Summer sunlight blasts through the big front window at Hattaporn's Thai Kitchen in Greenfield, bouncing off a bright yellow wall. Cheerfully mismatched furniture and Thai tchotchkes decorate the simple dining room. My friends and I have come out for an early dinner, and we scribble our orders onto pieces of paper while drinking tea from the self-service tea station. We pass our orders onto the chef, and sit back to await the giant bowls of curry and peanut sauce headed our way.
In the open kitchen, Hattaporn Wattanarat grabs spices and sauces from the wide range of ingredients stocked on her shelves. Wattanarat, originally from northeast Thailand, has been the chef and co-owner since opening the restaurant in 2006; the business moved two years ago into its current location downtown. Wattanarat has a lot of chili peppers and bottles of fish sauce—this combination, as co-owner Beth Greeney puts it, is "Thai food in a nutshell"—but there are less common ingredients found here that weave together the complex tastes of home-cooked Thai food.
Leaves from the Kaffir, or Kieffer, lime tree provide a distinct flavor in Thai cuisine; the zest, leaves and juice from the limes are used for various cooking and cleaning purposes from Indonesia to Malaysia. Lemongrass, a well-known player in Thai cooking, brings its own version of citrus flavor while giving food a woody, spicy aftertaste. Galanga, or galangal, is a pungent root related to ginger, but spicier. It gives an edge to many Arabic and Asian dishes.
Although meals at Hattaporn's use a lot of traditional foods, there are a multitude of spices, herbs and seafoods used in true Thai cooking that aren't readily available in the United States. According to Wattanarat, though, these unusual flavors do not go over well with most American palates, so she doesn't miss them in her restaurant. She can still whip up plenty of delicious meals.
"The Thais pride themselves on their food and think it's the best in the world," says Greeney, leaning against the front counter with a grin. "I can see why: every dish is salty, sweet and spicy all in one, but not overwhelming in any of those flavors. So I happen to agree with them!"
The meal arrives on our table in no-fuss white bowls. Angel in the Garden (with the menu description: "for all you peanut sauce lovers") brims with chopped peanuts and colorful vegetables. It has a tangy flavor that mixes with the nuts nicely.
I try the Heavenly Curry with house-made massaman curry sauce, which is available without fish sauce for vegan customers. It's sweet and silky and tastes of coconut. .I also sample the Gang Ka-ri, a colorful yellow curry with a little spice and earthy flavors from the many vegetables floating in the rich sauce.
Hattaporn's atmosphere is laid back and seems to be flavor-focused, which isn't to say that the other Thai food in Greenfield, right across the street at Thai Blue Ginger, isn't delicious as well. It's just different. The presentation there is fancier, the tables have cloths, and the food has a sweeter, more Americanized flavor.
Greeney and Wattanarat provide a comforting, unusual Thai restaurant experience with food that satisfies. And the women—one in a chef's apron and the other in a baseball cap—couldn't be nicer. Drop in for a visit soon, or find them at this summer's Greenfield Farmer's Markets, the Green River Festival, and the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival.