[Penang] Thai dinner at Thara, Prangin Lane

Lunch at the newest Thai restaurant in George Town - we were at ๐—ง๐—ต๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ on 5 Prangin Lane which just opened for business on 10 July. It was Day 3 of business for them when we came.

Tharaโ€™s menu highlighted items which reminded me of the offerings of Thai restaurants in Singapore like Thanying, Yingthai and A-roy Thai. Very cool!

We sipped chilled glasses of cha yen (iced Thai milk tea) as we perused its menu. Excellent balance of flavors and sweetness.

Our lunch spread today:
:small_orange_diamond: ๐™๐™ค๐™ข ๐™ ๐™๐™– ๐™ ๐™–๐™ž - chicken in a lemongrass-galangal-coconut milk soup. This is my go-to Thai soup since time immemorial. In every Thai restaurant Iโ€™d been, Iโ€™d select this over the more common tom yum goong each & every time.

:small_orange_diamond: Tom yum goong - my dining companions wanted to stick with tom yum and were offered a choice of either โ€œwhite tom yumโ€ or โ€œred tom yumโ€. Curious about the white version, which weโ€™d all never tried previously, they opted for that.
It was as tasty as the red one - the only difference, we surmised, was that no red chili paste was used, and the soup got its heat from pulverised green birdโ€™s eye chilis, which were explosive in their heat.

:small_orange_diamond: ๐™‹๐™ก๐™– ๐™จ๐™–๐™ข ๐™ง๐™ค๐™™ - snapper in three-flavoured sauce: sweet, sour & spicy, this was my favorite Thai fish dish back in Singapore, where it is de rigeur in Thai restaurants there. Itโ€™s lesser common in Thai restaurants in Penang, Kuala Lumpur & elsewhere, for some reason. Quite likely, Malaysians prefer their crisp-fried whole fish to be smothered with something robustly-spiced and less sweet like a sambal belacan paste.

:small_orange_diamond: Moo tod gratiem - crispy garlic pork. A classic rendition: thin slivers of pork deep-fried till very crisp on the outside, whilst retaining a bit of juiciness inside. These slivers were then tossed in a sauce made from a combination of soy sauce, oyster sauce and fish sauce, and with copious amounts of golden-fried garlic thrown in.

:small_orange_diamond: ๐™ƒ๐™ค๐™ง ๐™ข๐™ค๐™  ๐™ฉ๐™–๐™ก๐™–๐™ฎ ๐™ข๐™–๐™ฅ๐™ง๐™ค๐™ฌ - Thai-style otak-otak in young coconut. This was absolutely scrumptious: very piquant with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal and other herbs and spices, but with lesser chilis - that suit me perfectly as Iโ€™m no chili-head.

:small_orange_diamond: My two fave Thai vegetable dishes from back in Singapore (and also in Bangkok) are ๐˜บ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ข๐˜ฅ (bitter-gourd ferns) and pak liang (melindjo leaves) - both on Tharaโ€™s menu, but unfortunately sold out over its opening weekend. So, we ordered ๐™‚๐™ค๐™ค๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐™ฅ๐™–๐™™ ๐™จ๐™–-๐™ฉ๐™ค๐™ง - stir-fried petai beans with shrimps in spicy Thai gravy

:small_orange_diamond: Stir-fried water spinach - the Malaysians/Singaporeans call this green leafy vegetable kangkung, a Malay term which was borrowed from the Ceylonese centuries ago. Itโ€™s such a common dish even in Singapore & Malaysia, where we stir-fried it with shrimps in a sambal belacan sauce, that most folks here would automatically order that wherever they see it.
Coming from Singapore, I did not even know the Chinese/Mandarin term for the vegetable was kong xin cai (็ฉบๅฟƒ่œ) until I came across it in a Chowhound discussion back about 2 decades back. No Chinese in Singapore or Malaysia would use that over โ€œkangkungโ€ when they order, even in Chinese restaurants here!

The rendition here is a classic Thai one: gently stir-fried with garlic, whole red chilis and a bit of fish sauce.

:small_orange_diamond: Dessert: ๐™๐™ช๐™— ๐™ฉ๐™ž๐™ข ๐™œ๐™ง๐™ค๐™— - pink waterchestnuts-tapioca flour jewels, and strips of jackfruit in chilled coconut milk

Overall, very authentic cuisine, though not as spicy as in Thailand itself. The two chefs in the kitchen came from .

32-year-old Penangite, Ooi Joe Cherd, is the owner-chef, responsible for coming up with the food offerings, together with his brace of Thai chefs (from Chiangmai and Bangkok respectively). His staff averaged 18 years-old!

Lovely place. We liked the unfussy dรฉcor: sans the ethnic dรฉcoratives, one could hardly tell it was a Thai restaurant.

5, Lorong Prangin (Prangin Lane), 10300 George Town, Penang
Tel: +6016-411 1400
Operating hours: 12 noon to 10pm daily


Back to Thara for lunch yesterday. Itโ€™s been packing the crowds in ever since it was included in the Bib Gourmand list of the 2024 Michelin Guide to Kuala Lumpur & Penang.

We started off with cha yen - Thai iced milk tea. It used to be hard to get authentic Thai ones in Penang (local versions tend to be much more diluted), but good Thai spots which sprung up in Penang the past 4-5 years have done a good job in offering these.

  1. Tom kha kai (chicken in coconut milk-galangal soup) - Iโ€™d always prefer this gentler, richer-flavored soup over its more famous seafood counterpart, the fiery, red tom yum. The version here at Thara is the best Iโ€™d tasted in Penang but I suspect theyโ€™d changed chefs, as the one I had back in July 2022 was much better.

  1. Goong phad sator (spicy petai/stink beans with prawns) - this was no good at all - very much watered down version of the dish, and the use of poor quality sator (stink-beans) didnโ€™t help. Avoid this.

  2. Goong ob woonsen (baked prawns with glass noodles in claypot) - very fresh prawns used here, and I particularly enjoyed the whole pips of garlic cooked in the claypot, together with the glass noodles. Something not quite right with the flavors of this dish, though - it tasted โ€œlocalizedโ€, i.e. authenticity which we savored back when it first opened seemed to have tapered off. This was just another โ€œPenang-style Thaiโ€ dish instead of one weโ€™d taste in Bangkok or anywhere in Thailand.

  3. Khao pad sapparod (Thai-style pineapple fried rice) - a friend recommended that we try this dish here. It turned out to be palatable, but nothing off the charts.

5) Khao niew mamuang (glutinous rice with mango) - thank God this dessert was still quite okay. I donโ€™t like Penang-style renditions of this dessert where the glutinous rice was steamed plain. Over here, it was Thai-style, where sweet-salty rich coconut milk was added to the glutinous rice during the cooking process, giving the rice a lovely salty-sweet flavor which is the way it should be.
The mangoes were okay, but never as sweet as the ones we find in Thailand, especially when they are in season.
If I do come back here - itโ€™ll be for this dish alone.

  1. Coconut jelly - this was a lovely, light dessert: chilled coconut jelly in a young coconut. Absolute must-order.

Overall, more misses than hits. The good chef(s) who were here when the restaurant first opened have obviously been replaced. Thatโ€™s the problem with kitchens with anonymous chefs - they come and go, but the menu items remained the same, except that the cooking have changed.

In terms of ambience, this place is still tops in Penang - other Thai spots in George Town just seemed too spartan and canteen-like.

However, they do need to seriously consider getting better chefs.