Sunday, December 20, 2009

Busara Thai Cuisine, 404 36th Street

UPDATE**It has come to my attention that Busara may not be as vegan-friendly as I was told by the staff there. The review below may therefore contain inaccuracies. It is possible that there is fish sauce in the food items that are supposed to be vegetarian and vegan, particularly the curry. I hope to follow up with the restaurant owners / managers in the near future, and I will let you know what their official response to this information is. Thanks to those of you who shared with me your experiences and information about this restaurant. I rely on the integrity and honesty of local businesses when obtaining my information for these posts, so it is a serious thing for me to learn that I may have believed false information that was given to me.  Please know I will look into this matter further, and please always feel free to share with me your own experiences with local restaurants so we can continue to help each other out and remind local businesses that their integrity matters. 6/9/13 CM **SECOND UPDATE: 9/15/2013 Busara contacted me via email to explain that their vegetarian curries and items are indeed vegetarian. I have posted an update that includes their email to me, and I am hopeful that they are being honest. I appreciate that they took the time to contact me, and I plan to dine there again and write another review in the near future. CM**

Since Bellingham has a number of Thai restaurants, one would think it would not be difficult to find one with good vegetarian/vegan options. Unfortunately, this is harder than you might first suppose, particularly because of the abundance of fish-based flavorings that are frequently part of Thai sauces. Luckily, Busara does not use any fish-based seasonings in any of their five vegetarian menu choices.About a week or so ago, my husband and I decided to have lunch at Busara since we had heard they were vegan-friendly and had some tasty dishes. We were there in the afternoon around lunch time and it wasn't very busy. There was one waitress working, who while not overly effusive and didn't smile much seemed friendly enough in that she was not at all rude. She let me ask my usual questions and I found out their tofu is not cooked in the same place as the meat, or fried in the same oil. She also brought me a salad instead of the soup that has egg in it, which was very considerate.

The jasmine tea was really fragrant and warm and good. The peanut sauce dressing on the salad was a little on the sweet side for my taste, but still I ate it and again I appreciated the substitution. I ordered the curry vegetable dish with tofu and my husband ordered a special item that had a garlic sauce base that I thought was a little on the oily side but that he really enjoyed. My tofu dish was ok, but I am afraid I have been ruined by my experience in Maui where I had the best curry of my life at Aloha Thai. The curry sauce to me seemed a little watery and runny, and although there was nothing really wrong with it, it just wasn't amazing. I could add that as a comparison, I actually prefer the yellow curry with tofu at Boundary Bay.

 Don't get me wrong, as far as Bellingham Thai food goes, Busara is the place I am most likely to go back to if I wanted to go out for Thai food again. Most local Thai places don't have vegan options at all (like The House of Orient, Supon's or On Rice), or they are disappointing in their consistency ( like Pad Thai). As far as the atmosphere of Busara, there was something a little disconcerting to me in the way that the tables were arranged at diagonal angles, mainly in the middle of the room. Aside from the couple of cool-looking tables in the back with the cushion seats where you could sit and then dangle your feet down into the sunken area beneath the tables, there were no cozy intimate tucked away corners, or even tables partially against a wall.Add to this that we were seated in the middle of the dining area, and that the waitress repeatedly paced in a sort of slow loop around the room so that I continually had the sense that she was coming up behind me, I consequently felt a little conspicuous and exposed. I think the atmosphere would have been much more relaxing for me personally had I been at a table that was more private and intimate.

So in summation, my personal choice for vegan-friendly Thai food in Bellingham is definitely Busara, but I am still waiting to be blown away by flavors that come close to the Thai food I had in Maui. I would love it if I could find Thai food that was not overly-dependent on sweeteners or oil for flavor, and so I am actually inspired to do a little research and see what kind of Thai-style home-cooking I can learn to make. It could be fun and I'll keep you posted.


Elizabeth said...

As you know, I am a champion of Busara, but I am not a fan of their lunch menu. I've been there twice for lunch and wasn't very impressed. I prefer their dinner menu. I like several of their noodle dishes and their tofu cashew dish.

CM said...

I will have to check it out for dinner some time. It would be fun to get a group together and eat at the cool tables in the back!

Felicity said...

I love Thai curry, but when I make it at home I just use a bit of sauce with lots of veggies. Much less fattening that way :)

Katie said...

I wanted to love Busara, but both times I've been there it was bland. I go to the On Rice on Samish sometimes, and they say they can make things without fish sauce. I usually get basil fried rice, I wonder if it is actually fishy?

Elizabeth said...

I wasn't impressed with their curry, so I stick with one of their noodle dishes (Pad woon sen jae, no egg). It can be a bit oily, so you might not like it. I have been at the cool tables in the back. They are cool.

I haven't tried many of the Thai places in town. Busara, On Rice (when I first moved here), Pad Thai... There was another one off Meridian I tried with some friends, but I wasn't impressed. The curry tasted like it was made with peanut butter.

I like Busara because I know they don't use fish sauce.

CM said...

I know what you mean Katie becaue I wanted to love it too! :(

On Rice scares me because of the multiple exchanges I have had with a number of employees regarding the prevalence of fish sauce. About a month or two ago I even spoke with someone who works there about listing them in a veg-friendly restaurant guide, and was told that they could "try" to leave the fish ingredients out, but ONLY upon request, and even then she couldn't be sure--AND she was referring specifically to items on the so-called "vegetarian" menu.

This is also consistent with what I have heard from them on numerous other occasions when I have made inquiries of the same nature. As a result, I recommended to the group who was compiling the veg guide to omit On Rice from the list. I would not advise any vegetarian or vegan to ever eat there since by On Rice's own admission, it is likely there will be fish in your food.

I agree Elizabeth that it is nice to know that you don't have to worry about fish sauce with Busara. I will have to try them again someday. :)

Vegan Dogs said...

I would like to recommend Thai House. They are very accommodating there. It is our favorite Thai restaurant in Bellingham. When we order, we just always make sure to mention no fish sauce and they haven't gotten it wrong yet. And they have booths there...I love a restaurant with booths!

Miho said...

I worked at Busara for a bit, and the food that's listed under "vegetarian" is NOT vegetarian! I was curious myself, and I asked, and they said there's already fish paste in the curry so it CANNOT be made vegan! The place is fine but the dishonesty with the customers frustrates me, and I wanted to let you know!

CM said...

Oh no! The whole fish sauce thing really makes it difficult to find vegan Thai food in Bellingham. I appreciate your comment--this is so sad if it is true because I rely heavily on restaurant owners having integrity and honesty. If they are not telling us the truth, then that creates problems, (not to mention liability issues when it comes to religious beliefs and food sensitivities/allergies).

In light of your comments, I will email them and see if they have a response, but if they are not being truthful with their customer base, that is truly shameful and makes it difficult to trust whatever it is they might be saying. So frustrating and disheartening!