Making Waffles from Phetchabun to Cambridge: A Daughter’s Love, via Brunch

Central Square restaurant Mâe Asian Eatery debuts a brunch menu that marries Thai and American classics.

Crispy chicken wings sit atop two thin waffles, garnished with a Thai chili pepper and a drizzle of syrup. A pale brown cocktail with a raspberry in it is visible in the background.

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

Yuri Asawasittikit’s childhood kitchen reminded her of a peacock. The greenish-blue hue seemed stylish to her back then, some 30 years ago in Phetchabun, a province of Thailand just a bit north of the center. The oven was Miele, a German brand with a German manual that Asawasittikit had to translate into English first, and then Thai.

See all »

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

Starting at age eight, Asawasittikit would cook in that peacock-esque kitchen with her mother, Nantiya; she recalls that they tackled barbecue pork together first. “It was a frustrating moment but overall a good time cooking with my mom while my dad was taste-testing and criticizing in the background,” she says. “I think this interaction was what led me to enroll in the Johnson & Wales culinary program.”

The family’s cooking repertoire stretches beyond Thai: Asawasittikit’s father was born in Thailand to Chinese immigrants, so Asawasittikit’s mother has mastered Chinese recipes, too. (Mâe’s menu also dips into Vietnamese cuisine, something Asawasittikit fell in love with in college. Her friend’s family had a Vietnamese restaurant in Bangkok, and it became a go-to spot for her. “Vietnamese food is very similar to Thai food with a lot of fresh herbs and greens, something you can enjoy as a family,” she says.)

A mother and her adult daughter pose together, smiling at the camera, outdoors on a busy sidewalk.

A photo of Yuri Asawasittikit with her mother, Nantiya, a few years ago. / Courtesy photo

“All my college friends from Bangkok love my mom’s cooking so much that they still talk about it to this day,” says Asawasittikit. “Her famous dishes are larb ped, northern-style duck; moo satay, pork satay; and khao mun gai, Hainanese chicken rice.”

On Asawasittikit’s most recent trips back to Thailand—two long spells in 2022 and 2023, totaling about 10 months—she spent a lot of time cooking with her mother, and their experiments took a brunch-y turn. Waffles in particular. “My mom has a bit of a sweet tooth, just like myself,” says Asawasittikit. “I don’t remember when she tried her first waffle, but she was hooked and wanted to make it at home, so we did.” They played with different toppings and fillings; Asawasittikit’s mother liked young coconut the best, sometimes with raisins, and with a little bit of honey and banana. “It was nice working with my mom while making waffles to her liking,” says Asawasittikit. “It still got frustrating [at times], but we will have lasting memories.”

These recent Thailand visits inspired Mâe’s new brunch menu—available on Saturdays, starting June 10. While there, she split time between Phetchabun and Bangkok, and her dining out included stops at American-inspired brunch spots like Fran’s Brunch & Greens, with a menu full of pancakes, thick slabs of bacon over velvety scrambled eggs, and Monte Cristo sandwiches.

Mâe’s brunch, she says, is “reminiscent of cooking waffles for my mom and discovering some Western food that she likes.” So, don’t expect straightforward Thai breakfast or brunch items here—it’s more of a fusion, inspired by northeastern Thai and American dishes alike.

Spaghetti is mixed with slices of sausage, fresh basil, fried basil, bamboo shoots, and Thai chilis.

Mâe Asian Eatery’s sai ua spaghetti with bird’s eye chili and basil-infused olive oil. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Waffles, of course, are on the menu. It’s not the young-coconut-and-raisin combo but something a bit simpler to start: a slightly sweet vanilla waffle with crispy, double-fried chicken wings, kicked up with a generous topping of sriracha maple syrup. The dish would be perfectly at home at any American brunch spot, or the American-inspired brunch spots that dot Bangkok. Likewise, the rest of Mâe’s opening brunch menu—a succinct selection that will be joined by a few favorites from the usual dinner menu—is pure comfort food in either country: smoked pork belly tacos with tomatillo sauce and a drizzle of spicy mayo. Pork belly again, but in Benedict form—with sriracha hollandaise, naturally. Spaghetti with sai ua, a northern Thai sausage with a bit of heat, tossed with bird’s eye chilies, basil-infused olive oil, and a garnish of fried and fresh basil.

The spaghetti is a bit of a nod to Greyhound Café, a Thai chain with a menu influenced by the U.S., Italy, and beyond. Asawasittikit and Rayasam are fans of the restaurant, and particularly its spaghetti with dried gourami (a type of fish), so it seems natural to include spaghetti on the Mâe menu, even as its lunch and dinner menus are packed with more traditionally Thai noodles of rice or egg.

