By Susan Burke March
Although our local Ecuadorian cuisine is wholesome, it is often lacking in pizzazz. I find myself reaching for the aji even before tasting.
But Thai food is quite different. How to describe it?
Cookbook author and celebrity chef known as “McDang” says what makes Thai food special is its balance, detail, and variety.
As reported in Wikipedia, Chef McDang says, “Thai food, well-prepared, is almost like an artist’s palette, with intricacy, attention to detail, texture, color, taste, and the use of ingredients. And of course, good flavor is paramount.”
Chef McDang also describes Thai cuisine as placing emphasis on “lightly prepared dishes with strong aromatic components and a spicy edge.”
Authentic Thai in Cuenca
The Thai Connection is a welcome new addition to Cuenca’s ethnic dining scene.
Mex Fischer and his Thai-born wife Wan serve fresh, authentic, delicious and well-priced dishes at their bright and spotlessly clean restaurant on Gran Colombia and Unidad Nacional. Many will be familiar with the location, right next to the Common Grounds.
As it is with many chefs, Wan started her culinary education as a small child in her grandmother’s kitchen. She professionally trained and worked in a 5-Star restaurant in Bangkok, where she and Austrian-born Mex met. About two-and-a-half years ago, they moved to Ecuador, and established their Thai Connection restaurant in coastal Montanita. Although they had moved to the coast for the warm climate, and the restaurant was successful, they decided that Cuenca was a better fit for their family, with more culture and parks for their small son, and more opportunity to grow their business. Here in Cuenca, they’ve found all that and more…they’re enjoying the community of expats and locals, and are happy to have made the move.
Over a huge portion of spring rolls, I spoke with Mex and Wan about Thai food, and the Thai Connection.
Susan: Thai food is known to be a healthy cuisine, and the ingredients are quite unique. The spices, the flavors…they’re not typical to this part of the world. How easy is it to obtain what you need to make your traditional dishes?
Mex & Wan: Authentic Thai food is always made fresh to order, and the nature of the cuisine is to be crisp and bright. We stir-fry and sauté, which helps the ingredients retain their nutrients and flavors. Rice and noodles are the foundation of traditional Thai food, and all our dishes emphasize fresh vegetables, ranging from bean sprouts to broccoli, eggplant, to sweet potato and squash. We also use fresh lemongrass (a culinary herb that has a subtle citrus flavor).
Obtaining authentic ingredients was quite a challenge in Montanita, but we can reliably obtain essentials here in Cuenca.
We shop at Supermaxi for many staples, including coconut milk and our fresh dairy. But it’s the proximity to all of the mercados and vendors that makes Cuenca so attractive. And we are ecstatic about the variety of fresh mushrooms available here, and it was almost impossible to find them in Montanita — so many of our traditional dishes include them, and the mushrooms we find here are exceptional.
We love being so close to the big mercado Feria Libre because we buy much of our produce and meats fresh daily. We are very careful and have our favorite vendors for organic beef and chicken, and for produce and eggs. Our fish is delivered daily by a trusted vendor from Machala…we are very proud that all of our ingredients are top quality.
It is very tough to get some authentic ingredients, but we must, and we do. To make sure our flavors are consistent, we import Thai fish sauce and we also import a much better grade of cashews than we’ve been able to find in Ecuador — we insist quality, and our customers can taste the difference.