The proliferation of Thai food in recent years has given Sydney diners literally hundreds of Thai restaurants to choose from that I have trouble even deciding on so many recommendations alone.
The choice is further complicated by fancy Thai restaurant names that often create laughter rather than hunger. With names like Thairiffic, Thaitanic, Bow Thai, I can’t help but wonder if I should also take its food seriously.
With new and modern Thai restaurants opening in Sydney competing with the older and more established, I think Thai restaurants can be loosely categorised as follows:
- Standard – classic Thai dishes such as green, red, Massaman curries that can be rivaled by a good home chef.
- Good – classic Thai dishes executed well with a good balance of Thai flavours and a few interesting menu items that challenge traditional recipes.
- Bloody Awesome – great balance of traditional Thai flavours with creative use of ingredients and cooking styles that is different from classic Thai recipes. Food that tantalises the tastebuds with flavours that surprise, yet are familiar and comforting.
Many people think classic Thai food is spicy. In reality, this cannot be further away from what I believe Thai flavours really are.
Indeed the fiery birdeye chilli is a key ingredient in Thai cuisine but I think a good Thai chef would count lemongrass, kaffir lime, mint leaves and coriander among its most distinctive flavours while the combination of palm sugar’s subtle sweetness, the pungent saltiness of fish sauce, the tangy and sour lime juice and the complexity of dried shrimp paste are key ingredients that give Thai food its unique and mouth-watering taste.
Tonight, our friends Eva and Fi invite us to dinner at the heart of Thainatown along Sydney’s Campbell street in Haymarket.
“It’s not a fancy joint okay, but we’ll be having some awesome Thai food”, Fiona forewarns us excitedly.
“Well, if the food is lousy, at least we have your awesome company”, I replied.
Yok Yor Thai Food Factory – First visit
As we step into Yok Yor Thai Food Factory, we are greeted by busy chefs in the kitchen doning hard hats. For a minute, these chefs look like they came from a construction site.
“It’s meant to be a food factory, hence the safety head gear”, Fiona explains.
The restaurant is small and unassuming, its diners a mix of young students and those that look like they know what good and honest Thai food is all about.
The menu consists of noodles, fried rice and familiar Thai dishes while the walls are plastered with specials and chef recommendations. It also showcases some classic Thai street food such as BBQ meat skewers, spring rolls and boat noodles which immediately catches my eye.
One dish (or bowl rather) that I would gladly recommend is the Kway Teaw Rua Boat noodles with beef. On a cold wintry night, this bowl of hearty goodness is something I can eat over and over again. The rice vermicelli is slightly thicker and firmer which is what I like, the beef balls fresh and springy with tender pieces of beef. The stock is beefy, gritty with just the right amount of herbs and spices. It’s a small bowl and so it should be seeing the choices on the menu.
A winter melon soup reminds me of home-cooked food, something simple and yet comforting with the sweet and soft pieces of melon that have obviously been simmered for hours.
I look around us and Kha Moo or Pork Leg with rice is a meal in itself for some diners at this restaurant. The rice has taken in all the flavours from the braised pork leg which is tender and sweet from the hours being in the cooking pot.
A stir-fried cat fish with beans and red chilli paste is the first hint of spicy chilli tonight. Although flavours are delicious, I find this dish a little challenging to eat as I try to negotiate the thin slices of cat fish cutlets with very small and hard prickly bones that are inedible.
This dish is deeply rooted as traditional Thai / Vietnamese / Laotian because cat fish is plentiful in the Mekong river that runs from China towards the south and across these countries in South East Asia.
A cucumber salad is refreshing with thinly sliced Spanish onions and cherry tomatoes. What makes this dish enticing is the delicate combination of fish sauce, palm sugar, lemon juice and a hint of chilli. I know I would be tossing this salad a lot more during a BBQ come summer.
A good Pad Thai would be the mark of a good casual Thai restaurant. Here a seafood Pad Thai arrives with huge pieces of squid and prawns that are stir fried to a heady wok aroma topped with a huddle of fresh bean sprouts. A squeeze of lemon juice brings this dish to life.
A Kanom Beaung Yourn is a crispy crepe that is filled with a combination of shredded prawn, coconut, deep-fried tofu puffs, fresh bean sprouts, garlic chives and topped with roasted sesame seeds, peanuts and chilli. Drizzled with a spicy and tangy dressing, every bite of this crepe is a tasty and cripsy mouthful.
The classic Thai dessert of Sung khaya is savoury sweet although I find the egg custard could have been a little softer and creamier. Nevertheless, our meal has been nothing short of spectacular considering it is such honest food at food court prices.
Thanks to Eva and Fi for such a lovely dinner and we vowed to come back soon. So when our Thai food lover friend Marcus came to town recently, we came back to Yok Yor a second time.
Yok Yor Thai Food Factory – Second visit
On our second visit to Yok Yor, I found that I was enjoying the flavours even more with a few different dishes that we ordered.
“I’m a little annoyed that I didn’t order the chicken feet soup during your first visit”, Fiona says.
I love home-cooked chicken feet soup because the feet are so soft from its hours of simmer. I was expecting this soup to be savoury but instead, it is slightly tangy with a good squeeze of lime juice and tamarind. Goji berries give the soup another distinctive flavour. A few more spoonfuls and I knew I had to try and replicate this soup at home soon.
A Pak Prik King or crispy pork belly stir fried with red chilli paste and snake beans is truly comfort food at its best. Succulent pieces of pork belly is coated with a thick and spicy red chilli paste.
Every piece of fatty pork belly is an eye-closing moment because it literally melts in the mouth until you are left with a piece of crispy pork cracking which you would then slowly savour. The crunchy snake beans are lovely but seem to be playing second fiddle as some obligatory green to a garnish of fresh red chillies.
I would gladly return to just have this dish all to myself with a small bowl of steamed Jasmine rice.
Another awesome dish is a Kao Pad Mun Goong or Prawn Fried Rice. This dish arrives in a stunning orangy colour from being stir-fried in prawn flavoured oil that takes on a bright orange colour from simmering prawn heads and shells.
Stir fried with thinly sliced brown onions, chilli paste, French beans and egg, this dish is tantalisingly with a twist of fresh lemon juice, so tasty yet truly comforting.
Many Thai restaurant have done to death a deep-fried snapper drizzled with a gooey sweet spicy sauce. At Yok Yor, a deep fried snapper is topped with fine, crispy slivers of deep fried lemongrass.
The snapper is so crispy you can eat all the crispy small bones and fins. Drizzled with a spicy tangy light chilli dressing, this dish is another winner.
There is Thai green curry and then there is awesome Thai green curry. At Yok Yor, it is mild and coconuty with tender pieces of chicken fillets. I am not a big rice eater but on this occasion, I had no choice but to have a few more spoonfuls. Baby eggplant, mint leaves and snake beans are the only worthy accompaniment that I can think of for this classic Thai dish, apart from the company of course.
I don’t believe good Thai food should be expensive because its key ingredients are relatively cheap although I can appreciate modern and upmarket Thai food taking on more innovative cooking with more expensive cuts of meat and seafood. But if Yok Yor can come up with such awesome Thai food that competes with food court prices, I don’t see any reason for the trend to move anywhere beyond good and honest Thai cuisine.
Thanks Fiona and Eva. Who needs to decide whether the food or company was better when I can have both at the same time!
Yok Yor Thai Food Factory
Shop G06, 323 Castlereagh street
Haymarket, New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9280 0013
Business Hours: Sunday – Thursday 11.30am – 1am, Friday & Saturday 11.30am – 2am