Savor: Thai One On
BY Lia Kerner
Thai cuisineone of the fastest-growing and popular food industries in the U.S. evolved from the union of ancient Eastern cooking and modern Western influences. The product a rich integration of culture and cuisine strives for a full-bodied balance of individual taste and subtle combinations that are uniquely Thai. According to the main school of thought the ’60s and ’70s saw an influx of Asian influence on American lifestyles and dinner plates. Today especially on the Cape Fear coast Thai food leaves a flavorful and health-savvy imprint on local palates with restaurants: Indochine Big Thai Restaurant and Banyan Asian Café.
Consider it highly likely that the mounting popularity of Thai food springs from the recent trendiest trend: Eat smart be smart. Whether you’re into counting calories or cutting back on fats Thai can be a worry-free meal. One thing’s for sure though: If you find yourself at Indochine it will be a true dining experience. “My restaurant introduces a new flavor and culture to those who haven’t traveled out of Wilmington ” says owner Solange Thompson. “And for those who have it allows them to reconnect with their travels.” Indochine which opened eight years ago provides healthy food choices because Thompson believes customers deserve to have the option to eat wisely. While growing up in Thailand “people didn’t know why we ate the things we did ” Thompson adds. “But today we know that the herbs we use all have medicinal purposes.” While her passion for Thai food is apparent Thompson makes it plain that food itself is healthy. “American food can be healthy too ” she says. “As long as you eat in moderation you can stay healthy.”
Charin Choti owner and chef of Big Thai says that “the customer is king ” giving new meaning to the phrase “Fit for a king.” If that isn’t enough to get your stomach growling consider the simple fact that Thai food is clean. Good quality meat is essential and vegetables are thoroughly washed before appearing on your plate. The chef speaks freely about his love of Thai food through longtime employee Siriuluk Rider who translates for him. “We never put chemicals in the food ” says Choti. “Whatever I cook for the customer I eat too. The customer is like family.” In addition to its preparation the food itself is not only “not bad” for you but actually works in your body’s favor. “So many herbs from Thailand are so healthy like lemon grass basil and ginger ” adds Rider. “They’re good for your health and don’t hurt your body. Like ginger which can make your stomach feel so good and keep you young.”
When food is stamped “healthy ” there always seems to be a catch. Some great aspect of the meal must be sacrificed to achieve “healthfulness.” Thai food begs to differ with that notion. Though dishes are traditionally cooked with less oil and more healthy ingredients all of the flavor remains intact. Brought to life by the use of fresh herbs and spices the unmistakable taste of Thai comprises a savory blend of sweet sour salty and spicy flavors. The herbs and spices used in Thai cooking such as lemon grass chili pepper galangal basil and ginger give it an exotic quality that attracts customers.
While the food speaks for itself it’s easy to wonder if there is something else that makes Thai cuisine so exceptional. If the concept can be spotted in Wilmington it is glimpsed in the individuality of the cooks. “I do all my own cooking ” says Pech Phoung manager and cook of Banyan Asian Café. “I cut my own vegetables. I make my own sauce. I use my own recipes.” The cooks have their individual style their own ideas of presentation and flavor. Phoung who learned most of her skills in Cambodia recognizes that the food served at Banyan may be very different from other Thai restaurants. Every dish is the product of the cook’s innovation and personal touch.
Whether it’s at Indochine Big Thai or Banyan every bite is a morsel of culture. The combination of sweet and sour is unique to Chinese cooking the spicy kick is a trademark of Thai but as a whole the food represents one strong culture. It refuses to lose its appeal. It remains consistent despite the push for speed dining and demands for simplicity from picky eaters. So this spring decide to try something new and exotic. Decide to give your taste buds a treat and your body a break. And no matter what you do be sure to get all tangled up in Thai.
Menu Got You Thai-ed Up In Knots?
Not exactly sure what a side of tom yum will put before you? Relax. Here are a few keywords to make ordering a breeze so you can get to what counts!
Yum: Meaning to mix. Meat with herbs and spices vegetable with spices or meat or vegetables with spices mixed with sauce. Sauces may be sour and spicy or spicy and sweet.
Gang Jeude: Vegetables meat or both in a clear broth.
Gang Ped or Gang: Spicy broth with or without coconut milk. The majority of gangs use curry paste and coconut milk.
Pad: Vegetable or meat stir fried.
Tod: Pan-fried or deep-fried for example tod man is fried fish cakes.
Yang: Grilled for example gai yang is grilled chicken