In the middle of a sea of other culinary establishments in the Waimalu shopping plaza in Aiea sits Siam Kitchen Express. The restaurant is clean and is decorated like most other Thai restaurants you’ve seen. Pictures of scenic places of interest in Thailand are displayed on the wall, as well as a ubiquitous picture of the late Thai King Bhumibhol Adulyadej and his Queen. Most of the business at this establishment is generated from take-out diners, however you certainly have the option of dining at the restaurant.
A key aspect to consider is that this restaurant serves food family style, just as they do in Thailand. Additionally, unlike in Western cuisines, there is no menu progression, with soup and salads served first prior to entrees; everything comes to the table at once. This enables diners to combine a variety of different dishes to create a customized plate to their liking.
Thai people generally use a fork and spoon to eat and only use chopsticks to eat noodles. In reality there are many Thai people that don’t even know how to use chopsticks. Thai cooking involves achieving the perfect balance of 5 flavors: salty, spicy, savory (umami), sour, and sweet. When appropriately combined they create an explosion of taste in a person’s mouth. Thailand’s cuisine is broken up into 4 distinct regions: Northern, North-eastern, Central and Southern. Southern Thai dishes tend to be much spicier and a typical dish you may find there is a very very spicy fish stomach curry (kaeng tai pla). Central Thai dishes are much more refined and a typical central Thai dish would be red curry with roasted duck (kaeng phet pet yang). North-eastern Thailand (Isan) uses sticky rice (khao niew) as the staple rice here and a typical dish may consist of Northern Thai Sausage (sai ua). Northern Thailand is the only region that serves Lanna food and the region tends to use more broths and steamed dishes such as the chicken noodle soup (khao soi). A very popular staple food around Thailand is stir-fried chicken with hot basil (kaphrao kai). This dish can be found almost everywhere in Thailand. The basil used in this dish is called holy basil and is not widely available outside of Thailand. Unfortunately, this type of basil does not last very long once it has been picked, so restaurant’s usually use Thai basil but the flavor is dramatically different.
As most Thai restaurants catering to a diverse clientele, Siam Kitchen Express allows you to customize your dish to the spice level of your liking, with options for mild, medium, hot and the incendiary -Thai hot. If that is not hot enough, they will bring you some prik nam pla (Thai chilis in fish sauce) to amp the spice factor up! The menu features the standards that people are more familiar with like the curries (Kaeng), green papaya salads (Som Tum), fried rice (Khao Pad), Thai fried noodles (Pad Thai), sticky rice (Khao Niew), and hot sour soup (Tom Yum). Then there are the slightly more esoteric dishes like the fish cakes (Tod Man Pla), fried chicken wings (Kai Tod), spicy beef salad (Yam Neua), glass noodle stir-fry (pad woonsen), jungle curry (kaeng pa). While a lot of people believe the popular Thai curry dishes are supposed to be thick in consistency like a molasses, a real Thai curry dish is really supposed to be thin in consistency, more like a soup. The exceptions are Panang curry (which originated in Malaysia) and Chu chee, which calls for a thick curry coating seafood.
I started off with the appetizer fried chicken wings (peek kai tod)- The fried chicken was moist and not dry at all. For me the sauce is what makes this dish, more on the sour side with a slight sweetness. There is finely diced up mint mixed into the sauce resulting in flecks of green that subtly flavored the sauce- again in perfect balance.
Thai fish cakes (Tod Man Pla)- You can definitely taste the fish in this dish- it is not fishy, per se, but you know that you are eating fish. There is a slight spiciness to these patties due to the fact that there is a small amount of curry paste mixed into them. The sauce accompanying this dish is like a chutney or relish with Chinese parsley, carrots, kaffir lime leaf, and red onions.
Chicken Fried rice (Khao Pad Kai)- This dish has a smoky flavor to it due to wok-char. Here chicken, green onions, eggs, and tomatoes are sautéed with white rice. The resulting fried rice is much more flavorful than the equivalent Chinese variant.
Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum)- I ordered this mild, as this dish can be really fiery from the added chilis. What sets this dish apart from other is its tartness, both from lime and the star ingredient- shredded green papaya. Peanuts are added for texture and flavor, along with blanched long beans and tomatoes, leading to a symphony of flavors in one’s mouth
A pork noodle dish (Laad Na Moo)- The noodles in this dish are thick, about 1 inch wide, with a gravy all over the top of it. Chinese broccoli is mixed in with tender pieces of pork. You can definitely taste the black pepper in this dish.
Panang Curry: This was the main dish which I ordered. I accompanied the dish with a fried egg (over hard). This is how Thai people eat many of their dishes and it compliments the spicy curry well. I ordered this Thai hot, but unless you like really spicy food, I would probably opt for a lesser spice level. The consistency is thicker than traditional Thai curries and the peanut taste really comes through in this dish. Kaffir Lime, Thai basil , peas and carrots add different flavors and textures to this dish.
Helming the kitchen at Siam Kitchen Express is Vincent Kulsuriyapat. In 1990 Vincent had just graduated high school, when he decided to move from his home country of Thailand to Las Vegas, Nevada. His uncle owned a Thai restaurant in the area, where he could work, while simultaneously exploring the various other opportunities that America had to offer. Upon arrival he faced the daunting task of financially supporting himself, along with putting himself through school in an unfamiliar land. Being a non-native speaker of English, just made it that much harder. Despite these seemingly insurmountable hurdles, he persevered, and succeeded. In 2005 he moved from Nevada to the island of Oahu in Hawaii with the intention of opening his own restaurant in paradise. It took 3 years to achieve his dream and in 2008 he opened Siam Kitchen Express using much of his own capital. The restaurant slowly became popular, and once it was on firm footing, he could start looking into bringing his wife over from Thailand. His wife Chatpat joined him in 2012 after a long period apart and the two haven’t looked back since. Go to Siam Kitchen Express if you would like to savor authentic Thai dishes in paradise….
Visit Siam Kitchen Express:
The restaurant is located in the Waimalu Plaza Shopping Plaza in Aiea Oahu.
98-020 Kamehameha Hwy, Aiea, HI 96701
About the author: David Chun lives in Hawaii on the island of Oahu and has been to Thailand over 15 times. He enjoys trying the many dishes and flavors that embody Thai cuisine.