Thai Town, a tiny pocket in Haymarket not far from Central, centres on Campbell Street, with tendrils that extend to Pitt and a couple of nearby streets. As well as regional specialties from right across Thailand you’ll find one of the oldest Asian grocery stores in Chinatown here, and some tasty, inexpensive food. Here are our faves of the moment.
Som dtum salad at Pontip – $10
If you want to find the tartest green mangoes, a bounty of herbs, chilli-laced tamarind lollies or the best glutinous rice, go to Pontip on Campbell Street. The Thai grocery store has been trading for 50 years. “Pontip was the first Asian grocery store in Chinatown,” says owner Cherry Lui.
She took over the shop from its founder, Pontip Walpole, nine years ago. “The shop became famous when [celebrated Long Chim chef] David Thompson put it in a cookbook and a lot of Western chefs started coming for Thai ingredients.”
Alongside groceries and snacks Pontip serves a few ready-made meals, including green papaya salad and som dtum. The salad is packed with shredded green papaya, cherry tomatoes, snake beans, peanuts, dried shrimp and a sauce that’s the perfect balance of salty, sour, sweet and spicy.
“We don’t serve our sauce too spicy, but we add more chilli on the side for people who like it hotter,” says Lui.
Som dtum can be found at many Thai eateries in Sydney, but here you can get it with black fermented crab. It’s a pungent addition Lui describes as “strong in taste; similar to what we eat in Thailand”.
Gai Yaang at Chat Thai Haymarket – $12
There are a couple options you could choose from Chat Thai’s extremely long menu – grilled pork or chicken skewers ($7) and coconut ice-cream ($8), for example – but our choice for lunch at this superb Thai restaurant is the juicy gai yaang.
Pat Laoyant, son of founder Amy Chanta, says the chicken is marinated with turmeric and lemongrass and then chargrilled. It comes with punchy and smoky nahm jim jaew dipping sauce.
Khao soi at Show Neua – $12.90
Northern Thai food is the country’s least represented cuisine from the country in Sydney, but there are two in this neighbourhood you can try: Cheng’s Kitchen and Show Neua, which is on the border of Thai Town.
The food from this area is influenced by Laos, Burma and local ethnic groups. And because of northern Thailand’s mountainous terrain and climate, seafood and coconut are almost absent. Show Neua’s co-owner Pitt Yimsiri says sticky rice rather than jasmine is the normal accompaniment to dishes of fried meats and larbs.
“When we [first] opened, a lot of Thai people came [because] they missed their home,” he says. “Khao soi is always the first thing they order.”
The mild curried-chicken soup comes with egg noodles and is finished with house-made chilli paste, lemon, red onion and pickled cabbage.
Boat noodle soup at Chonsiam – $4.50
You won’t find boat noodle soup on Chonsiam’s menu. In fact, a lot of available dishes aren’t on the menu, but regular customers learn what to ask for.
The soup – named because it was sold by boat vendors that floated along Bangkok’s canals and rivers – is small but the flavours are intense. The broth is spicy, scented with cinnamon and star anise, and finished with a splash of pig’s blood. Pork crackling and a sprinkle of vinegar are essential customisations.
Pig’s blood may be a confronting ingredient for some, but being adventurous at Chonsiam is worth it – the soup is delicious. Owner Joe (no surname given) says the flavours are hard to put into words. “It’s better to just come along and try it.”
Splurge for: Sai ouah kamut pasta at Boon Cafe – $16
Boon Cafe’s spicy sausage pasta is not under $12. But trust us, it’s worth the few extra dollars.
“The dish is a homage to all the things that are Westernised in Thai food,” says Pat Laoyont, who is brother of owner Palisa Anderson, which runs this great Pitt Street cafe. “It’s the perfect mixture of East and West.
“We make this Thai herb sausage that’s really spicy and we mix it through hot fusilli pasta with an egg yolk cracked into it to give it a bit of a mellow taste.”
Catalan and basil leaves add a herby, fresh finish to the dish. “The herbs are really delicious. It’s a flavour you don’t normally get in Western pastas.”
For more restaurants serving regional Thai food, read our Local Knowledge Best Regional Thai Food wrap.