Nestled in Newington, Soi 38 may catch your eye from its brightly decorated exterior. Like the Thai food it serves, the outside is colourful, varied, and multilayered. Thai food, in the Western world, has become so commonplace it might be called comforting. A warm coconut curry, stir fried noodles in a sauce dangling between sweet and sour, a spicy peanut sauce – all things we’ve come to crave. But Thai food is extremely regional, extremely complex in the layering and depth of flavours, and entirely undercut by Western interpretations.
In Soi 38, you can still get your old standards and be heartily pleased. Who doesn’t love a good Pad Thai or Green Curry? These dishes are the best sellers at Soi 38, and the small establishment, which opened about a year ago, excels at these classics.
However, Soi 38 encourages you to branch out from those fundamentals which placed Thai food firmly in the vocabulary of Westerners. They have 46 main dishes brimming with individual flavours and top-quality ingredients begging to be explored.
As the hipster “yahs” continue to search for authenticity and settle instead for flashy booths, cardboard sit-in boxes, and a decent if not overdone Soundcloud playlist, Soi 38 offers something else entirely.
The shop is not overwhelmingly decorated, but instead showcases signs from Thailand, and features a pleasant atmosphere complete with a chili plant tucked by the door. Sizzles and tantalising smells welcome you upon entrance, and you can just spy some of the secrets of the kitchen from the seating area.
One of the main things that sets Soi 38 apart is the staff, who all come from various parts of Thailand, allowing the restaurant to mix and match the very regional flavours of traditional Thai food. Each Thai dish is a classic but has its own variation that makes it uniquely Soi 38. The recipes are crafted by the owner, Anthony, the head chef, Wichai, and the Sous Chef, Suchada. The flavours of the dishes tend to lean towards more southern Thai traditions, but are still particular to the establishment.
Soi 38 does not pride itself with words like “authentic” or “traditional”, which have grown to mean very little in the modern food scene. Instead, they differentiate themselves on their skilled staff and specialty ingredients. They import their curry paste and other products from Thailand, and use the Edinburgh Thai community for produce and fresh fish. Rapeseed oil, which is changed constantly, allows their deep-fried samplings to be light rather than greasy.
For a classic Thai dish that’ll make you feel more summery despite the weather, try the Som Tom Thai, a green papaya salad which is spicy, refreshing and delicious, with cashews, fish sauce and chiles. If you want some meat with your greens, try the Nua Num Tok Isan, which features deliciously marinated sirloin steak, and is topped with herbs like mint and coriander.
For a stir fry seafood simp, Pad Cha Talay delivers a nicely balanced sauce with delicately cooked shrimp, large green mussels, and tender squid. For that classic curry craving, Gaeng Kho Subparod fully delivers: it’s comforting, rich in coconut with deep spices and fresh basil. The sweetness of the pineapple and cherry tomatoes cuts through the thick curry. Other Thai places often deliver a watered-down curry, but this is thick, and wholesome, and warms you from the inside out with spices and pepper and perfectly complements sticky rice rather than drowning it. I’d write thick with two c’s if that were appropriate, that’s how wonderfully thick this curry is.
The main menu items are extremely reasonably priced, especially for the heaping portions served. If you want to treat yourself to something a bit more pricey, then ordering a special is the way to go. The Khaow Soi 38 is highly recommended, a curry with chicken legs and noodles, the best of both worlds.
The specials are part of a new menu launch. After a year of being open and cultivating a loyal customer base the manager, Benjamin, created a survey on Instagram to gauge customers’ thoughts on the menu. Essentially, they took on every request they could, getting rid of items that didn’t work and adding new recipes, like the specials which showcase their chef’s talents.
Their expanded selection of small fried dishes is also a new feature. One to definitely try is the Tod Mun Pla. A fish cake made by the owner, Anthony, it is based on his mother’s traditional recipe from his homeland of Samui Island. A possible new favourite catering to Western patrons is the Pattaya Style Curry, chips doused in deliciously thick curry, a Thai take on the classic chippy order.
The relatively new business was hurt by Covid-19 but managed to survive on deliveries during the lockdown. Now back open, they are fully ready to offer sit-in dining. Screens separate tables and the max capacity is set at 16. All staff wear appropriate PPE. They continue to do take-away, but sitting in with the friendly staff and pleasant sounds from the kitchen is an experience which was sorely missed during this long lockdown.
The staff are extremely amenable to the customers and will take spice preferences and personal wishes into each and every dish. Their curries are prepped early in the day to allow for a fast turnaround, and their salads are prepared fresh to order.
Overall, Soi 38 should be your next stop when you crave some classic Thai or want to take your palate on a bit of a holiday while we are still largely stuck at home.
Images: Elizabeth Greenberg