Atom Thai, King Street, Newtown - Sydney NSW

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The Miang Kham, a delicate appetiser with betel nut a the star.

Texture, taste and twist - is that what we anticipate in any cuisine? Perhaps we also appreciate the clever and subtle use of ingredients, how they blend together in the dish presented to us and how they make an impact on our palate and overall dining experience. Some city centre establishments face constant pressure on space, costs and turnover. Some may take short cuts in pre cooking some of their menu items but such a practice can impact on a discerning diner.  The variety of multi-cultural items on the food scene in Australia means customers may compare with their experiences from traditional settings back in the source countries.  The subtleties of ingredients produced in Australia can make a difference.  Some resort to experimentation and fusion, thereby bringing diners a new dimension and a whole new world of possibilities.  Some diners do not care so much for the food as the quality and flow of the drinks and company.  Some relax because the staff make them feel mellow and others can be highly strung sparked off by one perceived or actual attitude.  All food establishments want regulars to come back, to yearn for their signature items, to spend on their high margin menu dishes and to more than just survive in a fast changing and demanding business environment.

Sago in coconut milk on the glass with ice cream (foreground) with black glutinous rice accompanying mango slices (background)

Atom Thai does not have too many dining tables but is adequately sized in space-conscious Newtown precinct of the greater Sydney area.   The demographics are ready to eat, there are out of towners who come to Newtown occasionally to have a night or day out and the variety of restaurants just means competition for the dollar in the pocket.  I had a birthday treat from a  close cousin and family there recently - and enjoyed three specific dishes: salmon with papaya salad, the Miang Kham and the appetising belly pork stir fried with a relish.  Miang Kham is a uniquely Thai entree that blends a bit of salad, a bit of appetiser and a bit of dash. It can be viewed as an exotic Thai experience, but growing up in Penang island, where there is a sizeable but minority population of Thai origin, this isa familiar item to me.  The best version of this snack to me is home made but it can be found readily in any street market in any Thai conurbation. Kham means to bite and Miang refers to items wrapped in a leaf. Ingredients like ginger, garlic, small dried shrimps (hay bee in the Penang Hokkien parlance), roasted peanuts, roasted coconut shavings, red hot bird's eye chill, shallots are prepared and gathered before the folding process.  The origin of this item suggests a fusion base as the recipe came form an area bordering between Thailand and Burma.  It is popular for festive occasions and fairs, and has variations in Laos and you may have sen its cousin, the Miang Pla, with fish inside, if you have been backpacking in upper South East Asia.

Salmon with papaya salad beside the tasty pork belly (background) and the duck curry (foreground)

Staff are smiling and friendly at Atom,  with the place filling up fast by 630pm on a Sunday evening.
Located at the western end of King Street, nearer to Sydney University campus, it is one of several Thai cuisine outlets in this varied part of Sydney.  An interesting observation about Atom is the absence of overloads of  sugary tastes in their savoury dishes, something which Thai outlets in Australian suburbia has a potential and real risk of.  The clientele that evening we were at Atom was predominantly Caucasian, but of all ages.  I noticed the quality of the ingredients and the care with which each dish was served.  Although I am not  a big fan of glutinous rice, I enjoyed the bite of their steamed black rice dessert, accompanied by a tangy mango.   Thai cooking plays on the diversity of herbs and spices and the challenge is to get a balanced and yet interesting sensation for the diner.


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