“Were you ever that Asian kid at school who was too embarrassed to bring out your lunch?”... Yes, yes and yes. Even as a grown adult, I still illicit strange stares and sniffs at my day job come lunchtime. But anyone who’s anyone knows the greatest food has some fight, some funk, and some attitude.
That’s why I’m pretty stoked at the latest venture from the folks at Chat Thai. Just around the corner from the Campbell Street restaurant, they’ve opened up Boon, a cafe-with-Thai-touches-by-day, Isaan-diner-by-night in the booming Thainatown. Plus, it shares its space with the adjoining Jarern Chai grocery store, which in itself is a treasure trove of South East Asian delights.
I snag a table next to an overflowing display of sugar bananas and pomelos. Boon’s breakfast menu does Thai versions of baked eggs, served with fish sausage and chicken mince, but I’m really here for to try the two varieties of congee, chicken and crab. Both are silky and comforting savoury porridges, with fresh shitake mushrooms to extend the umami-ness. The crab is lighter than the chicken congee, but like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, it’s impossible to pick my favourite of the two.
The selection of Thai drinks is impressive, and nahm tao hoo is hands down the best soy bean milk I’ve ever had. It’s perfectly nutty, like I’m drinking actual soy rather than diluted, over-sweet ‘soy drink’ of other establishments. There’s also Single Origin coffee, Kakawa hot chocolate, and pastries from Penny Four’s if you want to East-meets-West your breakfast.
On my next visit, I sit beneath a poster announcing newly arrived fresh durian. Boon’s popular lunch menu offers a selection of northern Thai proteins, served in a sarnie, or atop a mound of brown rice. The nahm prik makua option is a smoked eggplant relish that’s not for the faint hearted. It’s more chilli than eggplant, with the side of coleslaw providing thankful relief. The twist of pork crackling is your reward for getting through the burn.
I’m a sucker for duck. I was weirdly forbidden from eating it in my youth, but adulthood brings about all sorts of privileges—donkey voting, paying rent, and eating what I want. There’s no stopping me from chowing down on the tender choice slices of duck meat with crispy barbequed skin. Drizzle with the accompanying sticky ginger sauce, and you have yourself an easy winner. The khao dtom sen pork noodle soup is a textural delight, of chew squiggles of rice noodles, thick slices of pork devon, and if you double-dare, the side shallot and chilli sauce.
I usually stay away from noodle salads. Too often they resemble the token ‘Asian’ option at commercial salad joints, usually smothered in a mystery satay sauce. The yum ba mee proves me wrong. It’s a delicious tumble of egg noodles, mussels, calamari, and prawns, with a nahm jim dressing. The speckles of mini dried shrimp are a crunchy bonus.
By combining Sydney’s culinary loves of Thai food, cafes, and concept stores the mates at Boon are onto a winning formula. Plus, it’s open from 8am – midnight, so there’s no excuse for missing out. There’s not a tepid green curry in sight, but plenty of dishes that pack a wallop of flavour, and we’re pretty lucky for it.
Image credit: Anita Wilhelm