Friday, July 18, 2014

I Keep Telling Myself…

that I need to learn more about Thai food, since the highest rated Asian restaurant in our ultimate destination of Lafayette, LA, serves Thai food. So, to educate ourselves, we made a stop at Thai Tara at the Grove Arcade for lunch while in Asheville.
“Before Tong ‘Tony’ Pornchinda opened Thai Tara, and even before he began his career as a chef, he tried his hand at construction. Both his father and brother worked in the industry, making furniture and homes, so the teenager gave it a shot. ‘I started construction, but didn’t like that,’ he says. It was shortly thereafter that he found his talent in the kitchen, another skill that seemed to run in the family. Born and raised in Thailand, Tony says it was his uncle who taught him to cook. His uncle was a chef at the British Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. Later, Tony took a job cooking in the United States Embassy for officers, consulates, and employees. It quickly became his passion. By age 20, he was working part-time at the Embassy and at the Dusit Hotel, a five-star resort in Bangkok…” (Leah Shapiro at thelaurelofasheville.com).
“…Through the years Tony further developed his creative culinary skills at the Olenta Hotel and Indra Hotel before setting off for further opportunities working in establishments in France, England and Germany. Tony also worked on the cruise ship Xanadu that led passengers on tours from Canada to Alaska and on the Caribbean cruise ship the Royal Viking…” (thaitaranc.com).
“…He is most grateful for a lady who…taught him many of the special recipes he still uses today. ‘She cooked for the King and Queen in Thailand,’ Tony explains. ‘She learned a lot of recipes. I’m lucky that I learned them’” (Leah Shapiro at thelaurelofasheville.com).
I am still not sure what differentiates Thai food from Vietnamese or Chinese or Korean. And I am not sure that the following helps: “…Whether chili-hot or comparatively bland, harmony is the guiding principle behind each dish. Thai cuisine is essentially a marriage of centuries-old Eastern and Western influences harmoniously combined into something uniquely Thai. The characteristics of Thai food depend on who cooks it and who it’s cooked for. Thai cooking also reflects the characteristics of a waterborne lifestyle. Aquatic animals, plants and herbs are major ingredients. Large cuts of meat have been eschewed. With their Buddhist background, Thais shunned the use of large animals in big chunks. Big cuts of meat were shredded and laced with herbs and spices.
“Traditional Thai cooking methods were stewing and baking or grilling. Chinese influences were responsible for the introduction of frying, stir frying and deep-frying. Culinary influences from the 17th century onwards included Portuguese, Dutch, French and Japanese. For example, chilies were introduced to Thai cooking during the late 1600s by Portuguese missionaries who had acquired a taste for them while serving in South America.
“Overpowering pure spices were toned down and enhanced by fresh herbs such as lemon grass and galangal. Eventually, fewer and less spices were used in Thai curries, while the use of fresh herbs increased. It is generally acknowledged that Thai curries burn intensely, but briefly, whereas other curries with strong spices burn for longer periods…” (tourismthailand.org).
So when faced with a Thai menu, choosing comes close to being a guessing game.

Thai Tara has a specific lunch menu and all dishes can be ordered with vegetables and tofu, chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, or seafood combination. And all dishes are served with soup and a vegetable spring roll.
The soup that day was rather bland. Built on what I assume was a chicken stock base, it contained rice, egg threads, a bit of cilantro, and an undertone of heat that may—I emphasize may—have come from ginger. To be frank, it was nothing special.

Chuck ordered the Pad Med Mamaung with shrimp (short for Med Mamuang Himaphan), which is “One of the more popular dishes on the menu in Thai restaurants in America but also Thailand…. The finest cashews in the world are grown in Thailand, mainly on the island of Phuket. Mamuang himaphan means cashew nut, but there is an interesting translation. Himaphan's original meaning refers to the Garden of Eden, and the cashew nut looks like a small mango. The resulting pun can mean ‘mango of paradise,’ suggesting culinary heaven…” (importfood.com).
The dish contained red and green bell pepper, baby corn, onions, cashews, mushrooms (more mushrooms than cashews), and basil leaves. While Chuck was happy with his choice, I personally prefer Chinese Kung Pao chicken with cashews substituted for peanuts.

I selected the Khee Mao (spicy basil noodles) which is also known as Drunken Noodles. “Several theories exist on the naming of this dish. One states that it is because of the use of rice wine in preparing this dish, but no alcohol is added in any of the original Thai recipes. Another states that it was devised by someone who came home drunk but still wanted something to eat that could be made easily with whatever ingredients were available. Or someone finds remainders in the fridge to cook a side dish for their alcohol drinking. As such it should actually be renamed ‘drunkard's noodles.’ Yet another theory states that this dish is so spicy that one needs to drink beer to temper the heat” (wikipedia.org). Whatever you call it, it was made with shrimp, wide rice noodles, broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, onions, hot pepper, and basil leaves. And when asked how spicy I would like it, I answered “medium.”
One of the hottest things I ever ate was the Thai Papaya Salad at Asian Noodle Bar in Albuquerque. And on that occasion I also requested medium. Let these be lessons to me. In Thai restaurants, medium means inferno. In a milder form, that may have been delicious. But all I tasted was spice.

I left not knowing anything more about Thai food than when I started. Maybe it’s me, but I just can’t warm up to Thai food (And yes, that pun was intended.) and can’t give Thai Tara more than 2.5 Addies.

To review the role of Adler and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

4 comments:

adham said...



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adham said...


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adham said...


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