In Asia, good food is not a matter of price, but spirit.
One thing I love about Thai cuisine is that in gastronomical terms, it’s complex, rich and diverse. What might appear to be a simple, stir-fry meal of home-cooked dishes is in fact, a celebration of the senses. As Thai food expert explains: “It’s about the juggling of disparate elements to create a harmonious finish. Like a complex musical chord, it’s got to have a smooth surface, but it doesn’t what’s happening underneath”. It’s no wonder that it’s unsurprisingly popular with Singaporeans. In fact, many Thai dishes, such as the sambal kangkong and tom yam soup, have even crept up into the vernacular of the local food scene.
Juxtaposed between the crossroads between East and West with no real anchor, each wave of influence inevitably affects local tastes and preferences. This hogwash of commercialization and globalization means that few, if anything, is truly authentic by the time it finally reaches the grassroots. Fortunately, when it comes to Thai food in Singapore, there are still a few longstanding institutions left – unmoved and unchanged by the sands of localization and external influence. It’s curious that the places we’d last expect to find still pure, immaculate and untouched are the very locales that society rejected in the first place.
(Top picture) Tom Yam Soup with Seafood
Iced Milk Tea
Inspired by what seemed like a renaissance of friends’ Facebook feeds of Thai dinners in Golden Mile Complex, I suggested to Darren that we head down to satisfy an induced craving of mine, and to see what the commotion was all about. When we arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to see young Singaporeans partaking in dinners throughout the migrant Thai-frequented mall, although I read that the entire dynamics changes after 10pm when the Thai clientele moves into the majority. Being a frequent visitor to the Southeast Asian kingdom, I suspect the experience was more hallowing for me than it was for Darren, who only recently, made his virgin trip to Thailand. It was pretty much a toss-up between Na Na Original Thai Food and Diandin Leluk, really. In the end, we decided on the former.
In Singapore, French food tends to taste better the pricier it gets. But for Thai food, it’s the exact opposite. Despite its complexities, a good meal doesn’t need to be expensive. At Golden Mile Complex, an inexpensive hearty meal can be had. Thailand might be known as the land of smiles, but at Na Na, the Thai staff are less friendly although they make it up in attentiveness, professionalism and awareness – qualities which are for certain, better than many wait staff in Singapore.
Grilled Chicken (Half)
I’d like to say that we started with a salad, but the Half Grilled Chicken was served first. Simple in its execution, the meat was immaculately tender and there was a clear, pronounced wood fired caramelization which hit all the right spots as the “appetizer”. We were then served the Thai Mango Salad. Now truth be told, I’ve never really enjoyed this ubiquitous starter, mostly because my previous attempts with it were less than impressive. It always seemed too strikingly tangy, but this one managed to balance it well, carefully walking a fine line between sour, sweet and spicy without really ever being consumed by any single layer. It also had a lovely texture, with an enjoyable crunch.
For me at least, especially when I’ve got company, I can’t visit a Thai eatery without trying their Pad Thai. It’s like a benchmark, isn’t it? You can’t profess to call yourself a Chinese chef if you can’t cook Fried Rice…that kind of thing. We ordered the Pad Thai with Fresh Prawns, which I’m pleased to say, I loved it. There was a certain intrinsic sweetness to it which may bother some diners who expect a decidedly savory palate, I’d imagine, but hey, if there are condiments and spices available on the table for your perusal, you’ve the liberty to season it to your heart’s desire. Nothing a pinch of chili flakes and a dribble of fish sauce can’t solve.
Pad Thai with Fresh Shrimps
The creme de la creme, the icing on the cake if you will, has gotta be the Tom Yam Seafood Soup which is served in an earthen claypot which is kept lovingly warm under a fire. I thought it was going to be really very spicy, but it was manageable. The keen sense of lemongrass was very apparent, but wasn’t overbearing. I’ve low standards when it comes to Tom Yam Soup, especially in Singapore, when too many eateries use the Tom Yam paste (and not very good ones, even). The result is that the soup is often too spicy and too tangy. This, went down very smooth.