Authenticity is perhaps the biggest lightning rod when it comes to fodder amongst hardcore food enthusiasts, especially for those online. It’s an odd criteria, a subjective crystallization of a certain trope of a certain group at a certain locale at a certain time, a tall benchmark that gets zealously applied, particularly when speaking of ethnic restaurants. The best compliment that any ethnic restaurant can receive? It was authentic.

Such was the online discussion about Bob Likes Thai Food, a relatively new restaurant on the Main Street of a city already littered with Thai-ish restaurants. Discussion boards, blogs, etcetera were all raving about the restaurant, emphatic about its authenticity, despite the fact that many of those opining have likely never been to Thailand for longer than that rite-of-passage backpack trip, if at all.

The key or at least starting factor in this judgment seems to be based on ketchup. Many Thai places around town use an abundant quantity of the condiment when making their pad thai: of course, no such use occurs in Thailand, or so I’ve been told. In fact, out of the sheer number of Thai restaurants in town, there are surprisingly few of them that don’t use ketchup, and so the pad thai/ketchup criteria has seemingly developed as a determinative criteria (particularly amongst those on Chowhound) as to whether a restaurant is authentic enough to be worthy of a visit.

No, Bob Likes Thai Food does not use ketchup in their pad thai ($12). Instead, their version is tangy with tamarind and fish sauce, and made with the standard bean sprouts, egg, tofu, and prawns, dusted with peanuts. Pad thai, I suppose, is one of those dishes where “more” is not more, and many places go horribly awry when the urge to add gets out of hand.

As one would surmise, there are many curries on hand as well, which you can eat in their loosely decorated room where reggae is king and the atmosphere akin to a Main Street living room (albeit cleaner and brighter, though just as conservative with luxuries). The green chicken curry ($10.50) is a dense layering of flavour upon flavour, indebted to lemongrass and wed to coconut milk. A roasted red duck curry ($13, not on the regular menu) is not nearly as spicy as the waitress had warned (she had already been back to the kitchen to report numerous complaints, which I suspect led to the anticlimax), and balanced out with pineapple and lychee. Neither curry were particularly generous with the protein, another slight disappointment that one must overlook.

What can’t be overlooked, however, is the mess that is the Swimming Rama ($9.50). The dish’s name is derived from the Hindu deity Rama, an avatar of Vishnu, who, in some depictions of Rama’s battle with the demon god Ravana, has a green body, which is represented by the leafy vegetables in the dish (at Bob Likes Thai Food, spinach). This then ‘swims’ in the peanut sauce and protein (at Bob Likes Thai Food, tofu), or drowned, in this version. A more sturdy vegetable than spinach would have had more of a fighting chance, but the limp spinach really needed a miracle to save it from sacrilege.

Salads fare a bit better. The green papaya salad ($6.50) is fresh and crunchy, heavily dressed and sweet, though with an ambitious amount of spice. The laab moo ($10), a salad originating from the Isaan region in northeastern Thailand, mixes ground pork, well-flavored with lime and chili, with not-quite-enough toasted rice: contrasts in flavour without a contrast in texture. Both, though, are worthy introductions to the restaurant.

At the other end of the meal, you’ll need to ask your server about dessert before they proffer. They don’t appear on the menu, and, at times, aren’t necessarily pronounceable by the non-Thai staff. Tai, the proprietor, came out to offer us Ka Nom Tom, traditional sticky rice flour dumplings coated with shredded coconut and with even more coconut in its centre, a delight to think about and even better to eat. The desserts don’t seem to be made on site, so expect the options to vary.

To be upfront honest about it, I’ve never been to Thailand, though I have eaten at many Thai restaurants. I’ve never been to the Mississippi Delta, though I have listened to enough blues records. I’ve never been in a Hong Kong triad, though I’ve watched a fair share of Johnnie To films. Point is, all of these things have given me a glimpse of someone’s view of a certain place and a time, and I measure their success in terms of how vivid that glimpse or depiction is. And though I’ve never run boats off Koh Samui or dodged scooters on the streets of Bangkok, the food at Bob Likes Thai Food gives a certain snapshot of it, and, authentic or not, it’s a lively one. And that, much more than authenticity, seems like a worthy criteria.


Bob Likes Thai Food
3755 Main St
Vancouver, BC
(604) 568-8538
Bob Likes Thai Food on Urbanspoon


Arlo said... @ December 28, 2010 at 10:51 AM

"to be upfront about it"... in your last para lol

good review - good enough at least for me to try the place and avoid the swimming spinach mess. cheers, brother.

Joe. said... @ December 28, 2010 at 10:59 AM

Ha, thanks Arlo. Fixed that.

Anonymous said... @ December 28, 2010 at 11:40 AM

I quite like the swimming rama, but then I'm a fan of wilted spinach. I think it's one of the few veg options there, and it reminds me of something I would make at home (in a good way).

Anonymous said... @ December 29, 2010 at 12:18 AM

This place took over my favorite Shanghai restaurant. City Temple had the best hot and hour soup in the city. I guess I will try this place before I get madder at it.

fmed said... @ December 29, 2010 at 8:31 AM

This place serves honest, earnest renditions of southern Thai classics. Tai (the owner) and his cooks are actually from the northern regions of Thailand. They cooked a special northern meal for us there a few months back and it was just great. He is, however, worried about introducing some of northern Thai and Issan specialties to the menu. He is already having a tough time convincing diners in the area that pad thai does not indeed involve ketchup.

The swimming rama does not look too bad actually - it is often made with a soft vegetable like kangkong...so spinach is a decent and very common substitute.

Joe. said... @ December 30, 2010 at 5:24 PM

Fmed, captain:

I did like the place, irrespective of my nitpicking, and hope that Tai does well. The place was busy each time we went, so I hope that's a good sign of stability.

The Swimming Rama would've been better with kangkong, which I've always thought of as being sturdier than regular spinach (owing to the stems, I suppose). In this case the spinach was really nearing a state of mush.

Anonymous said... @ December 30, 2010 at 11:35 PM

I avoid any "rama" dishes on Thai menus -- never had a good one. I do like Tai's food; though he has a few consistency issues, the flavours seem to be there.

Victoria said... @ January 1, 2011 at 6:22 PM

People keep telling me about this place so that I try it, since I'm half Thai and I've eaten home cooked Thai food all my life. The swimming rama is just a dish that I don't like regardless of the type of veggie (although it's usually spinach anyway). I just find the sauce way too overwhelming. Looks like it's worth a shot though!

Anonymous said... @ January 1, 2011 at 8:29 PM

I'll be honest, some of your reviews are super lame and I don't always think the restaurants you give the thumbs up to are very good, and I often wonder if you even know anything at all about food. This review was alright. I gave it try and the food was good.

Joe. said... @ January 2, 2011 at 5:23 PM

Thanks anon! To be honest, I usually hate back-handed comments that seem more spiteful than useful, but I'm glad that you like Bob Likes Thai Food because the owner seems like a stand up guy that could use more business. And next time, leave a name.

Ko said... @ January 4, 2011 at 4:16 AM

I think you should start linking your blogs in Urbanspoon: http://www.urbanspoon.com/e/restaurant_link/1542024

eric sharp said... @ January 5, 2011 at 10:26 AM

Personally It doesn't have to be authentic to be good..it just has to taste good to, me.
I have a friend who is from austria, his father came to canada on vcation, and had a schnitzel, and said it wasn't as good as back home...duh.... Every ingriedient is different in Canada, from other places in the world. Enjoy the experience if you like it go back, if you don't try some where else!

it's cheaper than a plane ticket around the world

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