As we walked into Asia Market, Sinin Um stepped out to a bar-like counter, brushing her hands on her apron. After chatting for a few minutes she slipped back to the kitchen to make her own recipe of Thai iced tea. She reappeared a few moments later with a bright orange liquid poured over ice and sweetened with milk to give it a smooth flavor.
Asia Market, located at 3405 S. Main St. in Elkhart, has been open for nearly six years under two roofs. Four years ago, it moved into a new building to be closer to the road. Now, Sinin and her husband, Ohm, have decided to take it to the next level and show shoppers everything the stocked shelves are capable of.
For the past six months, they have been preparing to open a restaurant on the right half of the building. Originally, the plan was to offer carryout and delivery service only, but the Ums decided along the way that offering a dining room was important to the experience they wanted to create.
On Saturday, July 5, they opened the doors to the first Asian dining experience of its kind — if patrons like the meal that they have there, they can buy every ingredient off the shelves just a few feet away.
Some of the most popular items so far, the Ums said, have been Pad Thai, orange chicken, lo mein and bubble tea. Ohm said he has noticed people searching out raw meals like Tom Yum, a fish-based spicy and sour soup, perhaps to stay a bit more health conscious.
On our visit, Sinin emerged again roughly two minutes later with a bowl of Pho noodles. The dish is made with rice noodles, beef broth, herbs and slices of beef and meatballs. Ask for the chili paste hot sauce they keep tucked behind the counter for an extra punch of heat.
Meanwhile, Sinin’s husband, Ohm, talked over his shoulder about the health benefits of rice noodles as he slipped off to help a customer wandering in the market aisles. Sinin continued to emerge with plates of shrimp Pad Thai, a pork banh mi (a Vietnamese sub sandwich) and spring and shrimp rolls — all in the space of about five minutes.
Each dish rings up for under $8 and can most can feed two. The banh mi is $2.99 and shrimp rolls are $1 each.
The ingredients are prepped each day at 9 a.m. to make cooking throughout the day a speedy process.
The restaurant has been netting customers so far with nothing more than word of mouth and a few yard signs out front.
Sinin Um and her husband they they believe they are offering something no one else is.
“If you go to most Thai restaurants, they don’t feel Asian,” Sinin Um said. “You can’t sit and talk the way we do here.”
Um taught herself to cook under the guidance of a Thai friend. Now she can walk customers through how to cook any item on the menu (her homemade Pad Thai sauce is a strict ratio of tamarind powder, brown sugar and fish sauce).
They are right about one thing: There isn’t anywhere else in town to get a cheap, healthy Thai meal and learn to make it over good conversation.
The restaurant at Asia Market is open Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
For to-go or call-ahead orders, call 574-333-3764 or 574-551-1790.