By Natalia Diaz
They say home is where the heart is, but I beg to differ – home is where the stomach is. I realized this the first time I wandered into a little cantina named Tuk Tuk right off the Bilbao metro station.
The familiar flavors of ginger and garlic, cilantro and chili mangoes took me right back to Southeast Asia – back to the crowded alleys of Bangkok, still heady with the wonderful sting of spicy tom yum goong. Back to the thatched roof restaurants of Bali, wolfing down platefuls of pork satay. And back to the sunset bars of my favorite island in the Philippines, my home country, sipping mango rum shakes with tipsy friends as the sun melted over the sea.
Nostalgia head rush, ftw!
Indeed, Tuk Tuk is a little slice of Asia in Madrid, an honest-to-goodness culinary corner serving just really good Asian street food with an affordable price tag. And it’s about time too – Tuk Tuk is an oasis in a landscape of cookie-cutter Chinese restaurants and trendy gastro-bars mushrooming all over the city.
And it’s all thanks to Ricardo Alexander, British entrepreneur and Asian food enthusiast. Take a moment to savour that tidbit – a British restaurateur rocking the Asian food scene in the capital of Spain. ¡Viva la globalización!
Tuk Tuk Madrid: Asian comfort food at a reasonable price
Rick developed a passion for Oriental cuisine while living in Asia for much of his life. His life story is fodder for a novel – at 15, he moved to Hong Kong to fulfill a teenage dream to meet Jean-Claude Van Damme. The risk paid off, for not only did he meet his idol, he ended up working as a movie stuntman for ten years.
He then played in a rock band that allowed him to tour extensively around South East Asia, and he eventually spent the next decade of his life living in Thailand, the Philippines and India. It was during this adventurous time in the Far East that he explored the real crucible of Asia’s kaleidoscopic cuisine – the crowded backstreets of his adopted Asian cities. He soon learned to recreate the bold flavors for himself, and these wonderful culinary creations – what he calls “Asian comfort food” – are what grace the menu of Tuk Tuk today.
“Our menu is completely designed around what I would eat in everyday life. It’s fun food!” Rick shares, “It’s the one thing I’ve never seen on an Asian menu in Madrid. I’ve never been to a Thai restaurant here and had a fried egg on my meal. In Thailand, almost every meal you have has a fried egg on top of it.” He then points to a Tuk Tuk favorite, the gai pad grapao kai dao, a Thai street food staple of stir fried chicken with basil and chillies, topped off beautifully with a fried egg.
Another Tuk Tuk standout that is arguably a rare phenomenon in Madrid — good service.
“We wanted to give people good value for money and the American style of customer service – people are willing to spend a little more money to feel they are taken care of,” he says.