For decades the thought of dining Thai style in Melbourne filled me with dread. Aussie Thai was once defined by Red Duck Curry with Pineapple or Green Chicken Curry with Peas, but anyone who has explored the streets of Bangkok or holidayed in Phuket will know that real Thai food has so much more to offer.
Jinda rescued Melbourne from all this, and sent shares in Thai Airways plummeting. We no longer need to fly all the way to Thailand just to get a fix of seriously good crab fried rice. We can holiday at home by hopping on the Number 109 Tram.
This is Thai cuisine as the Thai people enjoy it, not trying to be gourmet or five star, rather following the tradition of street food. Thai food is very traditional, it doesn’t change rapidly and isn’t subject to celebrity chefs. It’s about the food, not the kitchen. Jinda is true to this heritage.
The salads are screaming hot with chilli, just as you expect in Thailand, the seafood is dripping with sour limes and tamarind, and there are enough hidden gems on the menu to keep you digging through the menu each time you visit. The fillets of fried fish are essential for any sitting, served with a choice of garnishes such as green apple salad or nam jim. Soft-shell crab is heaven here too, laced with spicy papaya and chilli flakes.
The downside to Jinda is that it’s typically very busy, and the staff are typically somewhat unobservant. They’re lovely folks, don’t get wrong, but easily distracted. You have to patient to get your order into the kitchen most of the time, and the food certainly isn’t as snappy coming out of the kitchen as you get on the streets of Bangkok.
The breezy open room is gorgeous. Exposed brick walls are decorated with a minimum of Thai artefacts, but just enough to impart a definite connection with the menu. Lunchtime is the best way to experience Jinda, when only half the space if filled and it’s easy to get a table. Even a quarter filled the space can get super noisy, especially when a table full of Thai ladies next to yours is chatting at full volume.
The food makes it worth it. The food is why we keep going back.
Another feature of Jinda is the Thai style iced tea, a rich red brew of tea mixed with sweetened condensed milk and poured over ice cubes. It’s almost dessert on it’s own and the punchy flavour of the Thai tea cuts through the acidic tones of the dishes. The combination is intoxicating. Over ordering is impossible to avoid, which invariably results in full tummies and half eaten plates and the terrifying realisation that there’s no room left for a taste of the pandan crepe cake.
I’ve never seen a crepe cake in Thailand myself, but they are a serious thing at Jinda and something to be in awe of. Thin crepes are stacked high with a smear of cream and pandan custard between each layer. It’s served with ice cream and a dollop more of pandan custard, and enough spoons for everyone to share a taste.
Next door to Jinda is a little Thai supermarket where you can stock up on the best curry blends, sweet treats and fish sauces seen in Thailand. Sometimes they have the crepe cakes as well, but it’s never quite the same as when served to your table at Jinda.