The first thing noticed is the sound of a sizzling griddle, the scent of clove, red pepper, ginger, garlic. What makes Midtown Global Market unique is the way multitudes of different shops can come together in one place, yet each restaurant still has its own atmosphere and presence.
The same is true of Sabbai Cuisine, a Cambodian and Thai restaurant that was recently added to Midtown Global Market on Lake Street in Minneapolis. Sabbai Cuisine specializes in the use of a variety of Cambodian and Thai spices, such as cinnamon, turmeric, galangal, shallots, lemongrass, cilantro, and kroeung, a special spice blend.
The bold flavors of these spices make an appearance in Sabbai’s Chicken Pad Thai ($8.99), a hearty dish of rice noodles made to order with strips of chicken, carrots and cabbage. When the first bite reaches your mouth, a hint of sweetness spreads across your tongue followed by the heat of the spice hitting your lips. Noodles are soft and perfectly cooked, complemented by the crunch of raw bean sprouts and peanuts.
If the heat of this dish is too strong, Thai Tea ($3.79), classically brewed from Ceylon tea leaves, is a soothing blend of creamy and sweet. Velvety in texture, this iced drink has a strong syrupy flavor and a hint of a smoky aftertaste. Though enjoyable at first, the tea quickly became overwhelmingly rich, so much so that I threw it away after drinking half of the cup.
As the sweetness of Thai tea overcame me, I headed back to the cash register to purchase a bottle of water. The cashier was a kind man who seemed to know I was new to the type of food served at Sabbai, and he offered me a bottle of water on the house. Impressed by his kindness, I smiled, watching as the rest of the staff worked together to efficiently cook customer’s meals, all of which were made to order.
Back at my seat, I dug into Sabbai’s Chicken Fried Rice ($8.49), a comforting and filling dish. This meal is an excellent choice for those who want a less risky, spicy or sweet option. The rice comes in a good sized portion, with peas and carrots adding a hint of freshness to the hearty flavor of dark meat chicken and a subtle crunch to the otherwise soft rice.
Sitting outside of Sabbai Cuisine, alternating between forkfuls of rice and spicy noodles, observing the people passing by is a moment of simplicity in a busy market atmosphere. Not only was the food at Sabbai flavorful and bold, the staff was friendly and welcoming, even to those unfamiliar with Cambodian or Thai food. With this atmosphere, Sabbai seemed to attract a variety of customers, from regular diners to newcomers. In line, I began a conversation with another woman who was also trying Sabbai for the first time and was excited to experience the tastes of a different culture.
Though the Cambodian and Thai flavors at Sabbai were daring at times, walking away from the restaurant left the satisfaction of having tried something new and having been immersed in a different world, if only for a moment.