Tall, Dark, and Mysterious

5/30/2005

Behold, the fruits of multiculturalism

File under: 1000 Words, What I Did On My Summer Vacation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 9:02 am.

Yes, those are sweet basil potato chips. Ridged! And believe you me, you can taste the sweet basil.

And here’s where you, dear reader, (may) come in: note the opportunity (I think?) to win one million (I think) Thai Bhats. According to the currency converter, that’s equivalent to CA 31,062.06 or US 24,736.39, certainly nothing to sneeze at. The inside of the bag is silver foil, and contains no text at all, and hence, no text indicating whether or not I am one million Thai Bhats richer than I was before I purchased a bag of sweet basic potato chips. Is there a number or something to which I’m supposed to send the UPS code or whatnot? Are such instructions here on the back of the bag?

This bag of chips, by the way, is one of the many novelty items featured at Dok Bua, a Thai Restaurant in Brookline, MA, that proudly displays a restaurant review headlined “Where Thai Cuisine Meets Kitsch.” And it’s true! From the Christmas tree at the centre of the room to the “This way to New York” sign above the restroom door - it’s as though Dok Bua was decorated with the aim of distracting us from the food. Which is actually quite good. The food, that is. For what it’s worth, I lingered by the snack counter before choosing a flavour of chip: the options, besides sweet basil, included baked lobster, nori seaweed, Mexican barbecue, and sour cream and onion.

More on the subject of tension between decor and cuisine in Thai restaurants: I’m reminded of my introduction to Thai food, back in 2001, in Waterville, ME, of all places. Unless you’re either in some way affiliated with the summer camp where I’ve worked for the past five years or live in Waterville, ME, you’ve probably never been to Waterville, ME, because there’s no reason to visit Waterville, ME unless you grew up there. Many of the streets in Waterville, ME (pop: 10,000) are unlabelled, because there’s no reason to be navigating them unless your family’s lived there for the past six generations. Among the attractions in Waterville, ME: a post office; a grocery store or two; a few gas stations; a college; a Walmart; a K-Mart; a McDonald’s; a Pizza Hut; and restaurant called Pad Thai. In 2001, Pad Thai was located in a tiny shack by the highway that looked as though it would collapse under the force of a moderate wind. On its roof was a sign bearing a Pepsi ad and - in the types of letters used to spell out the names of movies outside a theatre - the restaurant’s name. My party and I entered with no small measure of trepidation; this place looked as though it would be Pad Thai that week, and Joe’s Burger Shack the next. At the very least, I expected French fries on the menu. But somehow, a talented Thai family had settled in the most immigrant-free town I’d ever set foot in, set up a restaurant, and it was good. Very good.

Three years later, my camp returned to Waterville, ME, and found that Pad Thai had added a second location. Waterville, ME, might have had room for only one McDonald’s, one Pizza Hut, and one K-Mart, but there was a market for two Pad Thais. The second, located on the lower level of a hotel, was decidedly more upscale: it had booths, and jukeboxes, and half of a pink - Ford? I think; I don’t know these things - protruding from the back wall. So, if you drop by Waterville, ME, and have a crving for Thai food, you have your choice of settings: shack, or 50’s diner. Though there’s always takeout, which might be necessary, as both of these unlikely spaces were routinely filled to capacity.

According to some of our campers, who were born and raised in Southeast Asia, Pad Thai’s food was as tasty and authentic as any they’d ever eaten. Only the decor was uniquely American. And if this type of adaptation is what it takes to fill an ethnic restaurant in Waterville, ME, then I’ll take it.