MY affinity with food is as frenziedly varied as my unpredictable taste for art. I am not a follower of minimalist treatments, one-dimensional perspectives, or simplistic elements—therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise that my natural choice for food is a blend of many cultural traditions. Hence, Southeast Asian cuisine—notably Thai and Vietnamese—greatly appeals to me. Although Thai cooking procedure emphasizes simplicity, its finished food’s pungent aromatic components—by way of a wide array of spices and herbs—make dining such a pleasant adventure.
Like the Philippines where I was born, Thailand’s diverse ethnicity offers a rich row of ingredients and an extremely varied food preparation ways. Common herbs include cilantro, lemon grass, basil, and mint. You could navigate in a bowlful of flavors that emanate from ginger, galangal, tamarind, turmeric, garlic, soy beans, shallots, white and black peppercorn, kaffir lime and, chilies. Then, there’s my favorite, generous use of coconut milk and curry, a variety of sauces and condiments—and, not to forget, the staple steamed or boiled white rice.
That’s the paradox of Thai cooking. Preparation seems easy and simple, yet the dishes’ demand of capturing a sumptuous flavor via a dizzying mix of ingredients, herbs and spices makes it all complex. Hence, I must say Thai cooking is not mostly taught—it grows in you. It is more a traditional experience than an acquired skill.
This makes Noi’s Thai Kitchen, located on Merrimon Avenue in Asheville, stand out among a growing number of Thai and Asian restaurants in Western North Carolina. According to co-owner Lenny DiMaio, his wife, Noi, wants to make it clear that she does all the cooking herself. A diner is certain he/she gets exactly what is offered menu…
“Noi won't let anyone else help cook. She runs the kitchen and wants everything to be consistent," DiMaio told The Indie. Such sweeping hold could appear a bit weird to a typical Western observer, but such an attitude is daily life in Southeast Asia—where cooking is almost like a one-person job to a designated cook.
Noi grew up among the rice fields in Northern Thailand where people learn to cook by themselves at a very early age. Her father passed away when she was only 7… Noi, who also studied dentistry, had to take care of feeding her family, as well as help in putting siblings to school.
Before moving to Asheville, Noi worked in Raleigh—in commercial kitchens at night and dental offices during the day. But it’s the kitchen that deeply defines her passion. That passion translates in how she diligently cooks and prepares dishes at her restaurant: very personal. You are sure to experience a member of your family feeding you: intimate, meticulous and sure.
Try my favorite appetizer, Tood Mun Goong—fresh shrimp and clear noodles wrapped in crispy skin served with sweet sauce. The “secret” remains the sauce. Then decide on a choice of these two awesome dishes: Gang Kiew Wan (red curry with coconut milk, bamboo shoots, zucchini, green bean, sweet basil, and bell peppers) or Panang Curry (green curry with coconut milk, peas, green beans, celery, zucchini, carrots, sweet basil, and bell peppers).
But don’t let this article mislead you. Your tastebuds should be the judge. All I can assure is—everything in Noi’s super-busy kitchen is prepared fresh by an experienced cook. You could almost hear Thai monsoon rains trickle and smell lemongrass steaming…
[NOI’S THAI KITCHEN is located at 535c Merrimon Ave., Asheville, NC 28804. Tel # 828 251 1960]