Meet the chef: Hasna of Middlebury’s Thai@Home food truck
According to chef Wanna Phasuk Filan, the secret to really good pad thai is in the tamarind. You may know Filan by her nickname, Hasna. She is the chef and owner of Thai@Home, Middlebury’s only Thai food truck. She shared a few of her trade secrets over sweet Thai iced tea.
Chef Hasna was born in Rayong, Thailand, but went to business school in Bangkok. She’s worked in advertising, owned an embroidery company and her own brick-and-mortar restaurant — all in Bangkok. She also took over her father’s rubber farm in Rayong. In 2010, she decided to visit a friend in the United States. On that trip, she met her husband, Middlebury builder and woodworker John Filan. She opened Thai@Home in August 2015, after more than five years of serving food at the Middlebury Farmers Market. Her husband helped Hasna build her signature food truck.
Chef Hasna specializes in Thai fusion food. She learned to cook from her mother in Rayong, and many of the staple menu items at Thai@Home, like the pad thai and curries, are her mother’s recipes. “We lived in a small town and my mom liked to cook,” Chef Hasna said. Her father owned a lot of farm property around Rayong. He specialized in fruit and rubber trees. Her mother always kept a garden for the family.
“Whenever someone wanted to have a party, people would all come together to help make the food. You didn’t pay for someone to cook the food. You knew that people would do the same for you if you did it for them,” Hasna said. “And people knew my mom was a good cook.”
Hasna’s mother was always in high demand, so Hasna started helping around the kitchen as a little girl. “She’d tell me what to do. I still hear her sometimes when I cook.”
“Cooking is meditative,” Hasna said. “When I’m cooking, I can tell what I need just from the smell, the noises from the food. This is home cooking.”
Hasna said her mother was the same way. For Thai@Home, Hasna never reads recipes, but she knows where each one came from. She makes each dish fresh, largely from ingredients grown in her organic garden. If she can’t find a spice that suits her standards, she’ll grow it herself. “I cook for customers as you would for yourself.” Among the herbs she grows are lamb’s quarters, ginger, garlic and chives. She is particular about her bean sprouts. They have to be fresh, so she grows her own mung beans. The result is a garnish with a crisp, juicy crunch.
Thai iced tea with sweetened condensed milk and a serving of Chef Hasna’s signature Pad Thai make a delicious lunch.
Independent photo/Abagael Giles
According to Hasna, there is a general misconception in America that authentic Thai food is all spicy and difficult to digest. “Some dishes aren’t spicy at all. Real Thai food has herbs that help you digest, like tamarind,” she said. Another hallmark of authenticity: fresh, crisp vegetables and high-quality sauces. “I only cook with grade A soy sauce and fish sauce.”
Hasna’s food truck is hard to miss. It has orange shingles on the sides and a red roof, which she installed herself. The delicate wood trim around the roof was purchased on a trip to Thailand and inspired by the roof of a temple. The interior is immaculate but homey. Her organized workspace features a state-of-the-art gas stove and sparkling countertops. She has a welcome mat at the door, and she cooks in a floral apron.
Chef Hasna uses organic ingredients. She occasionally makes exceptions to this rule to include truly authentic Thai ingredients, and she can show and explain any of the labels associated with her food to a customer. She also offers an extensive vegetarian menu that features red and green curries with tofu and Thai dimsum or Ka Nom Jeap, marinated tofu and fresh carrots wrapped in a delicate wheat wrapper. For just $2, you can try Sa La Pao, a beautiful meringue-shaped white wheat bun filled with savory minced pork and egg or sweet red bean. If you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, try her mango sticky rice for $6. Black rice simmered in coconut milk married with fresh, organic mango makes this a whole-grain summery treat.
During the summers, Hasna gets up early to cook for the food truck and for Montpelier’s Hunger Mountain Co-op, which also sells her dishes at its deli. She works from 4 a.m. to about 2 p.m., when she takes a midday break to garden or hit the gym at Vermont Sun, where she parks her food truck (co-owner and vegetarian Shelly Hare was the inspiration for her tofu dimsum). She reopens for dinner from 4-6 p.m. in the summer. Chef Hasna spends several hours harvesting and chopping vegetables as part of her daily prep work. She does this at night, so John typically cooks dinner for her. She loves his Caesar salad recipe. When the food truck is closed or slows down in the winter, she cooks for him. Her favorite place to eat out in Middlebury is Two Brothers Tavern.
The Filans spend three months a year in Thailand, at Hasna’s homes in Bangkok and Rayong. “Vermont is beautiful in the summer,” said Hasna, who said she likes to escape the cold in the winter. That’s part of why she loves owning a food truck. “If you have a restaurant, your life is in your kitchen,” Hasna said. She prefers the balance and seasonal lifestyle a food truck offers.
When asked if she has adapted any of her family recipes to suit Vermonters’ palates, she smiled. “Americans don’t like fish sauce, so I don’t put fish sauce in my pad Thai. I use table salt instead.” She stopped using it as her mother’s recipe directed because she overheard customers at another Thai restaurant complain the stir-fry was “too fishy.” It also lets her make a vegetarian pad thai.
Chef Hasna does use fish sauce in her curries, and recommended Golden Boy brand, which is made in her hometown of Rayong from fermented anchovies caught in the Gulf of Thailand.
When pressed, she also confessed that she sometimes cooks herself extra spicy curries. “My husband can’t take the heat like I can.” If you ask for a little extra spice, she’s happy to deliver.
Thai@Home is located in the Vermont Sun parking lot at 812 Exchange St. in Middlebury. Find daily specials and menu staples Monday through Friday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. from April through October and at the Middlebury Farmer’s Market from May through October.
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