August 6, 2020 – Continuing our series on Zagreb’s international food offer and the stories behind these cuisines and businesses. This time, the spicy but light takeaway lunches of Khaos Thai.
Rinrampai Lateja and Saralee Madnui standing outside the Khaos Thai kiosk, next to Importanne Gallery on Vlaška ulica © Mateo Henec
Saralee Madnui: We’re both from Thailand. I’m from the south of Thailand, close to the border with Malaysia.
Rinrampai Lateja: I’m from Bangkok, the capital city. It’s in the centre.
Saralee: I’ve been here for five years, her for ten. We’re both here for the same reason; we’re married to Croatians. I met my husband when he was visiting Thailand. She met her’s while she was working on a cruise ship.
Saralee: Every region of Thailand has a different taste. In the north, the food is a little bit soft, but still spicy from curry paste. In the northeast, their flavours are really strong, spicy and sour, but they use much less fat. The land in that region is not so rich and the food is fast and simple, cooked quickly on the grill or in a pan. In the south, where I’m from, we have all the food; coconut, fish from the sea. The climate is good and anything can grow there. It’s a very rich cuisine. In central Thailand, the taste is more smooth, but flavoursome from strong seasoning.
Khaos Thai © Mateo Henec
Saralee: The food at Khaos Thai is more like central Thai cuisine. We make some of the most well-known dishes from Thailand. Although, we also make Larb, which is from the northeast. It’s meat, fresh herbs, chilli, lime juice and rice. Salad is one of our most popular dishes here. Ours is salty, sour, crunchy and spicy, with dried shrimps, peanuts, green papaya, long beans, red tomato and chilli. It’s a very colourful dish. This is very typical of Thai cuisine; lots of different textures, flavours and colours. Like with Thai curry – the meat is cooked until it is soft, but we also add bamboo, for texture. The dish from this region that most reminds me of Thai food is goulash. It’s not the same, but it looks very similar to Massaman curry; red and with oil floating on the top. Goulash is spicy from paprika, whereas Massaman is spicy from herbs, a little more sour and it also has coconut.
Saralee: The first food that impressed me when I came to Croatia was cevapi. But, now I like more sarma. It has that sour taste that Thai people like, from the pickled cabbage. I also like it made with the green leaf (blitva). Interesting.
Saralee: When we are not working, we both very much like cycling. Cycling changed our lives.
Rinrampai: You cannot cycle in Bangkok. You would probably die. There’s so much traffic. And people just drive how they want. Never mind the rules. But, here it’s so easy to use a bicycle. You can get anywhere in Zagreb in 5 or 10 minutes on a bicycle. In Thailand, you must use a motorbike or a car.
Saralee: We love our bicycles here. We travel to work every day on bicycles. When we’re not at work we’re always riding our bicycles. I ride with my husband. I’ve ridden to Velika Gorica, Rakitje, Samobor and all over Zagreb.
TCN: You went all the way to Samobor on a bicycle?
Saralee: Yes. With my poor husband. But, he knows the tricks. He said “OK, we go Samobor for kremnšita. Then I will have power for the journey.” Ha! He was the same when we went to Velika Gorica. When we arrived, he said, “Ooh, do you remember that restaurant that is here..?”
Pad Thai, one of Thailand’s most famous dishes © Mateo Henec
Saralee: The dish people come back the most for here is Pad Thai. When we first opened, I thought maybe this might be too sweet for them. But, they really like it. They like the Thai Green Curry too. Some of our customers have been to Bangkok or other places in Thailand and they like to come here because our food reminds them of their visit. People tend to get the curry if they think Pad Thai is too soft for them in spiciness, or too light.
In the first week we worked, we opened at 12 midday until 8pm. There were queues around the corner. We couldn’t finish before 9pm. It was too much. There’s only the two of us. Nobody else can make this food. So, we had to reduce the hours. Now, we only work in the afternoons; midday until 5pm. But, that works very well.
Thai food is perfect for lunch; it’s all in one dish, you can hold it in your hands, it’s quite light food. The chilli and spice wakes you up and the lime and the herbs refresh you, so you are ready for the afternoon at work. It’s particularly good food for the summer.
Larb, a salad full of flavour from northeast Thailand and Pad Thai © Mateo Henec
Rinrampai: Life in Croatia is much easier than it is in Thailand. Less people, less traffic, it’s smaller, you can go anywhere. In Bangkok, if you have an appointment at 1pm, you must leave your house at 11am, sometimes earlier. The whole city is a traffic jam all day.
Saralee: Thai people and Croatian people are very similar in being very helpful, particularly to strangers. Any questions I had when I arrived, people were always happy to answer. Croatians are also a lot more friendly than other Europeans, in my experience. They are very open people. This is like Thai people too. Although Croatians follow the rules better than Thai people. Thai people ignore them all.
You can visit the Khaos Thai kiosk outside Importanne Gallery, at Trg Drage Iblera 10, on the corner of Vlaška ulica.
You can read the introduction to our series on Zagreb international cuisine and the first installment here
To follow our whole series on international cuisine and to follow the Croatian restaurant and gastro scene, keep an eye on our Gourmet pages here