Vibrant Thai street food @ ZAAP

Stepping off the streets of Nottingham and straight into Thailand’s bustling street life, entering Zaap is a portal to other side of the globe. The scene of street signs, cooking, tuk tuks, and Thai music is a little overwhelming at first, but once settled at a table in the midst of it all the atmosphere of the genuine Thai market is unparalleled. It’s by no means gimmicky, either – one of the waiters passionately told us the story of how every object in the room was chosen and imported from Thailand.

Exploring the menu, it’s just as genuine as the décor. Of course the staple Thai green curry and pad thai appear; but only as a token for the less adventurous. Most of the dishes are unheard of but mouth-watering – the perfect opportunity to try something new. Don’t worry if you’re unsure, as the waiters are friendly and personally describe and recommend dishes.

The appetisers are tantalising (as well as useful in acclimatisating to the spice-level): bite-sized Thai fish cakes (Tod Mun Pla) are satisfyingly more-ish and the mini sausages (Sai Grog Zaap) are spicy and vibrant. Street food style at its best, the selection of small plates is great for sharing.

Spoilt for choice by salads, rice, noodle, and grilled dishes, I finally went for the waiter’s personal favourite and opted for the Som Tum Pla Rah: spicy papaya salad with fermented fish. An awakening for the taste buds, it’s fresh, sharp yet sweet, and bursting with chilli: genuine Thai food with no holds barred. Lighter on the spice, the Pad Pak Bang Fai Daeag (stir fried ‘Morning Glory’ with oyster sauce, garlic and chilli) is fragrant, aromatic and delicate whilst having a deep, rich flavour.

The intense spice needs a good drink to wash it down, too, and the traditional Thai Singha beer complements the dishes perfectly. A variety of Thai beers and hot and cold drinks are offered – including bubble tea and butterfly pea juice! – as well as wines and other soft drinks.

Curiosity means that dessert is obligatory. Unlike generic Thai restaurants offering a drab range of ice creams and gluey banana fritters, the dessert menu at Zaap is a welcome surprise: actual Thai puddings! The ripe mango with sweetened sticky rice (Khaow Niew Sang Ka Ya) is refreshing and comforting, but the star of the show is the Lod Chong Wat Jet: a traditional Indochinese dessert made from jelly noodles, pandanus juice and coconut milk, finished with palm sugar syrup and shaved ice. Served in a sundae glass, it’s syrupy, milky and sweet; like all your favourite childhood tastes intensified!

Thai street food markets go on all night and Zaap is no exception, closing its doors at midnight. An admirable attempt to reproduce such a bustling environment in none other than Nottingham, Zaap is nothing if not perfectionist. And like the original, it’s also affordable, with most mains under a tenner. Thai street food and an atmosphere like this are given the seal of approval by Thai people themselves, and it’s not surprising. Vibrant, fresh and authentic: the real deal.

Emily Howard

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