I’ve known of Tuk-Tuk for a while now through its reputation as maybe the best Thai restaurant in Northern Ireland. Despite originating from Ards. And while it’s not really a huge distance from here in Bangor to their Ards location I was really finding it hard to wrap my head around the whole Ards thing. It’s Ards. Anyway, Tuk-Tuk Bangor thankfully arrived after lockdown held back and it’s original launch. And it’s kind of exciting.
So the new Tuk-Tuk Bangor is found on Grey’s Hill and it’s really hard to miss with the faux Thai tuk-tuk out front, although inside it’s not overly Thai where it follows the wider Chinese influences of Southeast Asia which fit better along the straits of Malay, and it’s a bit like a walk down Chulia Street with the Penang Street Art, or maybe Singapore’s Chinatown with the red and yellow hanging lanterns.
New Thai Restaurant in Bangor
So I always thought of tuk-tuk as a Thai restaurant, given the whole tuk-tuk ‘n all. But it is more of a Southeast Asian fusion restaurant/bistro which always suits me better given I can easily cook all the Thai stuff at home. And while I know Fanfan would be fuming to hear I’d spent “£12 on Kaprao Moo Saap” “you could have it with Moo Grob for a quid at home”. So I have sold this more as research because it has been a good 15 years since I’ve eaten in or from a Thai restaurant outside of Thailand.
Starters are not really done in Thailand, or the whole ‘course’ thing, as it’s otherwise normal to just order a load of food to the table and then just pass them around. Spicy tapas-style. And the only starter I can really think of would maybe be Miang Kham, where you wrap bits of shallot, chillies, ginger, peanut, toasted coconut, dry shrimp, lime… in a Cha Plu Leaf, and fire it in your mouth. It’s kind of nibble food, an introduction to the sweet, sour, salty and hot signatures of Thai cuisine, it’s used to excite the senses (and to kill time).
So the starters here are not really starters, but more Thai snacks and street food that make for simple options to start a meal when say at a western table. And the starters include soups which really are not so different to curries when it comes to the world of Thai food. But it is ‘Takeaway Tuesday‘ (this time on a Friday) and we are ordering for delivery. So none of this really matters at all. But normally I would go for a mix of meals including a soup, a salad, a curry, and some barbecued meats. And then I’d maybe double up on all of them.
Anyway, check here for our rather extensive intro to traditional Thailand food. Otherwise a summary of the Thai dishes on the Tuk Tuk Bangor Delivery menu (Tuk Tuk to Go).
1. Thai Vegetarian Spring Rolls (Poh Pia Tod)
They’re not so different to any other spring roll/egg roll only they’ll probably be served with a sweet chilli dip. But if it were fresh ‘summer rolls’ (Poh Pia Sod), similar to Vietnamese Goi Cuon, I’d be all over them.
2. Thai Siu Mai Dumplings (Khanom Jeeb)
They’re not so different to Chinese shumai, a type of steamed Cantonese dim sum dumpling, normally made from shrimp or pork, only in Thailand they’re served mostly at street food with fried garlic bits and a soy vinegar.
3. Thai Som Tam Fresh Spicy Papaya Salad
My 1st Pick: I’d probably eat this somewhat ‘extreme’ unripe papaya salad weekly, or at least variations of it, where it’s a meal in itself when served with chicken skins (Kap Kai), pork scratchings (Kap Moo), sticky rice (Khao Niao), and maybe some fresh rice noodles (Khanom Jeen). However, the more common ‘western’ version would be the less hot, more sweet, Som Tam Thai, served often as a side salad.
4. (Malaysian) Satay Skewers
Okay, not exactly Thai, but there is a slight overlap with Thai food, and it’s always good to add some barbecue meat to any order. But Satay is more a generic term for barbecue meat skewers in Southeast Asia (moo ping etc.) and when it comes to Sambal Kecang (the spicy peanut sauce) I prefer a fiery Sumatran style.
5. Thai Tom Yam Soup (Hot and Sour Soup)
My 2nd Pick with King Prawn: The Tuk-Tuk to Go menu shares no real translation/description here, although Tom Yum is fairly well known, otherwise it’s a ‘hot and sour soup fusing the heat of chillies and galangal with the sours of lemongrass, kaffir like leaves, and lime. Another signature Thai dish which often comes in a ‘Tom Yum Creamy’ option to better balance the extreme flavours.
6. Thai Tom Kha Soup (Coconut Galangal Soup)
Again like Thai Tom Yam Soup, there’s no English description here. But these two soups are fairly similar in that they use similar fresh spices with lemongrass, galangal, chillies and kaffir lime leaves. The main difference though is that Tom Kha is a coconut-based soup.
Thai Main Courses
Main courses is then the curry and stir-fry menu, and I was kind of excited by the Malaysian Mango and Coconut Sauce, because it’s completely new to me. But I’m here for the Thai food and I’m sticking to it. But I do like how the menu works where you choose your meat, and then the price is the same for whatever curry/sauce you choose. So no need to throw pennies around.
1. Green/Red Curries (Kaeng Keow Wan/Kaeng Phet)
I don’t want to delve too far into each Thai curry option here as they’re all fairly similar in being coconut-based curries only using different spice pastes. Green Curry would be the better known and it works best with chicken (Kaeng Keow Wan) then it’s Red Curry which goes best with duck (Kaeng Phet Ped).
