I have eaten very little Thai food in Singapore. I used to love Thai food, but I must have eaten Thai food less than five times since we came back from our 2 year stint in Bangkok. And that was like five years ago. I guess it must be that I have never found really authentic Thai food in Singapore and also that I just cannot get myself to pay $6 for a plate of Khao Pad Gai (Fried Rice with Chicken) when I used to buy it for 20 Baht (80 cents) just down the road from my apartment.
My favourite Thai food is difficult to find in Singapore. It is typical Esarn (North East region of Thailand) cuisine which comprise of Som Tam (Green papaya salad), Khai Yang (Grilled Chicken) and other salads eaten with Sticky Rice. Except for Golden Mile Complex, you can hardly find this in any of the Thai Restaurants in Singapore. In fact, the Thais themselves love Esarn food. If I were to pick the top Thai food that is most eaten by my Thai friends, I would say it is Som Tam with lots of chilli padi eaten with Sticky Rice. It is to the Thais what Hokkien Mee and Chicken Rice is to us Singaporeans.
When I was invited to Joe’s Kitchen, I was told that the chef was previously the head chef from Parkway Thai. With a name like Joe, I thought he was a Singaporean guy. But I was pleasantly surprised that Joe turned out to be a Thai guy who had married a Singapore girl (our secret weapon for attracting foreign talent). Not only that, but Joe’s from Esarn as well! OK, Thai food cooked by a Thai guy in his own little restaurant. This is worth checking out!
I was pleasantly surprised with the Thot Man Goong (Prawn Cakes). The texture was perfect. It had a nice springy consistency with bits of prawn in it and marinated just right. Same stuff I used to get in the best Thai restaurants in Bangkok. 4.5/5
The Green Mango Salad was also refreshingly good. Joe gave it a bit of twist by garnishing it with deep fried cuttlefish which gave it that extra ooomph. The heat and saltiness has been toned down so it did not have quite that kick you’d often get in Thailand. However, he confirmed that he does use palm sugar rather than granulated sugar, so it is still quite authentic. I’d like mine with a dash more fish sauce and vinegar though. 4.25/5
Stuffed chicken wings are one of the easiest things to eat and great for the kids. One of the things about the Thais is that the labour cost is so low that they can afford to get people to do the most labour intensive work. I remember eating seafood in Thailand where they actually served the meat from the crab legs ready peeled! I used to imagine a group of ladies in the back using their teeth to crack open the shell and pulling out the meat from the crab legs! Suffice to say, I never really developed a taste for ready peel crab legs served cold with a dip.
The same amount of labor intensive work goes into preparing the stuffed chicken wings. For every wing, someone has to dislocate the joint, pull out the radius and ulnar bones of the midwing and then stuff it with a mixture of water chestnuts, corn, chopped chicken meat and mushrooms. Hard work but really easy to eat! Being partial to anything with crunchy water chestnuts, I really enjoyed this. 4.25/5
One of the problems I find when eating Thai food in Singapore is they way they have to modify the dish to suit the local palate. So take for instance the Green Curry Chicken. The spices have been toned down and they have made it richer by adding more coconut milk. They also made it less sweet. Instead of the baby green brinjal which comes in two sizes (chickpea and egg sizes) they use the mature purple ones. I found that the Green Curry lacks balance and the coconut milk was overpowering. 3.5/5
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Pineapple Fried Rice $4.50/$8.90
A proper pineapple fried rice needs to have the rice baked in the pineapple. This is quite obvious from the name of the dish in Thai (Khao Ob Saparot – Rice baked (in) Pineapple). However, even in Thailand, this dish is often simply a fried rice with pineapple. A nice pineapple fried rice should be mildly spiced and have that sweetness of the pineapple infused into the rice. But the fact is that most of the time you get to taste the Pork Floss and the Cashew nuts. Unfortunately, Joe did not choose to bake the rice in the pineapple, so this is rightly called pineapple fried rice and I found that again he has toned down on the spices. This dish can be so much better. 3.75/5
Tom Yam Soup is arguably the most famous Thai dish overseas. In order to make a good Tom Yam, the soup stock has be great. The Tom Yum soup at Joe’s is very good, although, again I found that the spices have been toned down. I think that it might be wise for them to actually let the guest choose the amount of spice they want in their dishes. You know, like 3 grades of spiciness – Ang Moh level, Singaporean level and Thai level so that we can get to custom it to our liking. For me, I would have liked the Tom Yum to be more hot and sour. 4/5
One of my favourite Thai dishes is Prawn Baked Vermicilli which really is a Teochew dish that the Thais have adopted. The secret to a good vermicilli is that piece of pork fat that they place at the bottom of the deep pan when they cook the dish. Aiyah, Joe removed the pork fat because most Singaporeans are health conscious. You want a die die must try Crab Baked Vermicilli? You need that extra ingredient! 3.5/5
Judging from the dishes that did not have to be modified to suit our local tastes, I think that Joe has the ability to cook up a really authentic Thai meal if he was given permission to. I would really love it if they would add Sticky Rice with Som Tom and Khai Yang to their menu. Too many Thai Restaurants assume that Singaporeans will not like it, but I am sure that a place selling these dishes will be a hit with Singaporeans.
At any rate, Joe’s Kitchen is a great place to enjoy Thai food where it is small and informal enough for you to get to know the chef and his wife. For me that means that I can get them to cook the dishes the way I like it. Aside from that I think the prices are also quite reasonable, so it is worth checking out the place if you have a craving for Thai food.