Guest Nibble Scribe Alex Zucker heads to Sweet Ginger where, apparently, he sampled nearly the whole menu, including Crispy Chicken Basil, Spicy Todman and Mango Curry. Lucky devil!
Sometimes, it’s the little places that contain big treasures. Case in point: Sweet Ginger, tucked away in a small yet inviting space in Union Square, offers a fusion variety of Thai cuisine that is sweet indeed. I went there recently and thanks to a friendly staff, I had a wonderful evening, filled with tasty offerings and a candid conversation with Patchara, one of the sisters who co-owns Sweet Ginger. As I listened to her story, the staff prepared us samples of their specialty dishes. Not a bad way to pass an evening.
Patchara and her sister opened a Thai restaurant called Mai Thai in Boston’s West End eight years ago. Although it was highly-rated and received rave reviews, it didn’t take root. That’s where Union Square comes in. “We came to Somerville because we love the community, and felt a strong connection to it,” says Patchara. We then discuss Somerville’s rich cultural diversity at length over Thai Iced Teas, a black tea drink sweetened with sugar and condensed milk.
When I ask her what makes Sweet Ginger so unique, Patchara replies, “We use fresh, simple ingredients, and when we put them together, we create something special.”
Beyond flavors, Patchara also makes clear that Sweet Ginger is rooted in family tradition; every item on their menu is tried and approved by the family. “Our family eats here,” she says. “We cook for our customers like we cook for our family. Even our staff we treat like our family. They come in everyday, and feel at home.”
As I look around, I see evidence of this in the staff’s smiles and occasional laughter. I get the impression the cooks truly enjoy making food for Sweet Ginger’s customers. And it goes both ways because the restaurant’s customers love the restaurant’s food. Since they opened, the restaurant has been featured twice in the Boston Globe, and received over a hundred 4- and 5-star reviews on Yelp.com. (Read Boston Globe review here.)
Patchara goes on to tell me about Thailand’s love of exotic foods and spices. The country, she explains, is known for its spicy cuisine, especially in its Northern regions. Patchara’s family is from Central Thailand, and she admits that some recipes from the North are just too hot to handle. “We tone it down,” she says with a laugh, and quickly adds, “if you want to try a truly spicy dish, order our ‘Crazy Tilapia.’”
Most of the Sweet Ginger menu represents traditional Thai fare, but there are some fusion creations as well, like the “Seaweed Rolls,” fried and filled with sweet potato noodles and carrots, and the “Grilled Garlic Butter Mussels,” served with a homemade garlic butter sauce that resonates on the palette. I tried both, along with the Spicy Todman, a fritter made with minced shrimp and chicken; apparently a favorite among customers—and with good reason.
As my tasting marathon continued, it became apparent that Sweet Ginger makes good on its name, blending sweet and spicy foods. On Patchara’s recommendation, I ordered the “Mango Curry,” a blend of shrimp and chicken in a tasty yellow curry sauce with fresh mango, onions, bell peppers and squash. It was rich and incredibly flavorful. The sweet mango melts in your mouth and compliments the spice of the curry. I later tried the Crispy Chicken Basil, another customer favorite, served on a bed of bell peppers and onions and covered in a hot Thai chili sauce and fresh basil leaves.
I didn’t want our conversation—or the food—to end, but eventually business picked up, and my host had to return to the kitchen. Apparently Patchara cooks and manages at the same time—just another night at Sweet Ginger.
Photos by Alex Zucker; from top to bottom: Grilled Garlic Butter Mussels, Spicy Todman, Crispy Chicken Basil, Mango Curry, Seaweed Rolls.