Thai food embraces pungency, balance of flavours and depth, and Susan Wong tends to run towards it; especially during the holidays. SOI Restaurant provides the perfect opportunity to indulge your taste buds with new experiences and create delicious and aromatic memories.
Whether you’re reconnecting with old friends, meeting new ones or going to shags to meet extended family, the majority of holiday parties and gatherings always revolve around good food. Come January, when people return to their offices, I look forward to elaborate stories of their recent encounters. My Kenyan friends often tell me about the exorbitant amount of delicious Nyama Choma and Mbuzi Soup they indulged in, how they met a long lost aunt for the first time, and watched an uncle that drank so much he ended up embarrassing himself in front of the entire clan.
Growing up, my family holiday memories include listening to the same holiday playlist – both in the car and at home – throughout December, climbing to dangerous heights to hang Christmas lights off of my parents’ snow-covered home, and attending numerous family parties. My favourite time was Boxing Day because after days of traditional holiday meals that included cozy classics of ham, turkey, roast lamb and goose; my family would make an effort to try a new restaurant on the day that followed Christmas to add some sparkle to our predictable festive eating.
One of the first foreign cuisines I remember experiencing with my family on Boxing Day was Thai. “Just like a Thailand!” I remember the owner said exuberantly as she welcomed us into a family-style Thai restaurant in downtown Toronto twenty years ago – one that I still visit whenever I’m home.
Home-style Thai in Nairobi “I make it like Thailand?” Chef Pairote Pimswat of dusitD2 Nairobi’s modern Thai restaurant SOI graciously asks, referring to the desired level of spiciness I would prefer. I instantaneously feel at home, perhaps even more so than my last visit before Chef Pimswat moved to Nairobi three months ago. He reminds me of one of my first encounters with Thai cuisine, transporting me back to Boxing Day circa 1995.
Chef Pimswat’s new take on SOI’s refreshed menu departs from the contemporary styling of the restaurant’s modern and urban intrigue. Instead, he is loyal to traditional Thai flavours and fussfree plating that is as simple as it is bold.
First to arrive is the Puffed Red Snapper with Green Mango Salad and Sweet Cashew Dressing, which resembles a mountain of tempura batter scraps. I stick my face into it and inhale. The dish is brimming with beautifully fragrant Thai aromas and the sea. The delicate meat of the fish is shredded and deep-fried until golden and piled atop a refreshing sweet and tangy salad. The crispy crunch of the fish paired with the salad is intriguing and enticing. More subtle is the Fried Thai Ravioli that resembles fried wontons filled with vegetables served on a bed of thickened sweet and fishy sauce, finished with a beautiful white swirl of some of the highest grade coconut milk you can import from Thailand.
Green Papaya Salad at SOI is ferociously fiery for amateur chili eaters, but is worth it. Asking for “just like Thailand” level of spiciness has nothing to do with one’s machismo, but rather what matters is the flavour which is achieved in the dish – tangy, sweet and savoury with a textured crunch that is all gently pounded together. Other dishes are even more familiar, like the WokFried Pork Fillet with Eggplant, Green Beans, Sweet Basil and Chilli, and Green Curry with Red Snapper and Calamari, which is a cut above. It Is as though the definition of richness had been tweaked. Again, I credit the incredibly fragrant coconut milk that harmonized the depth of flavours from chilies, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, kaffir lime, galangal, shrimp paste, and so much more. Julienned bamboo shoots and asparagus bulked-up the creamy dish that is surprisingly full of the “high value” ingredients, teeming of succulent calamari and red snapper.
Most soothing of all is the Tapioca Pudding with Pandan Leaves and Fresh Coconut Milk. It starts as a visual thing, before slapping you with textural theatrics. The bright green colours and tropical grassy notes from the Pandan leaves are infused into tapioca pearls that are formed into small sweetened balls dusted with fresh shavings of coconut. Both soft and chewy, the trio of green tapioca balls is paired with a quaint serving of warm soup laced with coconut milk and sweet corn whilst translucent pearls of tapioca float to the surface. The dessert really made its mark.
Thai food embraces pungency, balance of flavours and depth. Some people may run from it and I tend to run towards it; especially during the holidays. The festive season can provide the perfect opportunity to indulge your taste buds with new experiences and create delicious and aromatic memories that fill the warm holiday air in Kenya. Happy holiday grazing!