This week on Foodstuffs, our weekly look at food and food culture around the region, NHPR's Natasha Haverty visits Payao's Thai Cookin', a food stand at the edge of the woods in Northwood, N.H.
I’d been wondering about Payao’s Thai Cookin’ for a while. It’s this one story wood shack, with a hand painted sign advertising thai food—it surprises me every time it pops up along the Franklin Pierce turnpike between Concord and the Seacoast.
One summer night I ask my friend Brendan to meet me there—he doesn’t find it right away.
"I drove right by it I did not see it at first even though the address was in my phone. And it was only when I saw it that I had to turn around in a kind of trailer park cul-de-sac."
Colored Christmas lights hang over the porch, the smell of steamed noodles and curry wafts out on to the gravel parking lot. Just behind our cars are a meadow and a chicken coop.
Payao Murphy meets us at the order window.
"I’m Payao and I’m in my kitchen."
Payao came to the states from Thailand 40 years ago. For a while she worked at Wal Mart, but she got sick of it, and one day while hauling one too many boxes of produce, ago she got the idea to start this place.
"Do you guys recommend anything?"
"Do you like coconut?"
She stands at her stove, in front of four hot pans full of chili oil and coconut milk, with the pride of someone who’s finally doing what she wants to do.
"I’m make a hot coconut entrée. Red curry. I put my hot coconut entrée."
She stirs curry paste into one of the pans and lowers some egg rolls she’s just folded down into the frying basket.
"Some people they’re here every week. Some times two times a week, they love hot coconut entrée."
Most of the time, Payao’s in here alone—they’re open five days a week, through the afternoon and evening. But sometimes her husband comes and helps her out.
"My names’s Jason, Jason Ricci. Co-owner of Payao’s Thai Kitchen."
Jason’s born and raised in New Hampshire, and he and Payao met here. This is a pretty rural part of the state, surrounded by woods and lakes, and he says a lot of their customers have never had thai food before.
"We had some first customers who were unfamiliar to the Thai food. And it is a little different and the expectation of the taste...some people are a little surprised."
Which is why, Payao says, a lot of people told her they didn’t stand a chance. She says it feels good to prove them wrong.
"Yeah they said we’re not gonna make it, but we did, we made it."
Brendan and I sit down at the picnic table outside to eat. As the sun sets, cars keep pulling in—maybe they’re from down the road, maybe they came a long way, just for more of Payao’s thai cooking.