5 Australian Thai dishes
There are barely any high streets left in Sydney without a Thai takeaway joint. While the street food scene doesn’t quite approach the ambiance of Soi Rangnam, a whiff of coconut milk or lemongrass is never far away.
But Australians can do it a bit differently to Thais –- some old-fashioned Thai chefs might be aghast at these Aussie takes, but others could be intrigued.
From Japanese-inspired curries, Italian-Australian-Thai pizzas and European-Asian dessert, the emphasis is on cultural fusion. Australian Thai is a bit like Khaosan Road: Thai flavor, but the world on top of every plate.
Culinary experimentation reigns supreme, but it tastes good.
Vegetarian Duck Salad at Peace Harmony
At Peace Harmony, the lime green walls are mounted with predictable flower paintings and a map of Sydney wraps the wall behind the counter.
But when a menu is full of words like chicken, prawn, mussels and beef, you can’t resist questioning the loud wall stickers that say, “If you love animals, don’t eat them”. As far as tricky food marketing is concerned, Peace Harmony owns the throne.
Booting the misconception of Thai food being a vegetarian’s nightmare, this vegan-veggie food joint proves otherwise. It serves an array of fake meat with fused Thai flavours.
Vegetarians would never know what real duck meat tastes like, but its bogus variety is chewy and flaky. The deep-fried version comes with a side of raw salad, drizzled with lemon juice and hoisin sauce. Other options include sweet chili, pepper sauce, soy sauce and oyster sauce.
Peace Harmony, 44 Erskine St., Sydney, +61 (0)2 9262 2247, Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.–3.00 p.m, 5.30– 0.00 p.m., Saturday, 5.30 p.m.–10.00 p.m.
Thai Chicken Calzone at Crust Pizza
Hawaiian, supreme and meat-lovers have been western takes on the Italian staple, but Crust Pizza has fused Napoli's finest with Thai, and made a healthy alternative to the greasy stereotype.
Cooked in an old-fashioned, wood-fired pizza oven, the pizza also has a new age twist, being available on gluten-free and wholemeal bases.
The pizza has a sweet chili base, the pastry is stuffed with hearty chicken breast fillets, sufficient greens and copious amount of cashews. Succinct Thai spices are muted with bocconcini, while the side of mint yogurt cleans the palate for the next bite.
Crust Pizza has more than 40 in Sydney; order online for home delivery: www.crust.com.au
The forgotten art of betel leaves, from Darwin, at Spice I am
Every time a customer asks for broccoli and zucchini in their dish, as they do all over Sydney, head chef Sujet Saenkham crumbles over the kitchen top.
“Those vegetables aren’t a part of Thai cuisine," says Saenkham. "I get very angry when such requests come through. What I do best is I give them real Thai with the local Australian produce. That’s my version of fusion.”
But when he says real Thai, even Thais may have forgotten what that is.
One such dish is the crispy betel leaves infused with tangy and sweet heat of chili sauce and topped with fried prawns and crushed cashew nuts. Locally sourced from Darwin, Saenkham says, the betel leaf has now lost its charm in Thailand.
“This dish was originally made with fresh water weed grown in crystal clear backwaters during monsoon. But now, no one goes through the pain of cooking this from scratch. Everyone just goes to a fast food joint,” he says.
Bour Tod -- green prawns on crispy betel leaf with chili sauce, crushed roasted cashew nuts and coriander -- $12 for 6 pieces
Spice I am, 237 Darling St., Balmain, +61 (0)2 9555 9224, Monday-Sunday, 6.00 p.m.-10.30 p.m., open for lunch, Thursday-Sunday, Noon-3.00 p.m. (Also branches in Darlinghurst and Surry Hills), www.spiceiam.com.
Corn fed-chicken at the fusion-named Thai Nesia
The rusty walls and squeaky furniture give away the restaurant’s age within seconds -- Thai Nesia has been serving regulars since 1986.
Manager Songpon Mootin explains why the restaurant feels like a vintage flashback. “When we first opened, we got all the furniture, curtains, chandelier, everything from The Australian Hotel in The Rocks," he says. "Its renaissance essence brings an Aussie touch to our authentic Thai flavours."
As the name implies, they've also been bringing regional influences to Thai food.
The barbecue Barossa chicken sits on a bed of homemade chili jam paste, topped with a mountain of coriander, mint and basil leaves. The chili jam’s spice is neutralised by the sweetness of the corn-fed chicken.
And correct us if we're wrong, but where in Thailand can you find a corn-fed chook?
Thai Nesia, 243 Oxford St., Darlinghurst, +61 (0)2 9361 4817, Monday-Sunday, 5.30 p.m.–10.30 p.m., www.thainesia.com.au
French-inspired dessert with coconut ice cream at Jimmy Liks
Huddled on a street between Kings Cross and Potts Point, Jimmy Liks is a window into Australia’s place in the Asian region.
While its reputation is contemporary Thai, sous chef Michael Mashman insists they are anything but exclusive to one country.
“We like to call ourselves modern Asian," he says. "Be it cocktails, mains or dessert, the menu is full of flavours from the whole of Southeast Asia.”
The intimate, candle-lit setting is just the spot for a lemongrass martini with an original dessert.
The husky banana fritters come with a side of coconut ice cream. It seems ambitious, but is an amalgamation of sweet, sour and creaminess: the mushy banana balances out with its crispy outer layer and the coconut ice cream, made with three kinds of sugar.
This French-inspired dessert is a continental ending to an Asian gastronomic journey.
Jimmy Liks, 186-188 Victoria St., Potts Point, +61 (0)2 8354 1400, Monday-Sunday, 6 p.m.– 11 p.m. www.jimmyliks.com