Sheila Romero satisfies your Thai food cravings as she brings Bangkok’s Nara Thai Cuisine to the Philippines. Photos by Walter Bollozos

Nara: Authentic Thai Cuisine within reach
OOH LA LAI - Lai S. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - March 15, 2018 - 12:00am

‘A lot of Filipinos, especially those who love to travel, are already familiar with Nara. My husband, Party List Rep. Mikee Romero and I love to dine at Nara whenever we’re in Bangkok,’ Sheila Romero enthuses.

A giant wooden boat filled with orchids hangs on the wall. Muted grays put the mind at ease with pops of purple. The light is warm and soft. The chairs and walls have woven elements, taking further inspiration from Bangkok.

One elegant purple plate after another comes out of the kitchen, and each fragrant dish transports you back to the Land of Smiles, a melting pot of exotic aromas, interesting sights and visual delights.

Nara Thai Cuisine’s Pad Thai Kai Krob is basically what pad Thai should be — perfectly cooked noodles that’s sweet, sour and salty.

At the newly opened Nara Thai Cuisine, authenticity is king — right down to the food!

One of Bangkok’s top Thai restaurants, Nara Thai Cuisine was brought in by restaurateur Sheila Romero of the Roku restaurant group (Roku Sushi and Ramen and Sushi Nori), who believes that there’s still a big market for authentic Thai food in a mall setting.

“We get good Thai food in five-star hotels, but there aren’t much choices in malls. That’s the market we want to tap. Nara is Thai cuisine within reach,” Sheila explains.

Something old, something new

At Nara Thai Cuisine, you can have your fill of popular Thai dishes and the not-so-common ones, which makes the dining experience a bit exciting.

The Pad Thai Kai Krob is basically what pad Thai should be — perfectly cooked noodles that’s sweet, sour and salty. It embodies what Southeast Asian cuisine is all about: balance.

Then there’s the Prawn Ceviche, fresh, deveined prawns sprinkled with thinly sliced fresh garlic, chili and mint leaves. It’s so refreshing in the mouth with mint and Nara’s signature sauce providing that zest alongside the fresh prawns.

So fresh: The Prawns Ceviche, fresh prawns sprinkled with thinly sliced fresh garlic, chili and mint leaves

Next comes the Pla Gao Neung Ma Nao, steamed lapu-lapu. Served in a golden boat, the freshness of the fish is complemented by the delicious lime sauce with a mild kick.

In Bangkok, they use sea bass instead of lapu-lapu,” explains Sheila. “But sea bass is so expensive here in Manila. In a mall setting, marrying the quality of the food and the price is pretty tough. So we settled for lapu-lapu.”

Well, this fish dish just wows us with its delicateness and simplicity.

I personally love the Tom Yam Goong, another classic dish you don’t want to miss out on. Yes, the sour broth is spicy but it’s packed with so much flavor. It’s perfect when you’re nursing a cold.

The spiciness of Thai food can be daunting, so those who can’t take the heat would normally ask the wait staff if they could tone the heat down. That’s not going to happen at Nara.

“At Nara, everything is standard,” Sheila says. “Our chefs measure everything in the kitchen — they don’t make tantiya. Giving in to those kinds of requests would confuse our chefs, who spent months in Thailand training under their Thai counterparts.” 

What the wait staff will do instead is recommend dishes that are milder to people uncomfortable with spice.
“Nara’s menu is quite extensive,” enthuses Sheila. “First off, I chose dishes that would be appealing to the Filipino palate. If you can’t take the heat, there are other delicious choices. In fact, we offer 85 percent of Nara Thai’s original menu here.”

Served in a golden boat, the Pla Gao Neung Ma Nao has a delicious lime sauce with a mild kick.

For example, if you don’t like Tom Yam Goong, you can opt for Tom Kagay, a coconut-based soup. Or try the Minced Pork Vermicelli, which is a clear soup.

If you don’t like spicy bagoong rice, then don’t mix in the chopped chili. But those who do can order the same rice dish where the chili is already mixed in.

“If you’re dining with kids, you can order some of the appetizers, which can double as viands,” recommends Sheila. “There’s the Prawns Pancake, Shrimp Cakes and Chicken Pandan.”

Nara’s Chicken Pandan is one of the best I’ve tried. The meat is moist and loaded with so much flavor. Kids will surely love it. It comes with Nara’s signature sauce, which comes in handy to those who want their chicken spicy.

The soft-shell crab in tamarind sauce and roast duck curry are definite must-tries.

“Some of our first-time diners were surprised to find these dishes on the menu. Then again, that’s what Nara is all about — Thai cuisine within reach,” enthuses Sheila.

For dessert, we get a taste of Bangkok’s famous sticky rice. But instead of mango, it’s served with longan topped with coconut cream and ice cream.

There’s another interesting dessert that’s similar to ginataang bilo-bilo but with salted egg. It’s like eating a warm snowflake mooncake with syrup.

For the love of Thai food

Nara, which is Sanskrit for “Thai women,” was founded in 2003 by a group of female entrepreneurs.

“A lot of Filipinos, especially those who love to travel, are already familiar with Nara. My husband Mikee and I love to dine at Nara whenever we’re in Bangkok,” Sheila enthuses.

Sheila grew up in a foodie family. However, it was only when she got married to businessman and Party List Rep. Michael “Mikee” Romero that she got more adventurous when it comes to food.

This coconut-based dessert is similar to our ginataang bilobilo but with salted egg.

“We love traveling together. As much as we could, we try to explore the food scene in all the places we go,” shares Sheila.

And yes, they discovered Nara on one of their food jaunts.

“I’ve always loved Nara, but it was only in July last year when I thought of bringing the brand here to the country,” she relates. “I was supposed to bring in a food concept from Taipei, but it didn’t pan out.”

And bringing in Nara Thai Cuisine proved to be a better alternative.

“Nara Thai Cuisine is one of the few Thai restaurants that’s really ready for expansion. The principals are easy to deal with and the company already has a structure. There’s a template for everything,” explains Sheila who has been in the food business for 24 years. Aside from her successful restaurants, Sheila is also hands-on with the family-owned Oracle Hotel in QC.

A graduate of Economics and Finance from De La Salle University, Sheila knows whereof she speaks.

“For a franchise to work, the franchisee should maintain the quality of the food,” she explains.

It always has to be comparable to the original. And since this is also the Roku Group’s first franchise, Sheila made sure that each dish is a replica of what you’ll have in all of Nara Thai Cuisine’s branches — whether in Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Myanmar, Mumbai or Sri Lanka.

So, the next time you crave authentic Thai food, you know where to dine.

Nara Thai Cuisine brings you a little closer to Bangkok.

* * *

Nara Thai Cuisine is on the third floor, Mega Fashion Hall, SM Megamall, Mandaluyong City.

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with