You don’t have to go all the way to Thailand to experience its tasty cuisine, now available close by in Skowhegan, Augusta and Wiscasset at M Thai. Vicky Soikum has created a very tasty exotic food experience that will keep you coming back to try more items on her extensive menu. We chose the M Thai in Skowhegan at the recommendation of Jennifer Olson, executive director of the Skowhegan Main Street organization. Jen said the food “is very good.” And oh, she was so right!

George

We were surprised to learn, shortly after sitting down with Vicky at her Skowhegan restaurant last week, that we’d actually eaten her food at Bangor’s American Folk Festival last August. Lin had steered me past the fried food booths and into Vicky’s booth, where I have to admit we enjoyed a very tasty lunch.

It turns out that Vicky has been serving her food at Maine fairs and events since 1999, so you may have eaten her food, too! She’s still doing the fair circuit and has opened — with her husband Al — three M Thai restaurants: in Wiscasset and Skowhegan in late 2010, and just two months ago in Augusta. She’s a busy woman!

Vicky arrived in the United States from northern Thailand in 1985 and Al in 1986. Our server, Apple, in the Skowhegan restaurant, is also a Thai native who happened to meet Vicky at the Fryeburg Fair — yet another example of just how small and connected Maine is.

I’d read a bunch of great online reviews of M Thai before we arrived, and built a list of food selections recommended by reviewers. A very long list. Truth to tell, Thai food confuses me. So I also printed out 15 pages of Wikipedia research on Thai food — a report that got Lin laughing when she saw it.

The report was actually very interesting — including a detailed history of Thai food, much of which has a Chinese influence. But here are the two sentences that helped me the most. “Thai food is known for its balance of three to four traditional taste senses in each dish or the overall meal: sour, sweet, salty and bitter. Some westerners think it’s a jumble of flavors, but to a Thai that’s important, it’s the complexity they delight in.”

I got it, with the first mouthful of Massaman Curry with shrimp. Wow! An amazing mix of tastes. A lot of online reviewers recommended this dish, and I thank them for that. It was my favorite.

For me, the variety of sauces made the meal — at least, the sauces that I didn’t spill on the tablecloth, which probably needed a double washing after I left! Of course, Lin knocked over a glass of wine, sending a pool of liquid in my direction and adding a nice color to my various spills.

Linda

Vicky sat down with us at the beginning of our meal to catch us up on all her restaurants. She takes pride in making sure all three locations of M Thai consistently serve the same high quality of food. After chatting a bit she had a conversation in Thai with our server, Apple. Shortly after that, the most amazing plate of appetizers arrived for us to sample.

Dumplings, both steamed and fried, nestled in with crab rangoon, Thai spring rolls and shrimp rolls. These came served with house-made ginger sauce and sweet and sour sauce. The variety of flavors and textures, and the fact that anything fried was not at all greasy, made this sampling of appetizers outstanding.

I don’t know a lot about Thai food, but I do know that I’ve enjoyed every dish I’ve ever tried. While dining at M Thai I learned there are five types of curry dishes — red, green, yellow, panang and Massaman. Vicky told us each is made with a coconut milk and flavored with that type of curry base.

All dishes here are made to order. Vicky left us to go to the kitchen and cook some of our food herself! Each item is made with a mild “one star” spiciness unless you ask to vary the degree of spiciness (up to four stars). They seek fresh vegetables and cook them lightly to retain some crunch. Basic ingredients such as the curry bases, noodles and rice are all imported from Thailand.

We tried the special of the evening, shrimp with asparagus and snap peas in a light garlic sauce. It was soooo good. The seafood Massaman Curry was George’s favorite — a bit spicy, but not too much. We also tried the Crispy Chicken on Pad Thai. The sweet Pad Thai noodles with peanuts were delicious, but it was the crispy chicken with dipping sauce that made this dish so special. We could see why this dish is so popular here.

Thai food presents quite a range of flavors, (sweet, spicy and salty) and textures (both crunchy and soft). Soy sauce is not served with the main dishes as in Chinese food. All the entrees have perfectly cooked meats and vegetables resting in an array of amazing light sauces. There’s no need for soy sauce.

Apple insisted that we try their specialty for dessert, Mango Sticky Rice. It’s a nice dish to share. The rice is cooked in coconut milk and served with incredible fresh mango slices. I was given a lesson on how to choose perfect mangoes. Vicky buys them by the case and knows how to baby them along into perfect ripeness. I’m still not sure I can choose ripe mangoes, but I sure envy her talent in doing so!

Now that I know how good M Thai’s food can be, I’m pretty excited that there’s a new branch in Augusta!

Conclusion

Many Mainers are not very adventurous when it comes to food. That’s too bad, because our state now offers a wonderful array of ethnic foods. Not only do they provide a new and flavorful experience, but your servers, chef, manager, and/or owner will be enthusiastic about answering your questions and helping you learn more about their food. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for help in choosing your meal.

This combination of eating and education can be exciting! Thai food has become one of our new favorites, thanks to Vicky Soikum. Try it!

IF YOU GO . . .

M Thai’s Three Locations

SKOWHEGAN: 105 Water St.; 474-5064
AUGUSTA: 179 Mt. Vernon Ave.; 629-5545
WISCASSET: Route 27; 882-4179
Lunch specials are served from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.,
but appetizers and the dinner menu are also available
at all times.

Visit George’s website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.


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