2. Panaeng Curry (Kaeng Panaeng)
Panaeng does get confused a lot with red curry, but, other than resemblance in colour, Panaeng curry is heavily spiced with southern flavours like cumin, nutmeg and peanut and is thicker in consistency when cooked. Panaeng is most commonly cooked with pork but works well with beef.
3. Massaman Curry (Kaeng Massaman)
My 3rd Pick with Beef: Aka the king of curries, this big and bold Thai curry is fairly different to the rest where it is not only influenced heavily by south Asian spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and star anise, but it is one of few dishes that use beef and is slow-cooked with potatoes almost like a stew.
4. Thai-Style Sweet and Sour Sauce
Thai sweet and sour is fairly new to me. I’ve seen it in a couple of cookbooks, at a handful of resorts, otherwise, it’s just one of those pan-Asian offers you avoid at hotel buffet breakfasts. It’s probably not so different to the ‘Chinese’ sweet-and-sour only with a bit of added chilli.
5. Thai Tao Bahn Sauce with Cashew Nuts
My 4th Pick with Duck: Never heard of it. Translates a bit like ‘Thai Turtle House’. Fanfan’s not heard of it either. So obviously I had to order it and it’s not so different to ‘Pad Met Mamuang’ aka Stir-fried Cashew Nuts which is a soy/oyster sauce based stir-fry with cashew nuts. Missing the dry chillies but definitely a chilli kick from the infused sauce.
Tuk Tuk Bangor Review
My review really doesn’t matter here. For a start, with Thai food, I always look for authenticity in ingredients which others may not be fussed for. I also look for intense/extreme heats, spices, and flavours that others may not be used to. I also ordered from their delivery menu ‘Tuk-Tuk to Go’ in the first weeks of opening in Bangor. Also, my dad said I shouldn’t be mean about an exciting new local business in Bangor… “But they’re from Ards…”
I also ordered the more complex and divisive dishes, the Massaman Curry for example, with lengthy cooking time, and unlikely range of ingredients and spices, with slow-cooked beef, potatoes, peanuts, and banging southern spices. They’re even hit-and-miss in Thailand, often being watered down and blanded for tourist tastes with stock, coconut milk, and sweet palm sugar. Tuk-Tuk is similar but it goes further with additions of carrot, green beans, red pepper, and… cucumber?
But I had no real expectation for authenticity, which is one of the reasons I’ve not eaten Thai food outside of Thailand for many years. And I guess it’s no different to Indian and Chinese takeaways… where they never truly replicate the foods of their origin. It’s Anglo-ethnic food. Anglo-Thai. But the food is good nonetheless, my mum was loving it, and I’d happily eat them over and over again. As I would from the local Chinese and Indian takeaways.
I’d really stick though to the more tried and tested dishes than chasing authenticity here. For the Som Tam I kind of test them by ordering my usual; extra spicy (Phet Phet) and not sweet (Mai Wan), in English, obviously. But what I received was the complete opposite. And it was a bit weird where the only liquid in Som Tam would normally be from natural veg juices, fish sauce, lime juice, and maybe tamarind juice. Yet half the tub was filled with a sweetened juice.
Authentic Thai Cuisine?
So it was fairly hard to pick out distinct/fresh flavors in the som tam. There’s no sweet of palm sugar, no saltiness of fish sauce, no sour of tamarind or lime, and there’s nowhere near enough heat from birdseye chillies. It was also topped with cashew nuts rather than having been smashed together with peanuts. Even the scampi fries couldn’t save it. But the portion was surprisingly huge, and felt like a waste of green papaya, so I drained the liquid and salvaged it by smashing it with garlic, peanuts, fresh chillies and a squeeze of lime for a simple/proper som tam Thai.
Another telltale sign of authenticity in food is anything labelled ‘Thai-style’ etc. This means there’s very little chance it’ll be anything like it’s meant to be. So, along with a side of Jasmine Rice, I couldn’t not order the Thai-style soft noodles out of curiosity. And while I was hoping maybe to find some fresh Khanom Jeen rice noodles (not likely), or some Ba Mee or Sen Noods at least. They were more like maybe a KL Hokkien Mee in flavour and could be a potential meal in themselves. They’re just not very Thai.
Thai Takeaway and Delivery
I did notice a few things off in consistence where instead of fresh ingredients, the flavours seemed to already be infused in the curries, sauces, and soups. It’s like they use premade stocks and sauces. And just by the look of ingredients, I am almost certain each element of the food had been prepared separately. For example, the potato and beef in the massaman looked nothing like potato and beef that has cooked in a massaman. It’s as if everything is cooked separately then fired together stew a bit when orders come in.
So this is more for my own insight having never set foot inside a commercial kitchen in the U.K. before. It’s a learning experience, a window into the kitchen and the making of popular foods here. And while it may feel a bit fast-foodish, it also fits well with the structure and pricing of the menu for their takeaway and delivery in Bangor. Otherwise there’s obviously a lot more effort in preparing a proper Massaman Curry vs. a quick Pad Kaprao etc. But when the food tastes as good as it it does in Tuk Tuk Bangor, does it really matter how it is created.