Truly authentic, truly Thai at Chili Head
Chili Head Social Bar and Eatery, a cool and hip Thai restaurant overlooking the beautiful marina at Straits Quay serves excellent authentic Siamese food. Here is a place where Thais themselves would love to eat.
I love Thai cooking because it places emphasis on lightly prepared dishes with strong aromatic components and a spicy edge. It is all about the balance of disparate elements to create a harmonious finish. Thai dishes are best enjoyed with plain steamed rice.
We delved into an evening of Thai indulgence at Chili Head with the iconic Miang Kham – wild betel leaves served with an assortment of humble ingredients such as chilli padi, ginger, lime, shallots, dried shrimp and roasted groundnuts. The name "Miang Kham" translates to "single=bite wrap". Well, that is how this dish is eaten – assembling your choice of condiments onto a betel leaf, topping it with the sauce, wrapping it and feeling the enjoyment. The flavours would all come alive in your mouth as you chew.
After such an appetising starter, we were each served a plate of steamed rice as the Thai dishes started to roll in. Even before we sampled the dishes, the wonderful aromas were good enough to whet our appetite. The aromatic Pandan chicken was tender and fragrant. Grilled marinated pork skewers (Moo Ping) with a spicy in-house dipping sauce was among my favourites that evening.
Glass noodle salad (Yum Woon Sen) with seafood, minced pork and chilli-lime dressing had just the right amount of sour, sweet and spicy oomph. It had a great mix of flavours and with fresh herbs. This dish is simply amazing.
Kangkung in batter, deep-fried until golden, has to be one of the best ways to cook this vegetable thoroughly. The crispy texture was light and non-greasy. Did you know that the crunchy sensation produced when eating crispy foods evokes strong ideas of play, pleasure and delight? Oxford professor and Ig Nobel prize winner Charles Spence's work on the key role that the sound of crunchy food plays in our very enjoyment and perception of flavour is very interesting. Think about it – do we also eat with our ears?
Kaeng Som - spicy and sour tamarind fish soup with prawns served with Cha-om omelette (omelette with Acacia leaves) – was a detour from the usual Tom Yum. The savoury laksa-like texture of the gravy was rich and lovely.
These imported spicy sausages (Sai Ou) were packed with distinct spices and a strong turmeric flavour. They would be ideal with a tall glass of cold beer or stout. Pak Lieng is also imported from Thailand as this vegetable is not common at our local markets. The first time I tasted this vegetable was in Koh Lipe.
The Spice and Herb Sea Bass dish was served with lemongrass, shallots, lime, ginger, cashew nuts and mint leaves in sweet tamarind sauce. The combination for fresh ingredients made this dish ingenuously scrumptious.
After such an array of dishes, we still had a little room for desserts. The usual suspects were the classic Red Ruby (Thub Thim Krob) – water chest nut with jackfruit in coconut milk and mango with glutinous rice served with coconut milk.
The dinner was such a fabulous Thai feast that we left Chili Head contented and happy as we do not have to travel to Thailand to enjoy the 'real thing'. Penangites are indeed a lucky bunch.
Service was excellent and the cosy contemporary decor even had a mural by Thomas PowelI. Try out the traditional Thai headgears and capture memorable photos.
Chili Head Social Bar and Eatery
3A-G-11 Straits Quay Straits Quay, Penang
Opens: 12pm - 1am
T: +604-890 3009
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
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Updated: 9 April 2019