Odd little restaurant brings much needed Siamese cuisine to the capital – but you’re better off getting takeaway
Papa Food is an odd little Thai restaurant.
Passing by on Street 288, you wouldn’t give it a second glance. When I popped down for lunch this week on the recommendation of a foodie friend, there was nothing to indicate it wasn’t just another generic Khmer eatery: only a “Papa Food” banner, a display case containing Mama Noodles and vegetables and an empty vertical rotisserie. Lord knows how my friend found it.
The fact it’s a Thai joint becomes obvious, however, as you walk by the kitchen located in the entryway. The bowls of spices and oversized mortar and pestle for pounding green papaya somtam salad are a dead giveaway.
I’d checked out the restaurant’s Facebook page beforehand, and the branding there makes it look like a cookie cutter restaurant, like GG Burger. But the dining area bears little resemblance to your typical burger chain. It really looks like someone with more enthusiasm than aesthetic sense has tried to turn their living room into a Brown café.
Generic tiles clash with wooden cladding, a flat screen TV, strange metallic materials on the pillars, bamboo on the ceiling, truly horrific floral pattern curtains and an abstract water photo. I couldn’t tell if it was terrible or kind of adorable.
However, like the Facebook page, Papa Food’s menu is glossy and professional – with hardly any spelling mistakes – and has a spread of dishes typical of those found in Bangkok. And that’s what I was really there for.
My girlfriend and I plumped for our usuals – basil pork, somtam and pork ribs – in order to get a good comparison with our regular Thai spot. We also asked for some fried larb balls, because they came recommended by the owner, an almost off-puttingly polite chap whose every second word seemed to be khap, a uniquely Thai word that signifies respect.
The somtam ($2) came out first and was different in style to what we’re used to; the crisp green papaya was chopped much more roughly, there were no peanuts and the chilli needed to be mixed through more. It wasn’t bad though.
Next was the basil pork ($3), or pad krapow moo, which came with a pleasingly gooey fried egg and rice. The recipe lacked punch, but some may prefer it milder.
Nomming on deep-fried garlic pork ribs ($4) is one of the great joys in life, and Papa Food’s are pretty good: crisp on the outside but the flesh still tender. However, the larb balls ($4), allegedly a “fusion” take on traditional larb, were almost too crisp, a little dry, and could have used some sauce as an accompaniment or maybe some lettuce to wrap them with.
Chatting to the owner – who for three years did the food logistics at the Thai Embassy – after the meal, we found out that all the dishes are made from scratch with no MSG, unlike some other restaurants, which might explain the lack of punch.
I’m not sure if my usual Thai spot does use MSG and that’s why the food there is tastier, but frankly I don’t care. I’ll probably still keep eating there.
If you prefer your Thai food a little milder, or are averse to MSG, then Papa Food could be a good option. But the aesthetics don’t make it a great place to eat.
My advice is to take advantage of the home delivery service.
Papa Food is located at #35AEo Street 288. Tel: 088 705 5018.