Vendor Spotlight: Thai Thai
It’s early Friday evening and Thai Thai is hopping. Kiwi, the driving force behind Thai Thai, a new restaurant specializing in Bangkok street food, is a petite blur going from table to table. She simultaneously is taking orders, delivering waters and meals, and bussing as she goes. Her smile is warm, welcoming, and infectious.
Her close friend Gwendolyn, who had stopped in for dinner, keeps me company and we chat while I wait for Kiwi to have a free few minutes to pull away and answer some questions. Gwen tells me that she met Kiwi in 2015 through mutual friends and that the restaurant is “family-owned and run”. Sometimes she’ll even lend a hand, which she ends up doing so that I can talk to Kiwi for a few moments. It’s not the first time she’s helped out, either, the small restaurant that opened in March of 2016 has been getting a lot of attention lately.
Siriphan Wongpeng, or Kiwi as she’s known, moved to the United States from Bangkok, Thailand in 2000 with her family; “My family came from Thailand because they wanted my little brother and I to have better opportunity in life.” Her mom, who cooks all the food at Thai Thai, is the only one who knows exactly how to make the dishes on the menu. “If she’s sick, we close. She’s the only one who knows how to make these. She knows the exact amount of spices and ingredients,” she says, holding her mother’s love of the menu in high regard. “This is what we eat.” Kiwi’s favorite dish on the menu is Kauy Traw Ped, roasted duck noodle soup with bean sprouts and cilantro.
Thai Thai joins Lakewood’s diverse, ever-growing food scene, which includes a handful of Thai restaurants. “A lot of people asked us why we opened up another Thai restaurant on Madison when there are already two. Many Thai restaurants offer the same items, but we are different and not competition. Our menu is Bangkok street food. We don’t serve what the other restaurants serve.”
This will be Kiwi’s second time setting up shop at Night Market. Her family had a booth last year under their former moniker Asian Grille. This time around they’ll be bringing items from their new menu including NorthEast Sausage, which is homemade pork sausage stuffed with rice and herbs, along with a few vegetarian options, and the ever-popular chicken on a stick. Also on the menu, Kra Praow, a popular street food, which includes a choice of meat with basil, fresh chili, and garlic. The delectable concoction is served with jasmine rice and fried egg.
Kiwi tells me she is so happy that Night Market exists, because she was never able to attend an evening market while living in Bangkok. She loves that she gets to experience a taste of home in Cleveland because she hasn’t been able to go back and visit Thailand. Even though she misses her homeland, she loves Cleveland. A mom of two young children, I ask Kiwi if she thinks her kids will end up helping out at the restaurant. She says as second-generation kids she isn’t sure, but she says one thing she is certain of is they’ll know that their grandparents worked very hard to get here.
Later in the week, I email Kiwi to ask her a few follow-up questions. She signs off her email:
“While I’m typing this email to you, Lakewood is going crazy! I’m so happy Brandi. I love Cleveland, now I finally know the definition of what the word ‘ALL IN’ means.”
You can get a taste of Bangkok’s best street food at Night Market Cleveland, June 24th, 2016 at the intersection of Rockwell Ave. and E 21st Street. For more information about Thai Thai, visit them on Facebook. Their storefront is located at 13735 Madison Ave. in Lakewood, OH.
photographs by Breanna Kulkin