I’VE only ever flown across Thailand in a jumbo jet at 37 000 feet, so I’m unsure whether the grub served at Chang Thai in the gritty Harare industrial estate of Msasa is typical of the cuisine of the Thai capital city, as my headline suggests…or Pattaya, Chang Mai or the holiday island of Phuket, whichever way you pronounce it!
Eating Out with Dusty Miller
But I was delighted, about 20 months ago, to learn that a new-— well newish then — Thai restaurant was open in the workaday blue-collar/no-collar industrial suburb, east of Harare.
And even happier when I also heard Thai Chang was run by my old Greendale mate, Bruce Macdonald and his new—well new-ish — Thai wife, Aui! “Big Bruce” and the previous Mrs Macdonald, Whan-Peng, also from Thailand, at one stage, ran the splendid Thai-Thai Restaurant at Philadelphia (the one just past Borrowdale, not in Pennsylvania!) but Harare has been without a Thai eatery since Blue Banana at Newlands threw in the towel…to be replaced in ultra-quick time by Bejazzled, L’O de Vie and (currently) Misty’s.
Bruce and Aui and the third member of the restaurant’s first team: young exec chef Yo Saenbut offer authentic Thai food, the same graze diluted to suit Western and local palates and token “English” cooking at Thai Chang, Shop 4, Doon Estate, 1, Harrow Road, Msasa; (twixt the currently de-licensed/unlicensed Flat Dog Diner and Kerry Wallace’s health food restaurant, Shop Cafe.)
The Macdonalds have pleasingly internally tarted up one of the grim old corrugated iron buildings that have been there since Doon Estate was HQ of the Witwatersrand Native Labour Organisation (Wenela). Thousands trekked there from across Central and East Africa seeking dangerous but well-paid work in the bowels of the earth, mining gold on the Rand.
The outside is a bit shanty-town meets squatter camp but there’s work in progress and I can see the gardens beginning to look smart: if the large troupe of cheeky grey vervet monkeys I caught in my reversing mirror when leaving, once, let things grow.
Chang Thai was pleasingly packed on visiting last Friday for a Greendale Good Food & Wine Appreciation Society monthly lunch. It’s usually pretty busy and they do a flourishing takeaway trade.
Apart from the Greendale guys, there was a steady flow of punters in suits, collars and ties, shorts, T-shirts and thick jumpers (later, the night was frigid), torn jeans and scuffed bovver boots and quite a number of nicely dressed ladies.
As on my first visit, I enjoyed a pleasant light starter of Thai spring rolls: deep fried crisp tempura pastry stuffed with glass noodles and veg with a small saucer of sweet chili dipping sauce at US$3 but on another occasion a fellow member and I shared the US$12 appetiser platter of lovely prawns, samoosas, spring rolls and satay chicken. (Most prices don’t seem to have increased since their opening.)
I then had a deep, full, steaming bowl of tom yum koong: hot and spicy prawn soup, which included three large, probably king, crustaceans, mushrooms, sliced chicken, quartered tomatoes, carrots and a whole kitchen rack full of herbs and spices at US$8.
Bruce says prawns are imported from India and are wonderfully firm and of consistent size, quality and flavour.
This I previously confirmed over a main course of another prawn dish: gang mussaman, an ancient royal Thai curry recipe made with palm sugar, peanuts, tamarind sauce and chunky potatoes cooked in coconut milk at US$17 (vegetarian version US$9; US$12 with chicken and US$13 with beef.)
With that came some delicious fluffy white basmati rice with egg folded in (something like a foo-yong) and accompanying noodles which contained lots of chicken and was virtually a meal on its own.
A wee bird whispered in my ear that here a “plain” curry equates to a mild elsewhere; mild is really medium; medium is hot and hot is….a bloody ring-stinger!
Certainly one more macho member insisted on ordering a hot starter on our previous trip. His face turned from pink to lobster to puce to purple and he altered main course from another hot dish to a “mild” option, rapidly.
I‘ve rarely chaired a GGF&WAS monthly lunch or dinner anywhere in the last third of a century when there hasn’t been at least some whingeing about something from members or guests, but everyone attending our last two events at Chang Thai was extremely impressed with the quantity and quality of the dishes and value for money.
Service was a bit erratic on our first visit, snappy and sleek last week, after illnesses, a death and several members being overseas slashed our numbers.
There were raised eyebrows at the cost of drinks and I agree US$3 for a local lager — in my opinion the best accompaniment to spicy Oriental cooking — was a bit OTT; that’s the price you, reluctantly, pay at a five-star hotel.
On our last visit they waived the then corkage fee of US$3 a bottle of wine; a pal moaned that he’d been “hit” US$2 last week. The wine list seemed quite innovative, yet middle-of-the road.
There are a few desserts on a comprehensive easy to comprehend menu. I ordered deep-fried banana fritters and ice-cream, which three other members promptly duplicated.
Serve middle-aged/elderly geezers of British birth, descent or extraction the sort of puddings they were fed at school and they are blissfully happy!
Chang Thai Restaurant (proprietors Aui and Bruce Macdonald; exec chef Yo Saenbut), 1 Harrow Road, Msasa. Eating indoors (no smoking), on a shady stoep, or in the garden. Nice background music. Fully licensed; corkage US$2. Reasonably handicapped friendly (toilets a bit of a challenge).
Opens lunch (12-3) Monday to Saturday and supper, 5:30-10pm same days. (Shut Sundays) changtai email@example.com Tel 485609; 0779 763 666; 0773 222 276.