The word “talard” means “market” in Thai. There are three talards in Chicago dedicated to Thai food, but only one Talard Thai Asian Market, the newest and largest. It opened two years ago in Edgewater to provide home cooks with hard-to-find ingredients and Thai expats with snacks they might miss at home.
But walk past bins of holy basil and Thai eggplant, shelves full of jars of curry paste and green curry chips, and freezer compartments full of dumplings and fishballs, and discover the greatest treasure. de Talard: its hot food bar.
Comprised of three Thai cooks, each from a different region of Thailand, the bar serves around 20 dishes a day. Between eight and ten appear daily, and another six to ten appear in a semi-regular rotation: Grilled kebabs, for example, are only available on weekends.
One of the flagship dishes is the papaya salad, which is offered daily and is also available as a mix-at-home version in the take-out section. It is prepared by cook Annie Thumwong, who will only say, through a translator, that she is from northeast Thailand. Its salad combines papaya, dried shrimp, tomatoes, limes and peanuts, and it’s dressed in a special tamarind sauce to make it an addicting mix of sweet, sour and salty.
Each day, pork belly will also make several appearances at the hot sea bass. In its most popular form, it’s coated in batter and fried so that it’s crisp on the outside, but still juicy on the inside. But it also appears in curries and stir-fries. Southern dishes have a peppery side, while northern preparations have a more herbaceous flavor.
The hot food bar is cash only. All dishes are served with sticky rice. For dessert, the prepared food counter sells mung beans that have been pulped and molded into fruit shapes. Customers can take out their food or eat at one of the two folding tables at the back of the store.
When Talard’s founders, Supasin “Pete” Ratchadapronvanich and Simon Atapan, took over the old Golden Pacific Market in 2019, they envisioned a Thai supermarket offering both products that would allow cooks to properly prepare food – like Mike Sula noted it in the Reader, the holy basil makes not the taste of Italian basil – and the junk food they bought at 7-Eleven when they were growing up in Bangkok. They acquired two other business partners, Kittigorn Lirtpanaruk, which also owns Taste of Thai Town and Arun’s (Irving Park’s pioneering fine-dining restaurant open since 1985), and Sutthamas Tetiwat, owner of Bangkok Video in Uptown.
Before the store opened, Ratchadapronvanich and Atapan made deals with distributors in Thailand, New York and Los Angeles to acquire products that were not yet available in Chicago, like Mama instant noodles, which have a cult both in Thailand and in the Thai diaspora.
Chicago’s Thai population in 2019 was 8,000, according to the Pew Research Center, which ranks it fourth among U.S. cities. (Los Angeles has the largest Thai population in the United States at 33,000.) Local Thai community officials told WBEZ in 2020 that there were about 300 Thai restaurants in the metro area, or one in every 33 Thais. . They and other prominent members of the Thai culinary community, like Arun’s Chef Arun Sampathavivat, attributed this to a cultural love of cooking and an entrepreneurial spirit. But that didn’t translate into grocery stores: While Thai food and ingredients can be found in Pan-Asian supermarkets, before Talard opened there were only two markets exclusively devoted to Thais, PNA in Lincoln Square and Thai Food Corporation in Uptown.
Like any good supermarket, Talard also offers cooking supplies and Thai cleaning and personal hygiene products. It’s as close to Bangkok as anyone can get in Chicago.
Talard Thai Asian Market, 5353 N. Broadway, open daily 10 am-8pm.