Other than the gimmick

By Neil Yeung (bestfoodinchina.net)
Updated: 2008-05-29 10:57

Thai food in Shanghai often comes with a gimmick, whether it's a stage of scantily-clad dancers or a wandering band of singing performers pestering you while you try to enjoy your pad thai. BaanThai distinguishes itself by placing the focus directly on the food. Fresh spices, imported ingredients, attention to flavor. Here, freshness and authenticity is key.

The freshness is apparent, notably in the homemade hand-ground curry and fragrant chili oil, which are both made on-site with ingredients imported from Thailand. BaanThai aims to be the best and the dishes we sampled were ample claims to that goal.

Starting strong with a fantastic pomelo salad (yam som-o), memories of the old standard - the comparably boring papaya salad - were tossed out the window. What a difference importing makes: the sweet chunks of ripe pomelo were crisp, refreshing and juicy, adding a nice citrus blast to the crunchy shrimp, chicken strands and chopped onion. Paired with the handmade prawn cakes (tod man goong), which were chewy and filling, we could have been satisfied on starters alone.

The curry was fragrant without being too hot, allowing the flavors of the spice to seep into our tongues without numbing our taste buds. The yellow seafood curry (gaeng gari talay) was slightly sweet, filled with a generous portion of assorted sea life (cuttlefish, prawns, mussels, fish). The red chicken curry (gaeng phed gai) was one of the best representations I've had, the coconut milk and spicy chili balanced nicely with tender bites of chicken.

The morning glory (phad phag boong BaanThai) was an unexpected surprise. Also known as kongxin cai, the unassuming vegetable was stir-fried in red chili and shrimp paste, which made a world of difference. That small touch elevates the simple peasant vegetable into a must-have dish and it would be a crime to skip it.

Venturing away from standard fare, we were treated to stir-fried beef with mango (nue phad mamuang), topped with fresh basil, sweet onions and crunchy cashews. The unconventional combination was excellent, the flavors of the tender and savory beef slices mixing pleasantly with the sweet mango strips. If you want to be adventurous but are too timid to order these random dishes from the menu, the general manager will be happy to pick an entire meal guaranteed to please.

As evening settles over the city, a quiet and peaceful candlelight glow illuminates BaanThai's outdoor terrace. Within the garden walls, the noise of the city fades away and diners are allowed to fully appreciate the high quality freshness and vivid flavors of the food on their table. All of this serves as ample reason to treat yourself to a visit to BaanThai, avoiding the glut of noisy, Disney-fied Thai establishments in Shanghai.

Baan Thai
Location: 1479 Middle Fuxing Road, by Middle Huaihai Road


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