Australia and Sydney, in particular, has this massive love affair for Thai food. On the one hand, you’ve got the exotic element of Thai food and Thai culture, with stuff like lemongrass, fish sauce, chillies and kaffir limes forming the backbone of the classic Thai flavor profile. That plus sugar. Sour, salty, spicy and mind numbingly sweet. This contrast and range of flavor leads to well balanced dishes in general but the sweet element is what makes Thai food Thai for me. Other Asian cultures might use lemongrass, fish sauce etc etc but they don’t use quite the same amount of sugar.

The sugar also has a tendency to dull the flames, making the food more approachable for caucasian palates. In contrast, I could proffer some Szechuan food and its well, mind numbingly spicy to the point where it gets hard to taste the food. The sweetness of Thai food, combined with fresh produce and clean, bright flavors, makes it an excellent choice for the summer. That said, I just had some last night at Spice I Am in Surry Hills and it was pretty packed, with starving people staring at my plate.

Exotic flavor + fresh produce. A simple combination. Thinking about it, also points me towards Japanese food. Yet, I hate the stuff in general, locally that is. Japanese food in Sydney, quite simply, is terribad. If you went into the dingiest joints in Japan, you’d get well better. You’d probably get better Japanese in Singapore. The problem is 2-fold. One is ingredient. Australia’s a long way from Japan and they’re not really big on importing stuff anyway. So getting in top quality product costs a lot of money and the market just isn’t big enough. The other problem is bastardization. Too much mayonnaise and salmon appearing everywhere in every sushi restaurant. Japanese restaurants still run ok because the exotic element overpowers everything else. That plus the haute cuisine status that Japanese food enjoys wherever it goes.

Thai food though, ticks all the right boxes for me. Much of the produce isn’t even imported anymore. If you go down to Pontip in Haymarket, conveniently located next to Chat Thai, you’d be able to see the wonderful, fresh, Thai produce that is used in the successful restaurants in the city. They supply them all because a lot of it is grown locally, or in Australia itself at least. They also don’t bastardize. They might pander to local ideals of cleanliness and no double dipping (they always have a serving spoon for every dish) or have a lot of overtly exotic/modern style type decor but they never compromise on the flavor. They don’t hold back on the chillies. Or the sugar for that matter.

If you ate at the best Thai restaurants in Sydney, you would be able to bring that experience with you to Bangkok and not be afraid to know what else to order besides a pad thai. Which, by the way, is probably one the more dangerous things to order in Thailand, given the raw bean sprouts and listeria, much like pho in Vietnam. Get those stinky white things blanched.

My top 3 Thai joints in Sydney. Gleaned from my limited experience but I believe they really are top notch.

#3. Thai Pothong in Newtown. This joint also comes with a really tacky gift shop right inside. The prices are hideous and the clientele mostly farangs. Still, it must be said that the food was good. I found the flavors weren’t really toned down and their jasmine rice was mind blowingly perfect. Probably the best rice I’ve had in ages. I don’t know how often they can replicate that but it was something strangely ubiquitous that caught my tongue.

#2. Spice I Am in Surry Hills. I finally dined here properly last night with 2 friends and the food was great. Really clean and bright but also perfectly balanced. Service was great for the amount you pay. I don’t expect fine dining standards at shock bottom prices. We BOO’ed and got nice wine glasses, they kept asking us if we wanted more rice and cleared our plates when we were done. It’s really cramped though, which puts it at a disadvantage. Note: They also have a new place in Darlinghurst, which is more upmarket.

#1. Chat Thai in Haymarket. Right next to Pontip, the temple for Thai food, you just know they won’t have supply problems. It’s like a slice of the Bangkok street just fell into a corner of Sydney. With the lovely attention to presentation, both for the food and the staff/site, your eyes tell you it tastes better. The grill out at the front together with the desserts section also adds so much to the color and smells, you are hooked the moment you cast a glance at the window. They even open late and I swear the hottest Thai babes are here every single night. I also love hitting the shop in Manly after work and they got some branches around town.