A Small Piece of Asia in Zagreb

Asian food, especially Asian street food is no big news here, same as in the rest of Europe. Zagreb has had its share of different Asian food establishments for decades now, yet a new wave of Asian street food has definitely been sweeping the city lately.

Ethnic eateries are often a pig in a poke, you never know if it will be great or just a bad imitation of the original. But if you have an authentic cook coming from the country whose cuisine the place represents, serving you dishes from his or her childhood and doing it honestly and unpretentiously, you can't go wrong. Especially if it's a small-scale, sustainable business, one of those places that build their customer base on the word of mouth. Let me present you two amazing and admirable Asian ladies who have brought a pure taste of Thailand and Japan to Zagreb.

“Great success – Khaos Thai is now recommended by the respected Gault&Millau guide.” Image credit: Khaos Thai FB

In downtown Zagreb, just outside the Importanne Galleria shopping mall, there's a kiosk, which used to be just another random fast food joint for years. Then suddenly, two years ago, it became the place with the best Pad Thai in Zagreb. It was a sensation and people would wait for their bowl of fresh Thai food for an hour if they had to. What happened? Energetic Saralee Madnui from south Thailand opened a little place called Khaos Thai. A story typical for many ex-pats, the reason why she moved to Zagreb was love. Khaos Thai's menu is limited, just like the kitchen itself. The entire kiosk IS the kitchen, and you can watch the cooking action while you are waiting to pick up your meal. Spring rolls, Tom Yum, Por Pia, green curry, stir fry... All the classics are here. And they are always topped with a wide smile.

Image credit: Taste of Croatia

Around the same time when Saralee found her new home in Zagreb, Maki Nagayoshi came here from Japan. At first she worked at Gyoza Sake & Bar, the legendary tiny eatery in Boškovićeva Street, which taught the foodies of Zagreb that there is much more to Japanese cuisine than sushi and sashimi. Maki's presence was strongly felt because her kindness and friendliness really shone through. It closed down this year, but Maki opened her own business called Pink Pig in 2019. Located in a tucked away kitchenette in Svetice, just across Maksimir Stadium, it really is a one-woman band. Maki cooks, Maki delivers, and also does catering. Every day there's a different daily menu, occasionally there are some specials, and there's often a personal story attached to them. She has background in macrobiotics and most of the dishes are vegan or vegetarian, with carefully selected ingredients.

“Saralee from Khaos Thai also likes to share her knowledge at Thai cooking classes.” Image credit: Khaos Thai FB

A lot of love and care is put into each dish, both in the case of Khaos Thai and Pink Pig. Their guideline is their local tradition, because the dishes are genuine, prepared in the same simple way they would have been prepared in Thailand or Japan. No fusion, no meddling with the recipes or adjusting them to finicky European palates. And what's most important, both with Saralee and Maki you can sense their respect for food, and the heartfelt pride and gratitude they feel when they make a customer happy. Although Zagreb is very far from Asia in any possible way, Saralee's and Maki's kitchens are probably the best places in Zagreb to taste and experience a piece of real Thailand or Japan.

“Everything that comes from Maki’s kitchen comes out with a smile.” Image credit: Pink Pig Fast Food FB

Header image credit: Pink Pig Fast Food FB

Author: Morana Zibar / Taste of Croatia