Opened in April this year, Tum Laii’s dishes encapsulate the elements of Thai cuisine with an uncompromising commitment to authenticity. While the interior is modern and made to order, the dishes themselves explode with the sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavours that give Thai cuisine its character and dominate the markets and mobile kitchens of Thailand – sometimes with a pungency that brings water to the eyes.
“I’m using the recipes I learnt as child,” says Thai Executive Chef Khun Aey, whose recent arrival at Tum Laii has attracted a growing number of local and foreign converts as well as a devout following amongst Thai expats yearning for home food.
And no wonder! As an appetiser, the deep fried marinated chunks of chicken wrapped in pandan leaves and skewered with a stick (4,800 Ks) could have been lifted from a mobile kitchen in Aey’s home Province of Isan.
“Some of the ingredients are sourced locally but most come from Thailand”, says Aey, “all are cooked in the Isan style”.
Known as ‘the rice-bowl of Thailand’, Isan food is known for its enthusiastic use of fresh herbs and spices such as garlic, galangal, coriander, lemon grass, shallots, pepper, kaffir lime leaves, shrimp paste, fish sauce, and chilies – lots of chillies. Tum Laii’s dishes explode with these flavours, but if the fierce chili isn’t to your liking fear not, each dish can be adjusted to the diner’s taste and Aey is more than happy to compromise. After all, you’re the boss.
There are over 50 dishes to choose from but it’s the ‘Spicy Stir Fried Seafood with Thai Herbs’ (7,000 Ks) that I choose next. The fresh water fish and clams are blended with basil, coriander and galangal and livened up with a splash of sour lemon, pineapple chunks and chopped chillies. The dish itself could have leaped from a Thai market stall in Isan and onto my plate – via the hotplate of Khun Aey.
Needless to say, for this lover of Thai food it disappeared quickly.
For something less spicy and more akin to comfort food try the ‘Thai Chicken Meat Omelette’ (3,500 Ks). A curious result of East meets West that I’m told was introduced to Thailand by the recently deceased King Rama IX, after one of his numerous trips to the West. Add a touch of the exotic to the plain old omelette with a thumb full of coriander and a splash of ‘nam prik’ sauce that combines fresh chilies with fish sauce, lime and a touch of sugar.
The ‘Chicken Stir Fried with Cashew Nuts’ (3,500 Ks) is another favourite for newcomers to Isan food while the crispy skinned and meaty ‘Grilled Drumstick Chicken’ (3,800 Ks) puts the chicken peddlers of fast food fame to shame.
There are also salads galore featuring crispy catfish and chili shrimp paste dip, while the ‘Thai Ice Lemon Tea’ is as good as any I’ve tasted in Thailand. There’s also a decadent choice of desserts that includes ‘Chocolate Fondant with Ice Cream’ (3,500 Ks) and ‘Waffle Butter Honey with Ice Cream’ (2,500 Ks), not very Thai but whose complaining, by this stage I was just eager to get my fill.
Tum Laii delivers locally and can host parties of 60 people making it an ideal spot for an end of the year office party or a New Year celebration.