajun spicy gumbo as the dark and brooding waters of the mighty Mississippi meandered lazily by. This was no dream but a fantasy easily imagined for I was tucking into a range of authentic Cajun food at Bangkok’s long established Bourbon St. Restaurant and Oyster Bar.
In the 17th and 18th centuries French settlers established villages and small towns on the Atlantic regions of British North American that they called Acadia, now Canada. The French settlers were well assimilated with their British neighbours but in 1754 French and British North American colonies were at war over trapping and fishing rights. The British in retaliation established a re-settlement program and the French Acadians were driven from their lands and properties eventually to locate in southern Louisiana.
These refugees were eventually joined by freed slaves, Spaniards from the Canary Islands, native Americans, and French Creoles from the Caribbean all of whom mixed and mingled. They again called their country Acadia and Cajun is simply an evolution of Acadia. Settling on the Gulf of Mexico the coastal waters were teaming with marine life; fish and shellfish along with available wild vegetables and roots formed the basis of Cajun cooking.
The Bourbon St. Restaurant has been a Bangkok culinary institution that for the past 26 years has brought the best of Cajun cuisine from the Deep South of America to Southeast Asia. American Doug Harrison, the owner, is a life-long epicurean of this famed good ol’ Southern States food.
Most of his recipes were gleaned from his grandmothers’ and mother’s apron strings when as a child he would stand at their elbows looking and learning the alchemy of the spices and herbs, the marinades and sauces that go to make a real Cajun dish. All of his life Doug has collected a cook’s encyclopedia of original Cajun recipes from friends and family and proudly presents them to his customers to tempt and tantalize their tastebuds.
It was one Tuesday evening when a couple of friends and I decided to enjoy southern U.S. hospitality and visited the restaurant.
My dining companions and I scrutinized the extensive menu and as a first choice I chose a deliciously creamy slightly spicy pork gumbo, pieces of superbly tender pork melted on my tongue and the piquant yet creamy tomato-based sauce evaporated almost instantly but left a scrumptious residue of flavor on the short grain rice. The gumbo is a bargain at Bt150 for a not–so-small plate and a reasonable Bt210 for a large plate of Cajun delight.
Now they say you can’t have too much of a good thing, one of my fellow diners ordered boiled crawfish and was presented with six or seven fish their tails tightly curled underneath a sign that the crawfish were exceedingly fresh as they hit the boiling Cajun seasonings. They reposed on a bed of Mediterranean-style rice liberally laced with boiled shrimp. Half a kilo will set you back only Bt530 and a full kilo is a snip at Bt950.
Like an invading band of 17th century marauding British soldiers advancing on the Acadians the food kept on coming. And glad I was to see it.
The next treat to be devoured was the archetypical Cajun dish – Jambalaya. A thick slab of grilled pork lay on a plinth of rice fried in a light tomato sauce and seasoned with Bourbon St.’s special Cajun spice mix. The rice was further fortified by a light blizzard of diced fried chicken and pork. A satisfying portion for Bt225 will provide a meal that to satisfy even the most rapacious appetites.
As is fitting for people whose livelihood is derived from the sea and fishing the next dish to tempt my senses was an agreeable salmon Florentine. The grilled salmon was topped with a creamy dill sauce and rested on a mattress of sautéed spinach served with a generous side helping of angel hair pasta. The salmon flesh was pink and tender the carapace of dill sauce spilled over to the spinach it elevated the salmon and particularly the spinach to the extraordinary. At Bt410, another not-to-miss dish.
Then like a procession of culinary royalty my companion was presented with a colorful crab au gratin, or crabmeat draped in a light cheese sauce, served with sautéed zucchinis (better known to me as courgette). I could not resist a taste and stole a bite or two from his plate; the cheese had a bite that was tempered by the tender crab meat that was so tasty that I swear I the zing of ocean-fresh brine accompanied every mouthful. This gleeful dish is a very reasonable Bt350 and worth every satang.
Now my companions — not yet gratified by the delectable main courses — were tempted by the dessert menu. I chose a bread pudding, now in my younger days my mother often made bread pudding but not like this one. Unlike Mum’s it was light and creamy. I wanted the experience to last, but then I spied one of my companion’s strawberry shortcake. A large fluffy brick of melt-in-your-mouth shortbread drizzled with strawberry coulis scattered with delicious fresh strawberries. This was a dessert gourmand’s delight, which simply begged to be savored and devoured. A perfect end to a perfect dining experience.
The restaurant’s speciality is Cajun food but on Tuesday there is a Mexican buffet. Eat like a Mexican charro on grilled chicken or shrimp fajitas, beef or chicken tacos, generously garnished with olives, salsa, sour cream, and jalapenos.
Make you own nachos with chicken, beef or sausage, topped with sour cream, jalapeno cheese sauce, blackened chicken and bacon bits. Other Mexican classics are available too burritos, chilli con carne, quesadillas and an extensive salad bar. One regular customer I spoke to lauded the buffet as being the best Mexican food this side of the Rio Grande. On Tuesdays you can dine as a Mexican charro for well under Bt500.
Doug, Bourbon St.’s genial owner is always to be found sitting at the bar or chatting to his customers some of whom are regulars of many years standing and consider him to be a personal friend. Besides Cajun food Doug’s other great love is golf, which he combines with charity work. He is the founder and promoter of the annual Fr. Joe Golf Tournament, which raises funds for disadvantaged and street kids.
If you think that American food is just hamburgers and hot dogs, or KFC and McDonald’s, the Bourbon St. Restaurant is there to prove differently. The food is authentic and steeped in the history of the American Deep South.
The restaurant is open daily for breakfast from 7 a.m. to late supper at 1 a.m.
The Bourbon St. Restaurant and Oyster Bar
9/39-40 Soi Tana Arcade, Sukhumvit 63 (just a short walk from BTS: Ekamai), Klongton Nua, Bangkok