Lafayette has always been a go-to in Boulder County for Mexican food, and that hasn’t changed; tortas and tacos flow freely at Efrain’s, Santiagos, and Taco Aya Yay. But about five years ago, a rather stagnant strip mall on the south end of Public Road in Lafayette suddenly developed into an epicenter for Asian food. Now, this land flows with curry and ramen.
At the corner of Waneka Parkway and S. Public Road sits Panang Thai Cuisine, a colorful and cozy café-type joint serving up traditional Thai dishes. Packed with customers on a rainy Monday night, strings of multi-colored lights giving the interior a warm glow, the sweet and spicy smell of curry flooding the nostrils just outside the door, it was hard to deny the call of Panang.
Thai food has become beloved the world over, showing up on international lists of the world’s best food.
So perhaps it’s not so strange that one of the loudest proponents (and foremost authorities) on Thai food is a Michelin-starred chef from Australia named David Thompson. Thompson’s love of Thai food began after a trip to Thailand in the late ’80s. He set about learning all he could about Thai cuisine, but found himself faced with a food culture passed down orally through the generations. There simply were no books to study. Eventually, Thompson found a teacher, and in 2000 was commissioned by the Thai government to consult at the Suan Dusit academy of Thai cooking, where he instructed chefs in the preparation of authentic Thai dishes.
“Thai food ain’t about simplicity,” Thompson told The Guardian in 2010. “It’s about the juggling of disparate elements to create a harmonious finish. Like a complex musical chord, it’s got to have a smooth surface but it doesn’t matter what’s happening underneath. Simplicity isn’t the dictum here, at all. Some Westerners think it’s a jumble of flavors, but to a Thai that’s important, it’s the complexity they delight in.”
The complexity sometimes comes from the fusion that naturally happens to cuisine as foreigners bring a taste of their homeland on their travels.
In many cities in Thailand, street stalls often serve up hybrid Thai, Chinese and Malay dishes.
One such hybrid is nasi goreng, a fried rice dish that originated in Indonesia, but has found a home in Malaysian, Singaporean, Bruneian and even Dutch cuisine. The dish is as simple as its name, usually made up of onion, garlic, carrots, cabbage, shrimp paste, chicken, prawns and a fried egg on top.
In Thailand, nasi goreng is often called khao phat (fried rice in Thai), but at Panang Thai it was nasi goreng on the menu, but with a Thai flair. The rice was stir-fried with tomato, onion, mixed peas, egg, tomato sauce and, because Thailand is the Land of Pineapples, little chunks of the sweet fruit.
Panang Thai serves this comfort food with no frills, but none are needed. That’s the great thing about comfort food: The thrills are built in. Drop on a bit of the chili sauce, and you’ve got a sweet, savory and spicy number that will open the sinuses and soothe the soul.
Panang Thai Cuisine. 1005 S. Public Road, Lafayette, 303-665-0500.