Thailand

Mae Asian Eatery Adds Thai-American Brunch

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Central Square restaurant Mâe Asian Eatery offers a brunch menu that combines Thai and American classics.


Mâe Asian Eatery’s wings and waffles are served with sriracha maple syrup and a “Mâe” Khong cocktail with bael juice, berry vodka and Mekhong, a Thai spirit similar to spiced rum. /Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Yuri Asawasittikit’s childhood kitchen reminded her of a peacock. Some 30 years ago, in Phetchabun province, north of central Thailand, the teal hue seemed fashionable to her. The oven is a German brand Miele, which Asawasittikit had to translate first into English and then into Thai.

Today, she runs the cozy Mâe Asian Eatery restaurant in Cambridge with her husband Anil Rayasam. “Mâe” means “mother” in Thai, and the restaurant’s menu is derived from recipes that Asawasittikit learned and continues to learn from her mother – a fairly traditional mix of Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. Now, Asawasittikit and Rayasam are adding something new to Mâe, a tribute to Asawasittikit’s mother in a different way: Thai-American brunch.

Since the age of eight, Asawasittikit has been cooking in that peacock-style kitchen with her mother, Nantiya. They first tackled the char siew problem together, she recalls. “It was a frustrating moment, but overall it was a great time cooking with my mom while my dad taste-tested and critiqued behind the scenes,” she said. “I think it was that interaction that led me to the Johnson & Johnson Welsh Culinary Program.”

The family’s culinary skills are not limited to Thai food: Asawasittikit’s father was born in Thailand to a family of Chinese immigrants, so Asawasittikit’s mother also mastered Chinese recipes. (Mâe’s menu also includes Vietnamese food, something Asawasittikit fell in love with in college. Her friend’s family owns a Vietnamese restaurant in Bangkok, and it’s become a regular for her. “Vietnamese food is very similar to Thai food, a lot Fresh herbs and veggies you can enjoy as a family,” she says.)

A mother poses with her adult daughter on a busy sidewalk outdoors, smiling for the camera.

Yuri Asawasittikit with mother Nantiya a few years ago. / Courtesy photo

“All my college friends from Bangkok loved my mom’s cooking so much that they still talk about it to this day,” Asawasittikit said. “Her famous dishes are lard, northern duck; moo satay, pork satay; and kao men gai, Hainanese chicken rice.”

On Asawasittikit’s most recent trip back to Thailand—twice in 2022 and 2023, for a total of about 10 months—she spent a lot of time cooking with her mother, whose experiments centered around brunch. Especially the waffles. “My mom has a bit of a sweet tooth, just like me,” Asawasittikit said. “I don’t remember when she first tried waffles, but she was obsessed and wanted to make them at home, so we did.” They played around with different toppings and fillings; Asawasittikit’s mom favored young coconut , sometimes with raisins, and a little honey and bananas. “It was amazing to be with my mom making the waffles she loves,” Asawasittikit said. “It’s still frustrating (at times) but we’ll have lasting memories.”

These recent trips to Thailand have inspired Mâe’s new brunch menu – available every Saturday from 10 June. There, she split her time between Phetchabun and Bangkok, where her dining out included stops at American-style brunch spots like Fran’s Brunch & Greens, which serve menu-heavy pancakes, thick slices of bacon, and velvety scrambled eggs and a Monte Cristo sandwich.

Brunch at Mâe, she says, “reminiscent of making waffles for my mom and discovering her favorite Western food.” So, don’t expect simple Thai breakfast or brunch here—it’s more of a fusion, Inspired by Northeastern Thai and American cuisine.

The pasta is a mix of sausage slices, fresh basil, fried basil, bamboo shoots, and Thai chilies.

Mâe Asian Eatery’s sai ua pasta with bird’s eye chilli and basil olive oil. /Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Waffles are of course on the menu. It’s not a combination of young coconut and raisins, but something simpler to start with: lightly sweet vanilla waffles topped with crispy double fried chicken wings, topped with a generous dose of sriracha maple syrup. This dish would go really well at any American brunch place or those found all over Bangkok. Likewise, the rest of Mâe’s opening brunch menu—a neat choice that will join some favorites from the usual dinner menu—is pure comfort food in both countries: smoked pork belly tacos with tomato sauce and A little spicy mayonnaise. Pork belly again, but in Benedict form – with hollandaise sauce, of course. Pasta with sai ua, a slightly spicy northern Thai sausage, tossed with bird’s eye chilli, olive oil infused with basil, and garnished with fried and fresh basil.

The pasta is a bit of a nod to Greyhound Café, a Thai chain with menu influences from the US, Italy and beyond. Asawasittikit and Rayasam are fans of the restaurant, especially its pasta with dried gourami (a type of fish), so it seemed natural to include pasta on the Mâe menu, even though its lunch and dinner menus are packed with more dishes. Traditional Thai noodle rice or egg.

