The world’s political climate seems to have everyone on edge these days, but I am here to say there is some good news out there for foodies in Korea. While the leaders of the “free world” are closing borders and raising import tariffs, Korea is leading a charge in the opposite direction with a bevy of multilateral trade agreements that have given birth to a succulent revolution of flavor. You might even say that free trade is really starting to “spice up” fine dining in Korea. Folks who live near a big supermarket like Homeplus will be the first to feel the immediate effects, but take a trip over to your favorite international restaurant, and you may be surprised to find the taste has ever-so-slightly improved.
That is what has happened at Thai Holic behind Chonnam University. After struggling through a difficult few years, owner Ahn Jun-hyuk says the restaurant hit its stride when a 2015 free trade agreement with Vietnam cut costs and opened the market to authentic ingredients like palm sugar, kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass. If you have been to Thai Holic in the past, then this is a change you really have to experience firsthand. While Ahn still caters to his predominately college-aged Korean clientele and their appetite for fusion, the food has markedly improved, and certain dishes taste much as you would expect from a restaurant in Seoul, at twice the price.
Experts agree that the first measure of a Thai restaurant’s quality is its pad Thai, the iconic rice noodle dish served with peanuts, bean sprouts, cilantro, and lime. Pad is one of the few Thai dishes with a governmentally codified recipe, and was essential in establishing Thailand’s unique cultural identity in the 1940s. The base of pad Thai, its sweet and sour sauce, gets its flavor and silken texture from palm sugar, a product produced much like maple syrup from the sap of coconut palm trees. Without palm sugar, you cannot call it pad Thai. The difference in quality is subtle but crucial, and Thai Holic does not skimp on this important detail. Another tipoff to Thai Holic’s dedication to authenticity is that the seasonings are offered in piles on the side of the dish so customers can tailor the taste to their liking. Although the recipe is constant, proportions of ingredients vary widely from region to region in Thailand, so seasoning after the dish reaches the table is an easy way to make sure everyone is happy. Ahn, who is not just the owner but also the chef, gets top marks for his attention to detail.
The other dishes at Thai Holic are in line with standard expectations. A variety of dumplings, spring rolls, seitans, and fried finger foods grace the appetizers section, while curries, stir-fries, and noodle dishes make up the bulk of the entrees. Most of the dishes offer a selection between shrimp, beef, chicken, and vegetarian, with a side salad or rice accompaniment. One new feature on the renovated menu worth checking out is the whole-fried softshell crab, served in a curry of its own flesh and stir-fried with veggies. Crispy, crunchy, chewy, and smooth, it is like a rhapsody in your mouth.
Those familiar with Thai Holic may remember a branch in Sangmu that recently closed; do not be disheartened! While it is a loss for Sangmu, Ahn is channeling all of his energy and passion into his Chonnam location, so the service and quality are better than ever before. Prices range from 8,000 to 25,000 won, with options for takeout. Seating is limited, ideal for groups of four to six maximum, but reservations usually are not necessary.
광주 북구 면앙로 6번길 81
Myeonang-ro 6-beongil 81, Buk-gu, Gwangju
(Chonnam National University Back Gate area)
Opening Hours: 11:30 am – 10:30 pm
Reservations and Take Out: 070-4092-5229