Local Eats: Erb Thai in Grand Rapids serves authentic dishes infused with special spices, unique herbs

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Lisa Chang has served traditional Thai dishes in Grand Rapids for nearly 11 years.

Chang’s rich relationship with Thai food preceded the opening of her Eb Thai restaurant at 950 Wealthy St. SE # 1A.

Growing up, her Hmong upbringing mixed Southeast Asian influences in the kitchen. Chang’s parents immigrated to the United States from Laos, Thailand. She was immersed in Thai food and multiculturalism.

“Just having this exposure and being in this environment were very diverse culturally, and it stayed with me,” said Chang.

That love of cooking would lead him from working in restaurants to starting his own.

Erb Thai opened as a manifestation of Chang’s interactions with her classmates at Grand Rapids Community College. There was great interest in their cooking from their peers who lived in the area.

At first there was hesitation about opening a Thai restaurant on the east side of the city. The community was mostly vegan and vegetarian, and Chang said that many of the chefs she knew didn’t want to change their food to accommodate someone who couldn’t eat it.

“When I learned to cook from my mom and other things, to say, ‘Hey, can we leave out the MSG? ‘or: “Can we leave out the fish sauce?” and it was all of that, it was alien to them, ”she said.

The result was Erb Thai’s menu, which features dishes that are customizable and easy to adapt to dietary restrictions.

However, some things are essential to Thai cuisine, and some level of seasoning is one of them.

Chang said that while it can be customized, many of the mainstays of Erb Thai are spiced up with the rich herbs and spices that populate much of the food.

One example is Erb Thai’s bestseller: the peanut curry noodle (over $ 10). The dish that combines vegetables, eggs and rice noodles with a creamy peanut curry sauce. As with many of the restaurant’s offers, it can be combined with meat, seafood, vegetarian or vegan options at different prices.

While the dish is very mild with a familiar, sweet sauce to balance out the flavorful curry, the spice values ​​range from mild (with no added seasoning) to spicy, which is due to the heat. While Chang has always enjoyed a bit of heat, she realizes that it’s not for everyone.

“[In Thai cooking]if it’s not spicy, it is not good, “said Chang.” I grew up, I grew up like that. It’s crazy because my kids don’t touch spice. But when you make curry with all the different curries you will be using different chilies to know what kind of curry flavor you are making. “

Chang also suggested that customers interested in a taste of traditional Thai dishes should try one of the menu items that include basil, such as the Bai Gra Praow (over $ 10), the French fries peppers, white onions, and Thai sweet basil leaves stir in a brown sauce.

Outside of traditional Thai cuisine, Chang loves to play with new flavors. One of the more unique dishes is the fried pineapple rice, which is more fruity.

“[The pineapple] gives it a whole different taste in terms of adding that fruit and the texture of the cashew nuts, ”she said.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Erb Thai hard, Chang was optimistic that warm weather and pedestrian traffic could make up for the limited indoor dining. Just in time for summer, offers such as boba tea – flavored tea with tapioca or jelly pearls – are becoming increasingly popular.

Regardless of what customers get, Chang said love is always on the menu. Being flexible with Thai cuisine is a challenge in and of itself, but the reward is expanding culinary interests and sharing their love of cooking with the community.

“It’s good news for me,” said Chang. “When I know they can eat something I’ve made, I feel very, great, and rewarding. And that’s why I really do it when I say I do it for love. “

Erb Thai is open seven days a week. They can be reached at (616) 356-2573 or on their website www.erbthaigr.com.

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