Hey all I’m in Hat Yai, stuck in the haze looking for food! I just simply wanted to share my overweight breakfast plate and a few other muslim restaurants I hope to visit while here. This particular plate comes from Tamrab Muslim Restaurant in Downtown Hat Yai. The restaurant is located at the corner of Niyomrat and Nipatutid roads and is most popular as a breakfast restaurant serving their version typical Thai muslim food. To give you an idea of what that consists of, I’ve broken down the components of this plate and explained some of their unique origins.
Thai Biryani – Known as khao mok gai (ข้าวหมกไก่) to Thais, this is indeed the impotent derivative of Indian biryani, made with Jasmine rice. The spice combinations used are considerably scaled back and the use of milder Thai cardamom, instead of green cardamom, also turns back the spice a notch. The biryani is still, however, much more fragrant than plain white rice and come topped with crispy fried shallots.
Hat Yai Fried Chicken – This style of fried chicken is so popular, that just the mention of the city Hat Yai conjures images of deep frying chicken in the minds of Thais. For all the hype, the taste is mostly the salty marinade and a bit of crunch from overly crispy, batter-less crusty outside. The mouth feel is entirely harsh and dry, especially since this piece was pre-made before I arrived.
Roti Canai – Unlike the lukewarm chicken and curry, the roti is made fresh. I wanted to try the Thai biryani, but I could have just ordered the plain roti to eat along with the chicken or curries of my choice. The roti is soft, but crispy on the edges and has a mild sweetness.
Goat and Pumpkin Curry – The woman waiting on me warned me twice that a serving of curry alone was 100 baht. The more expensive goat meat is stewed until tender in a coconut based curry, in a recipe familiar to anyone who’s had a homemade Tamil meal, but would surely be a flavor most Thai can only benchmark through their experience of eating massaman curry.
Thai Tea – Did you know Thai tea isn’t so Thai after all? Well, perhaps the brightly colored Bangkok version which is so famous. The origins of this tea are much more humble and go back to the days of Indian traders drinking ‘Chai tea’. If compared to a Thai tea in Bangkok, the Hat Yai version is considerably less brightly colored (because of less condensed milk), less sweet/syrupy, and the tea itself is milder (also contributing to the dull color).
Sweet Chili Sauce – What is this doing here? Why Jesus, why? I guess Thais just have to have a sweet tang to tone down the flavor of the Indian spices. I usually return my plates empty and the tiny saucers of this stuff unused.
The Importance on Muslim Cuisine in Thailand
I wanted to go through each of the components of this plate because I think it’s a good example of what’s happened to muslim cuisine over hundreds of years in Thailand. Many of the dishes which have been adopted by mainstream Thai cuisine are the toned down, salted or sweetened up versions of Indian, Malay, and Eurasian dishes brought to the county through trading and migration. This has happened over hundreds of years due to lack of access to ingredients and the need to appeal to Thai palates, which continue to sway sweeter and saltier as of late.
As a matter of fact, there may be some dishes you understand to be Thai, that have flavor components and ingredients suggesting otherwise. So think twice about this next time you’re making a pile of skewers while eating chicken satay with cucumber salad (ajaad) and peanut sauce. Spare a thought for the fragrant and colorful khao yam (ข้าวยำ) appetizer you always order, that is likely the grandchild of Malaysian nasi kerabu. And finally remember that while you have Thai massaman curry, or Thai biriyani or your plate is probably a bad time to start lecturing diners around you about the finer points of “authentic” Thai cuisine.
Although most of the food is delicious, this may be bad news if you’re just returning from travels in India or visiting Hat Yai from Malaysia, to find less flavorful, zombie reincarnations of your favorite dishes. On the other hand we should be thankful that Thai muslim institutions like Tamrab persist to reveal one of the most important influences on Thai cuisine. In the battle to get the glory for Thai cuisine’s prominence around the globe, this if often history which Thais themselves are often guilty of willfully neglecting. If you love Thai cuisine and it’s nuanced history you’ll be right at home in Hat Yai, where there’s a good selection of welcoming restaurants like Tamrab.
Tamrab Muslim (ตำหรับมุสลิม) Restaurant in Hat Yai
The location of Tamrab that I visited was street side downtown eatery, but they do have other branches all in the Central Festival Mall (Hat Yai’s largest mall), one on the ground floor and the other on the 4th floor. Unless you have another reason to go to the mall, like walking off the food coma or escaping the haze from outside, I’d suggest visiting their original open air location downtown.
Location: 4-6 Niyomrat Road (ถนนนิยมรัฐ), Hatyai, 90110
Directions: Find the corner of Niyomrat and Nipatutid roads and you see Tamrab there, just next to Rohana.
Foursquare Locale: Tamrab Muslim Restaurant Hatyai
Note: A google map location for this restaurant is available and accurate.