“When traveling to Thailand for the first time, Greyhound is a good first stop for easing yourself into Thai food,” says Asawasittikit. “We like to think of our brunch as doing the same thing: a great place for those who haven’t eaten Thai food before. For people in the market, it should ease them into Thai flavors.”

A handful of brunch cocktails also help Mâe diners unwind—straight into vacation mode. One of the most refreshing is Pahk Rohn, named after a Thai phrase meaning “summer vacation”: ginger beer, mango vodka and a dash of lime juice. “We just want people to feel like they’re in Thailand when they’re here,” says Rayasam, who mixes the cocktails. “Whether they’re on their lunch break or having dinner after get off work, we want them to be ‘out of the office.'”

Two tacos stand upright in a metal stand next to a yellow tropical cocktail.

Mâe Asian Eatery’s smoked pork belly tacos are served with pickled carrots and radishes, tomato sauce and spicy mayo. Cocktails are Pahk Rohn: ginger beer, mango vodka and lime juice. /Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

There’s also Life on Kata Beach, a Thai sangria with elderflower, guava juice and Mekhong, a Thai spirit reminiscent of spiced rum. Rayasam said it was named after a beach in Phuket. “It’s known for its secluded beaches and calm waters. This is where I went with Yuri and her family on my first trip to Phuket.” The third drink, “Mâe” Khong, is a little more daring, Contains a syrup made from bayberries—hard to find here, but Rayasam can dry it, rehydrate it, and cook it into a syrup. “It looks like blood oranges, but tastes like sweet raspberries Mochiko,” he said. He mixes it with berry vodka and Mekhong for a tangy drink that pairs especially well with the sneaky heat that goes even further the moment you dip into a plate of sai ua pasta.

Mâe Asian Eatery opened in late 2018, and 2019 has been a great year for the business, says Rayasam; the 20-seat restaurant is always buzzing. When COVID hit the following year, “we didn’t know what to do, so we never closed,” Rayasam said. “We were looking out for ourselves as well as our employees. Everyone had bills to pay and no one knew what was going on. It was a tough time, but then I got a call from Tracy (Zhang). “

Chang is the chef and owner of Pagu, a short walk from the Mâe. She acted quickly in the early days of the pandemic, co-founding two initiatives aimed at addressing food insecurity: Off Their Plate and Project Restore Us. Through restaurant partnerships, the former delivers deli meals to frontline workers, while the latter focuses on delivering groceries to essential worker families for dietary and cultural needs.

Chang has been a fan of Mâe since it opened and she knew Asawasittikit and Rayasam would be a perfect fit for her show. “Anil and Yuri are a low-key, talented couple,” Chang said. “Not only do they make great food, but they’re also good neighbors: humble, hard-working, problem-solvers who, when you call them, show up at your door two minutes later with a power drill, a vacuum cleaner, or a ladder .”

English muffins are thick with pork belly and eggs, covered in a thick yellow sauce, and served with a side of asparagus.

Spiced Pork Belly Benedict with Sriracha Hollandaise from Mâe Asian Eatery. /Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

So Mâe got involved with Off Their Plate, making a thousand meals a week for nine weeks. “It pays for everything we do,” Rayasam said. “Thankfully, that got us through, and then World Central Kitchen came and did something like that, making food for food banks. Then Project Restore Us came and we turned restaurants into grocery stores and did 100 Boxes of groceries, 100 bags of rice, whatever menu Tracy creates. We’re still doing takeout, but obviously it all helps. We’re lucky to be here.”

Chang said Mâe was a great partner for Off Their Plate and Project Restore Us. “They bring resourcefulness, responsibility and compassion to community feeding projects. We are so lucky to have this gem in our corner.”

Today, the restaurant is open again for indoor dining, with a sizeable patio that more than doubles the seating capacity of Mâe. A stunning blue and gold mural spanning much of a long wall inside the Mekong depicts the Mekong meandering through China, Thailand and Vietnam, an apt metaphor for the restaurant’s eclectic cuisine. The river becomes an intricate dragon – the calling card of artist Ponnapa Prakkamakul. (You might also know her work from one of the most unique bathrooms in town Mahaniyom, where she painted a striking black-light-sensitive mural.)

But when you walk into the Mâe, the first thing you see is the back wall, where the mural continues, with the word “Mother” written in three languages. While the restaurant has been an ode to Asawasittikit’s mother and her culinary skills since its inception, it expresses itself through its delicious presentation of simple Thai (or Vietnamese or Chinese) dishes, from hearty rib khao soi to warm panang curry. this homage. Now, with brunch added, a dish as simple as the plain waffle can strengthen the bond between daughter and mother, even when they’re 8,000 miles apart.

The interior of a small restaurant. One wall is painted with blue and gold frescoes, "Mother" Written in Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese.

Mâe Asian Eatery is an intimate restaurant that seats 20 people. The capacity of the walkway terrace has more than doubled. /Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

781 Main St., Central Square, Cambridge, 617-354-3388, US Asia Network. bookable by Resy.



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