[SG] Khun Mee Thai | Thai-Chinese street food takes centerpiece

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Khun Mee Thai is one of the latest Thai casual dining restaurants to join the Singapore's F&B scene with a focus on Thai-Chinese street food. Using ingredients sourced directly from Thailand, Khun Mee Thai improvises its street food offerings by adjusting to the palate of Singaporeans.

Most people would be familiar with Thai cuisine but what exactly defines Thai-Chinese street food? Chinese immigraton was a major influence on the evolution of Thai street food, especially in Bangkok, where Chinese coolies worked hard to improve their lives. In their communal living, there was a demand for street-side stalls and typically noodle soups, rice dishes, snacks and sweets were popular offerings.

While there are plenty of Thai restaurants in Singapore to talk about, it is worth understanding a little more about the origins of Khun Mee Thai. Khun is a form of address in Thai such as Mr or Mrs while Mee refers to Ba Mee (Thai version of egg noodles). Interestingly, owner of Khun Mee Thai, Khun Aum, shared that her Singaporean husband is a huge fan of classic wanton noodles egg noodles and while managing his business in Bangkok, the couple travelled across the city in search of the best Ba Mee. 

Inspired by Khun Aum's story, we went on to learn that she developed her cooking knowledge and skills from helping her mother and grandmother in the kitchen as a child. She then went on to work with street food vendors to learn further about the cooking techniques and processes.

Can Khun Mee Thai bring the best of Bangkok street food to Singapore? Let us find out!

Guay Teow Lui Suan, Thai-style garden roll | S$5.80/- for six pieces

These soft rice paper wrappers are largely similar to the Vietnamese rice rolls as each roll is filled with Thai sausage, pan-roasted peanuts, Thai sweet basil and Thai long-leafed coriander. I enjoyed the thin rice wrappers which were not overly starchy and the Thai sweet basil brought a distinctively sweet licorice scent. There was a good variation in texture with the chopped roasted peanuts against the soft Thai sausage. To top it off, the homemade sweet, sour and spicy chilli sauce as an accompanying condiment helped to introduce some flavours to the dish but I found that the sweet and sour elements dominated and lacked any heat.

Moo Yor Salad, Thai sausages with glass noodle in spicy dressing | S$5.80/-

When the salad was served, I intuitively thought of the classic papaya salad but this was quite a different dish altogether. Mixed with glass noodles which were cooked al dente, the zesty chilli and lime dressing packed a bold punch of flavours. I liked that the heat in the dish was balanced by the mint and acidity of the lime which made it quite an addictive and appetising starter. The warm Thai sausage added a second dimension to the dish which was set by the contrasting textures from the chopped peanuts and greens.

Kha Moo, Pork leg | S$7.80/++

Originated from Khun Aum's grandmother's recipe, the pork leg was carefully treated with a marinate time of at least two hours followed by four to six hours of braising. The sauce had that classic five-spice flavours which would be adored by some but quite personally I am not a huge fan. Nonetheless, the pork leg was cooked perfectly and was off-the-bone tender. Coupled with the layer of fats underneath the skin, it was almost melt in your mouth. While I enjoyed the beautifully cooked pork leg, the flavours of the five-spice did not quite work for my palate and I would have preferred a simple braise.

Ba Mee Kiao, Moo Dang & Kai Tom (Dry), Egg noodles with dumpling, charshu & lava egg | S$7.20/-

Dubbed as the signature dish of the restaurant, this Thai version to our commonly known wanton mee introduced some new elements such as the soft-boiled egg with that molten egg yolk. I found the portion to be quite sparing as each bowl had just about two to three thin slices of the char siew, an egg, three small pieces of dumplings with some greens. While the char siew carried a nice bronze colour from the marinade, the thin slices were barely sufficient to taste the juiciness of the fat in that prime choice of cut. I would have preferred a thicker slice to let the flavours carry through.

While the egg noodles were cooked al dente, the diners at the table all shared the same view that it was slightly too dry only did we later realise that we did not enjoy the dish the way it was meant to be served!

On each table is a row of condiments which include fish sauce, chilli powder, sugar and green chillies soaked in vinegar. Khun Aum later showed us how she intended her noodles to be served! She took a teaspoon each of the various condiments and added them into the noodles before tossing them to give a bowl of authentic Thai-Chinese Ba Mee.

