Sunday, May 9, 2010

Open the Sesame: Authentic Thai Food, Not Authentic Thai Prices

Last night I ate Thai food in America not haphazardly and incorrectly cooked by myself.

I went to a restaurant called "Open the Sesame," which offered, written in Thai on the blackboard outside the storefront, "Thai food cooked by Thai people." It was located in a newish shopping center next to a Food Lion and something called The Muscle Makers Grill, which is a funny concept for a restaurant, since I didn't know PEDs could be grilled.

Speaking of funny names: Open the Sesame, which is so named not due to a typically Thai tenuous grasp on English but, on the contrary, intentionally, because the owner, who emigrated to the US at 19, thought it would stick in people's mind's better than simply "Open Sesame." My only suggestion: for authenticity's sake, I would have named it something of a more direct Babelfish misfire: "Open the Glutinous Bull Penis," for example. Also, "Open" should be inexplicably conjugated to the past tense.

So let's talk about the food: Opened the Glutinous Bull Penis offers Thai, Chinese, and Japanese cuisine. We didn't try anything from either of the two Asian superpowers, though I can report that there is a Sushi Bar, manned by a stern-looking Japanese man who the restauranteur may or may not have rescued from the Black Forests having not heard about the surrender.

The Thai food is delicious, though, especially if you don't like Thai food. Well, that's not fair, exactly: the Tom Ka Gai (Galangal Coconut Chicken Curry Soup (it is exactly what it sounds like)) is authentic and "cheap" at $5 for a cup.

From what I could tell, though, amongst the three entrees ordered, the specifically Thai soup is where authenticity ended. "Thai food cooked by a Thai person" should perhaps be replaced by the more accurate "Thai food as interpreted through the filter of American Chinese food cooked by a Thai person"; our entrees--Basil Beef (grapaow neua), Tofu and vegetable stir fry (pad paak ruam daohu), and chicken fried rice (khao pad gai) featured all the trademarks of the loosely Asian cuisine of North America--heavy, flavorful sauces, light spice, large portions, suspiciously Western vegetables (raise your hand if you remember eating eggplant and squash in Thailand?) Also, the entrees were served with something called "Thai red jasmine rice," also exactly what it sounds like, and also something I never saw any Thai people eat at breakfast, lunch, or dinner."Thai red jasmine rice" sounds more like a trendy side as recommended by the South Beach Diet than something that would actually be eaten on a Koh Chang-er's beach diet.

Which is not to say that the food wasn't delicious (a-roi--also advertised on the aforementioned Thaiblackboard); because it really, really was delicious, and this is coming not just from the guy who really, really loves Americanized Chinese food, who loves it so much that he spent precious print space in his Daily Princetonian opinion column on a paean to shopping mall food court Chinese kiosks, when he could have been writing about politics, or war, or political wars, or the politics of war, or military politics, or how unique Princeton is as a university (teaser: it's, like, totally unique, you guys), but it is also coming from my parents, who, like most of you, prefer food that does not sit out in metal trays in a germy people-filled shopping complex. The vegetables, from whatever culinary lineage, were fresh and delicious, the flavors were perpetually surprising (the grapaow had some gra-POW! 800th time I've made that joke), and I was full afterwards (which is good, because for the $11 I (and by I, I of course mean "my parents") spent on my basil beef, I could have gotten 15 plates of that same dish in front of Chiang Mai University, as pointed out by my student Nil on Facebook).

Well, that's enough dumping on Opened the Glutinous Bull Penis, and America in general. I had a lovely meal with two lovely people, and when I thanked the waitress with a classic "kharp khun khrab," it was the surprise of her life. She is from Lampang, which is near Chiang Mai, in relative terms. She talked to us for awhile and was as pleasant and friendly and self-effacing and smiley as you would expect a Thai person to be. America, in the three and a half years that she had lived here, had not taken away her particularly Siamese charm or attitude, which is enough proof for me to declare that This Land Can Still Be Thailand.

And thus the blog continues, opened for business as usual.

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