Inside the shop lot at Taman Nusa Bestari, Tam Zabb is neat, simply laid out, comfortable and unmistakeably Thai with a contemporary touch.
Aphinya, the lady boss, is from Thailand, as are the Chef and crew in the kitchen. Aphinya herself had been a Chief Chef in a Thai restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden for many years. Speaking with Aphinya, I realised that she took great pride and go to great lengths to get the right and freshest ingredients to ensure the authenticity of her Lao and Thai dishes.
Whenever I am at Tam Zabb, I saw Aphinya personally involved in the food preparation and cooking.
Here are some of my personal favourites at Tam Zabb.
Pandan chicken RM12
Pandan chicken is standard fare at Thai food restaurants but at Tam Zabb, there is a basic yet important difference.
Tam Zabb is the only restaurant that I know, so far, that uses fresh chilled chicken instead of frozen chicken to make their pandan chicken.
Tam Zabb's pandan chicken has tender, natural sweetness of fresh chicken - something not possible with frozen chicken. The pandan flavoured chicken is further enhanced by dipping it in the savoury sweet sauce made with palm sugar imported from Thailand.
I like this Stir Fried Chicken with Cashew Nuts. The chicken slices are smacked sharply with the flat of a chopper, coated with a thin batter and then deep fried to a crisp, before stir frying. The end result is a savoury biscuit-like chicken koropok or crackle. Excellent with white rice and even better with cold beer :P
Num Tok Phla (tilapia fish) RM25
Num Tok Phla is a large tilapia fish, its thick flesh diced into chunky cubes, marinaded with hot spices, deep fried and served with union, mint, dried chili peppers and chili powder garnishing.
Fried fish with chili RM22
This fried tilapia with chili is another of my favourites. The thick tilapia fish is fried till the outside is crisp while the insides are still slightly moist. The chili sauce looks fiery but it is actually just mildly spicy.
Grilled catfish RM10
Catfish is common in markets and stalls in Johor but here at Tam Zabb it is BBQed with such finesse that the skin is reduced to a dry savoury parchment while the sweet flesh remains moist with its natural juices and oils.
Classic Larb RM15
Classic Larb is an everyday kind of home cooked meal in Northeast Thailand and Laos. Comfort food made with finely chopped pork and stir fried with spicy, tangy sauces, herbs and spices.
For many people, no Thai meal is complete without a spicy tom yam soup. For Thai food newbies, have no fear, Tam Zabb's tom yam soup is just mildly spicy (as long as you don't bite into the chili peppers :P ) and the ingredients are all market fresh.
Kho Moo Yang or pork neck salad RM16
In JB, this Thai pork dish is available only in Tam Zabb as far as I know. The pork from the chin area is grilled over very slow fire, when cooked, it is thinly sliced and then tossed in a tangy and spicy salad sauce. The resulting meat is tender, naturally sweet and spicy with a bouncy, delightful "QQ" mouth feel. That fearsome looking thick layer of fat did not make me feel congested or bloated at all (making it all the more dangerous :P ). This grilled pork neck is simply marvellous.
Som Tam Thai RM10
Som Tom RM15
Delicious tangy, sweet and savoury Thai appetisers that can really whet one's appetite.
To top off our meals, Tam Zabb serves some marvellous Thai desserts that I've not seen anywhere else in Johor Bahru.
Pumpkin Custard served with Ice Cream RM15
Delightful pumpkin custard served with ice cream. Soft, natural sweetness of the pumpkin is complemented by the saccharin sweetness of ice cream. The contrast of warm custard with cold ice cream makes this treat an interesting experience.
Sticky Rice Mango dessert RM12
Sticky Rice Mango is a common dessert in Thai restaurants. The sweet and slightly tangy mango complemented the sweet sticky rice. At Tam Zabb, the mango is bathed with a milky syrup made with palm sugar extracted from "sea coconut" palms. Delightful on the taste buds and not overly sweet, I found it rather addictive. Unable to find it in Johor markets, Aphinya buys the palm sugar directly from Thailand. This treat is so delicious that somehow, my stomach always found space for this substantial dessert.
Tam Zabb's grilled banana dessert served with a sweet sauce made with Thai sea coconut palm sugar. Aphinya used a mix of local and Thai bananas for this dessert. The local bananas are sweeter, soft and mushy while the Thai ones were firmer, less sweet and slightly fibrous. Using both bananas gave this dessert an interesting mix of flavours and textures.
Tam Zabb has many other delicious authentic Lao and Thai favourites. Here are more popular dishes that I have enjoyed.
Steamed sea bass with garlic, chili and lemon sauce RM30
Steamed glass noodles with shrimps RM15
Pad Thai RM12
Pineapple Rice RM15
Tam Zabb's pineapple rice is the Northeastern variety without the yellow cumin which we have here in Johor and Singapore. The flavours are milder and it is less greasy. The fluffy fried rice is served with diced capsicum, pineapple, carrots, raisins, cashew nuts, chicken and shrimps.
At Tam Zabb, I also like the opportunity to try out traditional Thai beverages.
Wood apple RM5
Lemon grass infusion RM3
Cha-Yen iced tea RM5
We always enjoyed our visits to Tam Zabb very much and will be back regularly. We like the clean and neat environment, easy accessibility and parking, attentive service, reasonable pricing, and the authentic traditional Lao and Thai food was excellent.
Restaurant name: Restoran Tam Zabb Lao and Thai
Address: 48G, Jalan Bestari 3/2, Taman Nusa Bestari, Johor Bahru
Map: http://goo.gl/maps/QBa4W (rough)
GPS 1.481964,103.666407 (rough)
Hours: 11:00am to 11:00pm (Closed in Tuesday)