It was quite different from the wanton mee that we grew up accustomed to as each mouthful had a lot going on in terms of flavours. There was the acidity from the vinegar and heat from the chillies only to be soothed by the sweetness from the sugar before an unami touch from the fish sauce. We highly recommend trying it the Khun Mee Thai way else it would have been quite pedestrian-tasting.

While we were told that the broth was simmered with large pork bones with coriander root, white radish and pepper for six to eight hours, it tasted quite muted in terms of flavours. The dumplings also needed more work as the filling was too little and it was a shame that I tasted more of the starchiness from the wrapping rather than the minced meat itself.

Ba Mee Tom Yam, Tom Yam egg noodles with prawns | S$8.80/-

It was quite interesting to spot cauliflower in tom yam soup as that is not a common sight but the usual key ingredients such as prawns and mushrooms were present. One can have the option of having the tom yam soup with or without the noodles and may opt for it with or without milk. I preferred the clear soup slightly better as the flavours were bolder and distinctively sharper. While the acidity in the broth was accompanied by the heat and sweetness, I found it to be the dominant flavour which may please some but on this occasion it did not quite match my palate.

For those who prefer a milder taste, do opt for the tom yam with milk as that helped to neutralise the heat.

Ba Mee Kang Keaw Wan Gai, Egg noodles with green curry and chicken | S$9.80/-

Another classic street food favourite, the green curry was mildly sweet and while I would have preferred it to be spicier and richer in flavours, this would suit those with a preference for more gentle flavours.

Khor Kai Tod, Fried chicken joints | S$4.80/-

Being one of the popular bar snacks in Bangkok, these deep-fried battered chicken cartilages were something quite new for the diners at my table. While it was apparently not the most well-received dish, I actually enjoyed it a lot as the salt and pepper seasoning was spot on, balanced by that Thai sweet-chilli sauce. The crisp batter on the outside complemented the crunchy joints and if you do not know this already, each chicken only has two cartilages, one from each leg so many chickens sacrificed for this plate!

Khao Clook Ga-Pi, Fried rice with shrimp paste | S$8.80/-

The fried rice was cooked with shrimp paste which brought out a rich unami flavour. It was accompanied by crispy dried shrimps, julienned green mango and omelette strips, Chinese sausage, sliced cucumber, shallots and chilli padi. While these individual ingredients were delicious, what brought the dish to harmony was the Thai sweet pork stew.

In order to best enjoy the dish, mix all the condiments together with the pork stew for a good contrast of textures and flavours such as the crunchy green mango to the crispy deep fried Chinese sausage.

Khao Neow Mamuang, Mango with sticky rice | S$5.80/-

The pandan-flavoured sticky rice brought back memories of our trip to Bangkok some half a year ago as this did not seem to be quite a common fare in Singapore. The succulent and naturally sweet mango specially imported from Thailand nailed the dessert with the fresh coconut cream which added richness. The sticky rice was cooked al dente with the desired level of sweetness. With the sticky rice served warm, it helped to elevate the fragrance of the infused pandan flavours.

Khao Neow Tu-Rean, Durian with sticky rice | S$5.80/-

Drawing comparison to the mango sticky rice, this looked a lot messier as the durian flesh and purée were not the most photogenic elements to portray. If you like good quality bitter-sweet durian, this would be something that you would want to end your meal with. Localised to suit the Singaporeans' palate, Khun Aum substituted Thai durians with Malaysian durians which typically have stronger flavours and fragrance.  

Khun Mee Thai tries to provide authenticity of its Thai-Chinese dishes not only through the food they serve but also the ambience. With an open space casual and contemporary setting, with dark wood tables and benches decorated with Thai cushions, it reminded me of our experience at Nara Thai Bangkok. Every table has its own set of wooden cutlery box, with wooden chopsticks and stainless steel Chinese soup spoons. Overall, the casual dining experience was slightly above average with a focus on Thai-Chinese street food which would suit the palate of most locals.

Some hits and misses with the dishes but I felt that it was partly due to our misunderstanding of the convention and culture to truly enjoy the dishes. If in doubt, we would advise to check with the serving staffs to truly experience the tastes and flavours intended. For the price conscious, you would be most delighted to learn that the prices on the menu are nett prices so on hindsight, the food is really value for money!

Overall Verdict: 7.0/10

Khun Mee Thai Noodle Bar
799 New Upper Changi Road
#02-32/34 Bedok Point
Singapore 467351
Tel: (+65) 6445 9932
Website: www.khunmeethai.com

P.S: Special thanks to Velda and Khun Mee Thai for hosting us.

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