“When traveling to Thailand for the first time, Greyhound is a good first stop to ease yourself into Thai cuisine,” says Asawasittikit.  “We would like to think of our brunch as doing the same thing: For those who have not had Thai dishes before, this should ease them into Thai flavors.”

A handful of brunch cocktails will help ease Mâe’s diners, too—right into vacation mode. The most refreshing of the bunch, Pahk Rohn, is named for a Thai phrase meaning “summer break”: ginger beer, mango vodka, and a splash of lime juice. “We just want people to feel like they’re in Thailand while they’re here,” says Rayasam, who came up with the cocktails. “Whether they’re on their lunch break or dinner after work, we just want them to be ‘out of office.’”

Two tacos are held upright in a metal holder with a yellow tropical cocktail to the side.

Mâe Asian Eatery’s smoked pork belly tacos with pickled carrots and radish, tomatillo sauce, and spicy mayo. The cocktail is the Pahk Rohn: ginger beer, mango vodka, and lime juice. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

There’s also a Thai-style sangria, Life on Kata Beach, with elderflower, guava juice, and Mekhong, a Thai spirit reminiscent of spiced rum. It’s named for a beach on Phuket, says Rayasam. “It’s known for its secluded beaches and calm waters. It’s a place that I went to with Yuri and her family when I went to Phuket for the first time.” A third drink, the “Mâe” Khong, goes a little bolder in flavor, featuring syrup made from bael fruit—hard to find around here, but Rayasam is able to get it in dried form, rehydrate it, and boil it down into syrup. “It looks like blood orange but tastes like sweet tamarind,” he says. He combines it with berry vodka and Mekhong for a sturdy drink that pairs particularly well with the sneaky heat that builds the farther you get into a plate of sai ua spaghetti.

Mâe Asian Eatery opened at the end of 2018, and 2019 was a fantastic year for the business, says Rayasam; the 20-seat restaurant was always bustling. When COVID hit the following year, “we didn’t know what to do, so we never closed,” says Rayasam. “We were thinking of ourselves but also 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 [Chang].”

Chang is the chef and owner of Pagu, a restaurant just a short walk away from Mâe. She sprang to action in the early days of the pandemic, cofounding two initiatives aimed at battling food insecurity: Off Their Plate and Project Restore Us. Through restaurant partnerships, the former initiative got cooked meals in the hands of frontline workers, while the latter focused on delivering groceries to essential worker families, tailored to dietary and cultural needs.

A fan of Mâe since its opening, Chang knew that Asawasittikit and Rayasam would be a perfect fit for her programs. “Anil and Yuri are a talented couple that fly below the radar,” says Chang. “Not only are they making delicious food, they’re also good neighbors: humble, hard-working, problem-solving folks who, when you give them a call, are at your door two minutes later with a power drill, wet vac, or ladder.”

Thick pork belly and eggs sit atop an English muffin, smothered in a thick yellow sauce, with a side of asparagus.

Mâe Asian Eatery’s spiced pork belly Benedict with sriracha hollandaise. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

And so Mâe got involved with Off Their Plate, making a thousand meals a week for nine weeks. “It covered all our expenses,” says Rayasam. “Thankfully, that got us through, and then World Central Kitchen came and did something similar, adapted to making food for food banks. And then Project Restore Us came, and we transformed the restaurant into a grocery store, doing 100 boxes of groceries, 100 bags of rice, whatever menu Tracy created. We were still doing takeout, too, but obviously all this helped. We’re fortunate to be here.”

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

Nowadays, the restaurant’s open for indoor dining again, and there’s a sizable patio, too, that more than doubles Mâe’s seating. A stunning blue and gold mural spans most of a long wall inside Mâe, depicting the Mekong River snaking through China, Thailand, and Vietnam, an apt metaphor for the restaurant’s mix of cuisines. The river turns into an intricate dragon—a calling card of the artist, Ponnapa Prakkamakul. (You might also know her work from one of the most unique bathrooms in town at Mahaniyom, where she painted an eye-catching, black-light responsive mural.)

When you walk into Mâe, though, the first wall your eyes are drawn to is at the back, where the mural continues, featuring the word for mother in the three languages. While the restaurant, from the start, has been an ode to Asawasittikit’s mother and her cooking, that tribute has been presented through delicious takes on straightforward Thai (or Vietnamese, or Chinese) dishes, from hearty short rib khao soi to warming panang curry. Now, with the addition of brunch, a dish as simple as the humble waffle serves to strengthen the bond between a daughter and her mother even when they’re 8,000 miles apart.

Interior of a small restaurant. One wall is painted with a blue and gold mural with "mother" written in Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese.

Mâe Asian Eatery is an intimate restaurant seating 20 inside. A sidewalk patio more than doubles the capacity. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

781 Main St., Central Square, Cambridge, 617-354-3388, Reservations available via Resy.