From Bangkok streets to Singapore

From Bangkok streets to Singapore

A new wave of Thai eateries is whetting the appetite of foodies here.

Instead of digging into pineapple rice and tom yum soup or grilling meat and vegetables in mookata or barbecue-steamboat restaurants, they are tucking into Thai street food.

Boat noodles, ice cream served in coconut shells, and skewered grilled meats are latest food imports from the land of smiles. Instead of buying them from street vendors in bustling food markets in Thailand, diners here head to snack kiosks, hawker stalls and cafes.

There are at least six eateries offering Thai street food that have opened in the past seven months.

BaaMee Bangkok in Syed Alwi Road and Foon's Thai Recipe in Old Airport Road Hawker Centre serve Thai-style wonton noodles. Porn's Thai Boat Noodee in Kitchener Complex and Thai Boat Noodle in Bedok Point offer rice noodles served with pork or beef balls in a meat broth.

Mak Mak Thai Street Food in Bugis Junction serves snacks such as fried sweet potato balls and Thai fish cakes.

The owners think that Thai street food will find favour in Singapore as diners have tried them in Bangkok and other Thai cities while on holiday.

Mr Anthony Ang, 33, operations manager of BaaMee Bangkok, says: "Due to lower airfares from budget airlines, Singaporeans are travelling more frequently to Thailand for holidays, and get to try the street food there."

His company spent about $120,000 buying the recipes for Thai-style wonton noodles and stewed pig trotter from a street food chain in Bangkok.

To maintain an authentic flavour, he and two colleagues spent four months learning the recipes from the chain. They also import ingredients such as the distinctive small cloves of garlic used in Thai cooking and palm sugar, which is used to marinate the char siew (roasted pork) for eight hours before grilling.

Also riding on Singaporeans' familiarity with Thai street food is Soi 19 Thai Wanton Noodles in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5, which sells up to 400 bowls of noodles daily. Owner Ng Sing Choo, 61, closed his apparel business after learning the recipe from his Thai friend two years ago. He spent $20,000 setting up the stall and managed to break even within eight months.

His son, Mr Alex Ng, 32, says: "Diners are bored with the local version of wonton noodles, and want to try something that is out of the ordinary."

To localise the noodles, the elder Ng experimented with 20 types of noodles before settling on springy egg noodles, served al dente. He replaced the crabmeat commonly served with wonton noodles in Thailand with cured fish sausage. He also adds fried wontons. They are not part of the Thai version, but diners here are familiar with them.

Mr Sittha Sa-nguansat, 40, co-owner of Mak Mak Thai Street Food, believes that Thai street food is a novel concept with the potential to become as popular as dishes such as tom yum soup.

He says: "I want to showcase popular Thai food that can be eaten in a grab-and-go style, which is a change from sit-down meals."

Besides savoury food, desserts from Thailand are also in the spotlight. Co Nut Ink, a dessert kiosk chain, has been selling coconut ice cream served in husks since November 2013.

Owner Lawrence Tang, 40, bought the recipe from the owner of the famous Coconut Ice Cream@JJ in Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok. He declines to say how much he paid for it.

He says: "Coconut is popular here because of the hot weather. It also has health benefits such as containing more potassium than bananas."

He will be opening more than 10 franchised outlets in places such as Dubai, Brazil and South Africa later this year.

Banking on the prominence of this unique coconut dessert is Pong Gelato, a three-month-old dessert kiosk in *Scape Orchard, which pairs sorbets with coconut gelato served in coconut husks.

Its owner Seah Ping Long, 27, says: "Bangkok is a trendy weekend getaway for young adults, who are open to Thai food concepts. This helps to jump-start my new business."

And there is more to come: mochi ice cream chain, Kane Mochi, which has 25 outlets in Thailand, will be opening its first one in Singapore at Bugis Plus in mid-May. About 15 flavours of mochi, from Thai milk tea to banana milk, will be flown in from Bangkok weekly.

Diners say they are enjoying the variety.

Marketing manager Costa Chua, 26, who lived in Bangkok for seven months, says: "Eating Thai street food here helps me to relive my memories, which is comforting. Thai food has a balance of familiarity and a bit of adventure."

Accountant Nicholas Goh, 45, has been to Soi 19 Wanton Noodles more than five times, queuing for about 20 minutes each time.

He says: "Its noodles taste quite similar to the popular SabX2 Wanton Noodles in Bangkok, and I love the sauce and wonton dumplings, which are a refreshing change from the local version."

Housewife Krathin Cruickshank, 41, who is from Bangkok, says: "I can go to more places for street food, instead of just Golden Mile Complex, and the taste is quite close to what I get back home."

kengohsz@sph.com.sg

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