Many people think they know Thai food because it shares many of the same ingredients used in both Chinese and Indian cuisines. They assume that Thai curry is the same as Indian curry or that Thai fried rice and noodle dishes are the same as Chinese, when Thai cuisine has its own flavors, ingredients, and textures. Pad Thai is a stir-fried rice noodle dish that is synonymous with Thai food, and most people who think they know and love Thai food think they also know Pad Thai. Pad Thai and other stir-fried rice noodle dishes are what most customers order on a regular basis at restaurant on Main Street in Woodbridge.
Co-owner Richard Giannone says that regulars will order a Pad Thai or stir-fry dish two to three times a week, and he recommends these dishes to anyone who has never tried Thai food before and is, perhaps, expecting Chinese food. However, anyone who is expecting Chinese food will be surprised to find that not all Asian food is created equal.
“Thai food has more spice, more flavor, and lighter sauces than Chinese food. It also doesn’t use many of the vegetables typically found in Chinese cooking, like water chestnuts,” Giannone said.
Since Thailand borders both India and China, it’s only natural that many dishes and ingredients would be similar, like rice noodles and curry, but Thai food does have its own distinct flavor.
Pad Thai is one of Thailand’s national dishes for which there are numerous variations. The dish became popular in the 1940s when Thailand’s prime minister introduced it as part of his campaign for centralization and his campaign for the reduction of rice consumption. The production of rice noodles created jobs and helped to revive Thailand’s economy after World War II.
While basic ingredients for this dish include eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice, and combinations of bean sprouts, meat, and tofu, Pad Thai is a dish that varies from location to location, restaurant to restaurant. Giannone recalls an incident when a customer sent back her order of Pad Thai because it didn’t look like the Pad Thai she’d had before.
“We add tomato paste to our sauce that gives it a redder color, and some people are used to seeing the brown fish sauce,” Giannone said.
Giannone is not someone you would expect to see as the owner of a Thai food restaurant, and he’s had his fair share of criticism because of it. In the 80s and 90s, he owned a video store but gave it up to pursue other business ventures. His business partner, who is Vietnamese, and his partner’s wife, who is Thai, were looking to open a Thai food restaurant but needed someone to go into business with. Giannone decided to become a partner because of his appreciation for the food. In fact, he used to be something of a Thai food junkie like the regular Mie Thai customers who come in or order out at least three times a week. So why does Giannone face criticism? Is it a matter of the restaurant’s authenticity?
“It’s not like I’m preparing the food; all the chefs are Thai, and the recipes are provided by my partner’s wife,” Giannone said.
Mie Thai attracts new and old faces on a regular basis, and every item on the diner-sized menu has been ordered at least once.
“Our wait staff gets to know our customers by the food they order. They immediately know what our regulars like and don’t like, and how spicy they want it,” Giannone said.
Giannone worked hard to make the menu easy to read by dividing it into categories: appetizers, soup, rice, noodles, etc. He actually transliterated every menu item from Thai Abugida into English. He is very intrigued by the language’s script and was excited to show me examples of it in a Thai newspaper.
Deciding what I wanted to eat was actually simple: I wanted to order something that was not Pad Thai or a noodle dish, so I ordered Kai Yad Sail. The menu describes it as a Thai-style omelet stuffed with minced meat, onions, tomatoes, and peppers that have all been cooked in a garlic basil sauce. I ordered my omelet with chicken, white rice, and asked that it be prepared very mild, which means the food would only have a slight bite. Giannone also recommended the Kurry Puffs, so I got a small order of them and a house salad drowned in peanut dressing.
I’m a lover of peanut sauce, peanut dressing, and anything with peanut flavor. The sweet peanut dressing on the salad was refreshing. It wasn’t spicy at all, and while it was very sweet, there was some citrus flavor to cut the sweetness. I had to restrain myself from licking any dressing the salad didn’t soak up off the plate.
The Kurry Puff is pretty much a turnover or knish filled with chicken, potato, onion, and curry powder. It is served with a sweet and sour cucumber sauce that is really good, but unnecessary. The Kurry Puff does not need a condiment. It’s perfect just the way it is. The pastry is flaky and melts into the buttery texture of the potato. This puff is good because of its different textures. What really hits you when you first bite into it is the flavor of the curry powder. It’s not spicy; it actually has a sweet, nutty flavor. It tastes a lot like nutmeg.
I didn’t know what to expect when I ordered the Thai omelet, but I was a little terrified when my server brought out a giant “egg roll” that was kind of shaped like a lobster tail. The egg was browned and crispy, and garnished with a light salad. Wrapped inside was a colorful stir fry of diced chicken, tomatoes, carrots, basil, and peppers coated in a light but extremely flavorful garlic and basil sauce. Omelets are a pretty common street food in Thailand. It’s very different from its French counterpart, especially the texture of the eggs. While a French omelet is creamy and light in color, the Thai omelet is fluffy on the inside and crispy like a pancake on the outside. Honestly, it was a really good omelet. It was different from other omelets I’ve had, but it was still one of the best. Seriously. If Mie Thai were open for breakfast, I would be ordering an omelet there every Sunday. So, really, Mie Thai is a great place for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
If you’re looking to try Thai food or just can’t get enough of it, Mie Thai on Main Street in Woodbridge serves authentic Thai food in a relaxing and friendly atmosphere.
Mie Thai, 34 Main St., Woodbridge, NJ. 732-596-9400