Takeaway Tales: Is Sukhothai’s shrimp pad Thai as good at home as in the restaurant?
Thanks to a flood of food delivery apps, it’s now easier than ever for the hungry and housebound to order almost any dish from almost any restaurant. But just because you can order something, should you? We’re taste-testing some of the most popular cravings in town to see how the entrees hold up, and how the at-home version compares to the dining-in experience. Along the way, we’re test-driving the apps that bring the dishes to your door. First up:
What were we in the mood for?
Pad Thai with shrimp from Sukhothai, the de facto choice for downtown Torontonians hungry for Thai (in competition with rival Khao San Road).
What’s the food like at the restaurant?
It’s too big to finish in one sitting. First, a server asks me how hot I want it, and checks if I’m allergic to nuts or cilantro. The mountain of noodles comes with six plump shrimp, a light sprinkling of peanuts, bean sprouts and scallions, with bits of tofu and egg strewn throughout. There’s also a bowl of roasted chili oil, the salty condiment packing an additional toasty, nutty crunch. The noodles are sweet first, tart second, and spicy third, the flavour of tamarind lingering more than any other.
Sold. Now, how was the app’s selection and ordering process?
Uber Eats’ menus are distinguished by spectacular custom photos for each restaurant and most of the individual dishes. When you open the app, the first results are items that can be delivered in 25 minutes or less, which is helpful if you’re in a rush for food. (But not so hungry that you want to get dressed: some of these places are literally on my street, and I could be eating in under 10 minutes.) Another tab highlights restaurants that are new to the service, which keeps things interesting for regular users who crave a new selection.
Similar to rating an UberX driver, the app prompts users to add a tip for their previous delivery, if they didn’t do so at the time. Some other delivery services incorporate tipping into the ordering process, rather than something to be dealt with after the fact. My delivery driver—who gets paid by the kilometre, plus a small fee per delivery—estimates that this results in less than 10 per cent of customers leaving a tip.
How long did delivery take?
My pad Thai arrives shortly after the 50 minute estimate. The app tracks and updates your order in real time, showing you when it is being prepared and when it is being shipped. A map icon shows the courier’s location, vehicle type and time until delivery. It was pretty accurate.
So, how does the delivery version of the food compare?
The delivery version is a little smaller than its restaurant counterpart, but it’s still quite substantial. I expected the residual heat from the container (from Yung Sang, which is locally made, durable and recyclable) to overcook the shrimp, but the six crustaceans still have a soft bite. The noodles are warm if not hot. They glom together in a big puck until I lift them up and toss them a bit. Without a server to ask about allergies, the delivery omits peanuts and cilantro. And there’s no side of roasted chilli oil.
How much did it cost?
$23.05 with tax and tip at Sukhothai; $28.85 with tax, delivery and tip through Uber Eats.
The takeaway: is it worth ordering this dish at home?
The dish holds up pretty well, considering. I had expected the protein to be tight and overcooked. But the shrimp were still juicy. The quality is still high. But I’m old enough to remember that when Uber Eats launched in 2015, they had a radically different model. Participating restaurants produced a few dishes in large volumes. Cars circled the city, loaded with food, so you could have one of these meals at your door in less than 10 minutes. And they withheld the delivery fee, baiting many customers to build loyalty to a platform that was then switched to a service that merely couriers food at the same speed as every other delivery company in the city.
Sukhothai is available through Uber Eats and Foodora.