When Taweerach Rojratanavichai (Pla for short) opened Khao Pla, Chatswood’s lauded Thai diner, he wasn’t sure what Sydney could handle. Khao Pla was cautiously soft and Western-friendly. With his new restaurant, Chum Tang, Pla is holding nothing back. “I don't want to do massaman curry. I don't want to do spring rolls. For this one, I wanted to show what is Thai flavour, the taste Thai people like.”
True to his word, Pla has written a menu almost completely devoid of the regular Thai-food representatives you see in many Sydney restaurants. Instead of various colour-classified curries and choose-your-protein noodles, there’s a list of regional dishes. Pla says it’s a collection of his favourite dishes from each of Thailand’s four regions.
The most perplexing dish, due to sheer uniqueness and cooking mastery, is the yum pla fu from the country’s centre. It’s a tuna and green-mango salad, but that only describes half of it. Underneath the tart, shredded mango is a bed of fish flakes, more like crispy pork floss or bread crumbs than tuna, which crack under a spoon but melt in your mouth. Pla says it’s a precise science to produce; you need to steam or grill the meat, separate it, dry it and then deep-fry it very quickly at a high and exact temperature.
From the north-east cuisine, or Isaan, Pla recommends the larb wings. These fried chicken wings are textural, soft and succulent in the middle with perfectly crusted, crispy skin. Taste wise it’s remarkably similar to nam khao tod, a north-eastern rice and sausage salad which has a distinct smoky flavour from the use of roasted rice powder. “We marinate the chicken with dried chilli, roasted rice, turmeric, all the ingredients from the north-east,” says Pla.
Gaeng hin lay from the northern region is a syrupy pork-belly curry that skips coconut milk (a southern ingredient brought in from India) for extra tamarind and palm sugar. Pla says the sweetness and the velvety texture is similar to a massaman curry, but this iteration is less creamy, richer and slightly more sour. From the southern region, which is known for food that is spicy, try the pad sator goong, a dish of prawns and petai beans (South East Asian green beans with a unique flavour somewhere between shiitake and durian) stir-fried with a hot, shrimp curry paste.
Like any Thai street-food market would, Chum Tang has cold, sweet drinks. The mandarin juice is done the Thai way, with a little sugar syrup and a dash of salt. The milk tea is typically Thai, syrupy and subtly bitter.