Jasmine Thai: Dining Around the World in Peterborough & the Kawarthas
195 Simcoe St., Peterborough
The beating heart of any Thai town or city, night markets are the place where people gather—and feast. Under bright lights on poles and strung into trees, the streets team with foot traffic, every turn seeming to bring forth a new street food delicacy. Here, a big bowl steams, there, a grill flares, and everywhere the air carries the scent of pork, chicken, crab, shrimp and, of course, chilli, ginger, garlic, peppercorn, fish sauce and lemongrass. People sit at plastic chairs getting foot massages, maybe with some moo ping, and browse for clothes, while balancing some kai jeow.
And it was here that Toey Chaiwijit learned to cook, at the side of her venerable mother, Nutsara, in Khon Kaen, town in the Northeast of Thailand. She remembers washing dishes at the age of seven while people queued for her signature dish, marinated, grilled chicken with a customized, secret red curry sauce. “It was busy all the time, always line-ups, she was very well-known,” says Chaiwijit. “People were even asking her to teach classes.”
Now, Nutsara, her daughter Toey—who serves as manager—and the rest of the family serve up those genuine tastes at Jasmine Thai, a small, unassuming restaurant tucked into the Charlotte Mews in downtown Peterborough. Chaiwijit remembers when she and her brother first came to Canada, back in 2006. “We were young,” she says. “Our English was zero.”
But their stepfather, Peter, from Cobourg, knew that people here needed to try their food. “He loved my mom’s food,” she remembers. “He wanted to share it with everyone,” adding that he once had six-pack abs, but doesn’t have them anymore.
They started the restaurant, naming it for the youngest sister in the family, and all the brothers and sisters have learned their mother’s recipes, which she, in turn, learned from her own mother. Walking back into the Mews—a series of shops and restaurants set just back, away from the busy downtown streets—then pushing through the door feels a little like striding overseas to Southeast Asia. Buddhas on the wall. A portrait of the beloved fifth monarch of Thailand, King Chulalongkorn, keeping watch over all the hungry diners.
You can order up all sorts of delicious dishes, from super-classic pad Thai (a rich, rice-noodle stir-fry in a tamarind sauce, wrapped in egg (with vegetable, chicken, beef, shrimp or seafood) to something a little more unique, like their basil mixed seafood (with crab, squid, scallop, mussels and shrimp, plus bamboo, eggplant and, of course, basil). Use their pepper system to control the heat (one is comfortable, three will get your sweat glands going). And yes—you can still get Nutsara’s signature dish, transported here to Peterborough from that bustling night market on the other side of the world.