Jenny Bunnag, owner of , is on a mission.
A native of Bangkok with a passion for authentic Thai food, she tirelessly seeks out real Thai ingredients that are not always so easy to find on this side of the world. We're lucky to have a little bit Southeast Asia right on Maple Street in downtown Summit because a meal at Summit Thai is always a bit of an education. The names and flavors of the traditional menu may seem foreign, but the helpful waitstaff is more than happy to explain every dish right down to the last ingredient.
Summit Thai has been dishing up authentic Thai food for almost seven years and Jenny is proud to bring good Thai food to Summit.
As I perused the lunch menu, a bargain at $8, I asked Jenny to recommend something that she loved as a girl back in Bangkok.
"Kee Mao is a popular dish in Bangkok made with fresh, flat rice noodles. The chili is what makes it spicy and it gets absorbed by the noodles as it cooks," she said. "Of course the customer can adjust how spicy they want it."
So, I ordered Kee Mao with chicken and looked for translation from the trusty menu. Kee Mao is a stir-fried broad noodle with egg, chili, onion and Thai basil. With a choice of chicken, beef, pork or shrimp, its a complete meal to my American sensibility. But in Thailand its all about the rice and the noodles. These are fresh rice noodles and a common staple in Thailand but over here rare and hard to find. Jenny goes to Chinatown in NYC for the real thing.
"Everyone gets their noodles from Chinatown. Queens also has a lot of traditional ingredients. I have to find the market first to find the authentic ingredients before we can make the authentic dish," she said.
Lunch comes with a choice of dumplings, vegetable spring roll or Thai salad with peanut dressing. Since I was having noodles for lunch, I selected the salad. While I was waiting, Jenny brought me Thai passion fruit juice ($3). It looked like iced tea but tasted like nothing I'd ever had and for good reason. The juice had aloe vera jelly in it. It's tasteless but added a slight gelatin consistency to the drink. Not too sweet, but refreshing and the cherry at the bottom made it fun. Jenny said that kids love it and the aloe vera has healthful benefits.
Next came my salad. A simple plate of leafy greens with thin curls of carrots tangled on top. The peanut dressing was so flavorful, peanuts being the predominant flavor with hints of something sweet and something spicy. It would be great as a dipping sauce for just about anything and I wondered if I could get more dressing to go.
Just as I was finishing the last bit of salad, my lunch came. The steaming noodles were big and broad with strips of white meat chicken, scrambled egg, chopped onions, carrots and Thai basil. Jenny explained that most Thai food has spicy chili peppers and garlic. It's all tossed together and sauteed in a pan. True to Thai cuisine, Kee Mao hit all the traditional notes; sweet, salty, spicy and sour. There was so much going on in that one dish, every bite I took was a little different and a bit of a tease. I couldn't put my finger on one flavor for too long as they danced around in my mouth. Not too bad for $8 in Summit.
Jenny calls her restaurant "authentic with a twist." In keeping with the never-ending search for the best Thai ingredients, she says the menu changes with the seasons.
"The menu is different in winter than spring. Right now we are using a lot of fresh fish and vegetables because that's what's available right now."
It's nice to know that besides the menu changing to profile fresh ingredients, we also learn a little bit about a far off land through Summit Thai's cuisine. It's a culinary journey that moves along with every dish and a very tasty way to have lunch.