I am a lover of Thai and other Asian cuisines. You probably know that by now if you frequent my blog. But, I have become painfully aware of the differences in Thai cuisine authenticity. I live in Los Angeles, about 25 minutes from Thai Town. It is too far to go just to eat a small meal, but if it is on the way, or if I’m going with a friend, I’ll sometimes invest in a trip. Parking isn’t always that easy there either which further deters my visits. But, recently I’ve been going a lot.
Judge the quality & character of the food by the customers
If you go to Thai restaurants, you should first look at the audience before you look at the menu. Are the customers mostly white people? Are they mostly Thai? Or perhaps a little of both? You can judge the quality and character of food very well just by looking at the customers on a Friday night. Is the place packed? Do they have a line? Or are they able to seat you right away? Places that are packed typically have better food, although there are no guarantees.
A little too authentic
My favorite Thai restaurants in Los Angeles include Natalie Thai (there are several branches), Chan Dara on Larchmont, and Thai Patio which has a few branches. Thai Patio used to be in my neighborhood until Whole Foods took over their spot. They have a branch in Thai town and a few other branches.
What I noticed is that at Natalie Thai or Thai Patio, the food is spiced perfectly to my particular liking. It is spicy enough, but not too spicy or too Thai. Not too Americanized either, although it must be Americanized to a point. My acupuncturist told me that no American would eat completely authentic Thai cuisine. I’m not sure if she is correct, but that would decrease your market share by about 80% leaving you with a small batch of eccentric connoisseurs. I have another Thai restaurant I like near the beach. They cater to an army of happy white people. The food is very mild there especially the salads which have lime-chili dressings. Their pad Thai is sweet as well which is an unusual twist. You could say that this beach spot is very Americanized in their cooking, but the quality is excellent none-the-less, and they have a very loyal following. Well, I wanted to know what truly authentic Thai cuisine was all about, so I made a pilgrimage to Thai town.
Somebody I know who is Thai recommended Thai Pair. I had been to a few of the other spots in Thai Town, but found the quality of their food to not be anything to brag about. Thai Pair was the spot that she said was 100% authentic. I first ordered green curry. The only vegetables were bell peppers and bamboo shoots. I felt that there should be green beans and other types of veggies too. I guess that is not their style. The next time I ordered a shrimp salad.
Shrimp Salad – Thai Pair style
This salad tasted great, and very spicy. Usually Americans are intimidated by a little spice. After living in Pune, India, I am only intimidated by an overdose of spice. But, this dish was not as spicy as it was sour. They use a lot of lemongrass, fish sauce and lime juice, not to mention chili powder. I don’t know if the fish sauce is fermented, but it is strong. In any case, it was delicious, but a little too sour for me. My stomach found it a little uncomfortable to have that much sourness in me, and my intestines were not accustomed to this either. The most interesting part of this culinary adventure were the subsequent trips to the toilet a few hours later. My urine was so pungent, that you could smell it from far away. Seafood, asparagus, and shrimp always give me smelly urine, but that fish sauce or whatever they added to the salad really amplified the experience. Executing my #2 was a bit unpleasant as this dish was hot going in, hot going out. I commend this restaurant for keeping it real. Unfortunately, I guess I’m not as much of a trooper as I thought, and will settle for 30%, or 100% Americanized Thai food in the future. My body just can’t take it!
Duck Salad at Thai Patio
Across the parking lot in Thai Town Plaza, Thai Patio had a duck salad. Most restaurants either don’t have duck, or do a poor job with duck. This salad had onions, lime juice, chili, basil, and a few other vegetables. It was delicious. Not too spicy, but not too bland either. The quality of the meat was much better than other places, and I will remember that duck salad for a long time.
Thais have many types of salads. I recommend trying them all. If you like being healthy, salad is the way to go. But, salad can get boring — unless you live near a Thai restaurant. There are glass noodle salads, larb which has ground meat in it, seafood salads, papaya salad, steak salad, and salad with sate sauce on it which is my regular favorite. Some restaurants even have other salads that I didn’t mention. So enjoy your culinary adventure with Thai salads.