285 Spring St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9650 8838
The heart is a funny thing. If it comes from a chicken it’s pretty tasty when grilled, it’s arguably the least useful of the Planeteer powers, and if not physiologically, the heart in each of us is sentimentally responsible for the highs and lows we all experience in our lives. Not to get too philosophical on a food blog, but emotions have a large impact on our recollections of events and places. And food. Which is why dinner with D is always an interesting proposition.
To be blunt, D broke my heart about three years ago. The interceding years have taught me that, whether you view it as cliche or adage, it is true that time heals all wounds; but it’s also true that some wounds will always leave a scar. One of the bones of contention which always existed between us was who was more Asian. Which is patently ridiculous, because I’m a son of Vietnamese Chinese migrants, and his parents are Italian. But then, I did grow up in rural Victoria, and he has lived in South East Asia for four more years of his life than me. His Thai is arguably as fluent as my Mandarin, but I think I have the one up on him, because my Cantonese is even more fluent than that. And my eyes are slanty.
In any case, when D asked to catch up for dinner recently, I suggested Appetizer, because he hadn’t been before, and from all accounts – mine is apparently not to be trusted in these matters, according to D – it’s pretty authentically Thai. In that modern Bangkok way. Without the glitzy orientalist finery, but with some pumping Thai pop tunes. I had been once before with friends, having been introduced to it as that ‘secret Thai’ place which @jeroxie was keeping from the rest of Melbourne’s foodbloggers world for months.
I was in a particularly good mood, having just been offered a new job, so I was uncharacteristically nonplussed about what to order; D took the lead and surprised the waitress by ordering in Thai. Perhaps he does have a case to argue after all. He certainly does know his Thai food, too. Of course, we had the som tum Thai – green papaya salad – which was pretty fresh, but there was something a little off about the seasoning. It was a little too salty for me, and D thought there was something vaguely plasticky about the flavour. In hindsight, it might have been the inclusion of fried shallots? I’m not sure if there were fried shallots, really, but I’ve had experiences with Nhu Lan’s salad banh mi where the combination of fried shallots and fish sauce resulted in a strange, plasticky taste. The som tum also didn’t have any tomatoes. Maybe this was because it’s winter, and tomatoes are pricey, but som tum just isn’t right for me without tomato.
We also had the tom yum goong – tom yum soup with prawns – because it was cold, and soup seemed appropriate. Funnily, D said it felt strange to be eating Thai food in Winter; I guess it’s a marked contrast to the humid warmth of Bangkok. One of the things I love about D is that he’s insightful in way that I’m not. We think in very different ways, but they’re in playfully complementary ways. In many ways, we had always balanced each other out, just as the flavours in this tom yum soup did; a great balance of acidity, salt and umami. A touch on the spicy side, even for me, but I suspect that’s because D ordered in Thai. If you like your Thai food spicy, you won’t be disappointed at Appetizer.The final dish we shared was squid with salted egg. I wasn’t sure what to make of this from the menu. I was kind of expecting dried, re-hydrated squid, like the Malaysian dish, and I thought it might be wedges of salted egg – maybe it was a salad? Nope. Thai food knowledge fail. It was much more subtle, being calamari in a salted egg yolk sauce. And it was delicious! The sauce had a touch of tamarind and chilli, and a nice whack of palm sugar. It was reminiscent of a satay sauce – minus the peanuts, if you can imagine it – in that it was creamy, rich, warm and earthy, and you just wanted more.So three years on, D and I are still close friends. We always were, and I think we always will be. Because sometimes the heart matters less than the stomach and the head.