By Murray Schulman
I live in Pennsville, a nice quiet community in southwestern New Jersey. It is right on the border of Delaware, which I can see right across the river near my home. We have been here for around 13 years and have no plans to leave. During these years, the available cuisine in town has been fast food chains, a couple of casual dining chain restaurants, one full-service Chinese restaurant and several pizzeria-style restaurants. Even a good bagel is hard to find.
Much to my excitement and pleasure, though, there has been a sudden influx of good quality ethnic-style restaurants. Early last year we saw a Filipino barbecue restaurant open here in town. They had a slow start even though their food was authentic and delicious. Thankfully, our local populace has been willing to buy into the idea of variety in their dining choices. They have tried the menu offerings of this little restaurant. Now business has picked up and it looks like this restaurant will be with us for a while.
Just a few months ago, another ethnic restaurant opened in town. I will mention the name only because the name that they chose is imaginative and describes without any doubt what types of food they offer. Amexirican Restaurant is serving up authentic Mexican and Puerto Rican dishes. The menu does offer several straightforward American favorites to satisfy all tastes. The owners went all in when they put this restaurant together. Comfortable seating with well-thought-out décor combine with lighting to suit every mood. The food is flavorful and very well presented. They offer set-ups for the BYOB option and they have a sound system that is conducive to the entertainment that they have on the weekends. This restaurant opens Thursday through Sunday. It does very well and is quickly growing in popularity.
Right now, a sign has appeared in the window of the storefront that is right next door to the restaurant that I just described. It appears that we will have a Thai restaurant in town in the near future. I will be thrilled if this comes to pass. For those of you who have never tried Thai food, let me try to explain this style of cuisine. First, this is not Chinese or Japanese cuisine. Thai is similar in some ways yet completely unique in other ways. According to Bangkok.com, Thai food is among the most sought-after styles of food worldwide. All Thai food is based on the “five tastes” of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and hot. My hope is that the restaurant expected here will be authentic, the menu will include dishes that incorporate the five flavors either independently or in combination. Thai food is always fresh, enticingly fragrant and delicious.
Some of my favorite dishes include Tom Yum if I am leaning toward a hot and spicy soup or if I am more inclined to something a bit more tame in terms of soup, I will opt for Tom Kha Kai in which the hot chilies are infused and softened with coconut milk. Either way, these soups do not hide flavor behind heat. Rather, the heat enhances the flavors of the citrus, lemongrass and fish sauce that make up these soups.
Next would be salad. I would try one of these two suggestions. Som Tum is an exotic and unique experience. It appears cool and cleansing, yet this salad delivers a sour-spicy bite. Garlic, chilies, green beans and raw papaya combine to unleash this unique flavor. At times, salted crab or shrimp is added to “cleanse the gut.” This salad is not for everyone. But, if you are bold and open to the unusual, you have to try this salad. Another heavier and distinctive salad choice is in the yam category. The salad blends onion, coriander, spearmint, lime and dried chilies. I am a fan of Yam Nua, in which spicy beef is incorporated into these other flavors. This salad brings the taste buds to life in a unique and satisfying way. Thai cooking also uses red, yellow and green curry in many of the dishes that you will find on a typical Thai menu. I have tasted all of the varieties purely for the experience.
To be honest, these powerfully fragrant dishes are not my first choice. But they certainly have a strong following among lovers of Thai food. Plus, they are staples in the Thai diet. For me, the king of Thai cuisine is Pad Thai (Thai-style fried noodles). The basis of the dish is the noodles that are quickly fried in hot oil, combined with bean sprouts, onion and egg and piled on the plate. The noodles are traditionally served with fish sauce, sugar, chili powder and ground peanuts on the side. These are the flavoring components for the noodles. From this base, Thai restaurants offer any number of enhancements to the basic noodle dish. You will see everything from prawns to crab to shredded chicken to beef just to name a few. The only limitation is the imagination of the chef. Of course, if you don’t want the noodle option, switch to Khao Pad (fried rice) and you won’t be disappointed.
What meal would be complete without dessert and coffee? My go-to dessert is almost always fried bananas with coconut ice cream. No explanation is needed other than to say that this dessert will bring tears of joy to your eyes. Liz always enjoys either the Thai-style mango sorbet or the crème caramel. Either one is refreshing and delicious. Add a glass of Thai coffee with sweetened coconut milk and you are in for a treat. Be careful though. This coffee drink is addictive. But more than one will keep you awake for days.
It has been a while since I have enjoyed Thai food. I hope that this proposed Thai restaurant manages to open the doors soon. I will be one of the first customers in line.