Chef Emshika Alberini has created a destination restaurant, a TV show, and a New England appreciation for her native cuisine.
Littleton, New Hampshire, is one of those tiny towns along the Eastern seaboard that once you visit you never forget. Located on the edge of the picturesque White Mountains and bounded by the Connecticut River, the tight community has developed a burgeoning culinary, farm, and microbrewery following, becoming a dining destination for road-trippers and tourists from Boston, Maine, and even as far as Mexico and the West Coast.
When Emshika Alberini opened Chang Thai Café in 2008, she managed not only to survive a debilitating recession, but also to create a thriving business, drawing loyal regulars and curious visitors right from the start. She did this all in honor of her sister, Ann-Sriwipha Phathan, who passed away that same year and had always dreamed of opening her own restaurant. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her; her spirit lives on at the restaurant,” Alberini says.
At Chang Thai, the restaurant is indeed a family affair: Alberini’s mother works in the kitchen and her husband helps with the front of the house. Translated, the word Chang means elephant, and to many it is the symbol of friendship, family, good fortune, and happiness.
The American Dream Realized
Alberini came to the U.S. in the early 2000s to attend graduate school in Albany, New York, studying organizational management and actually writing the business plan for a Thai restaurant as part of her degree requirements while she worked part-time as a restaurant server. During school she met her husband, a native of Littleton, and they spent several years working in the corporate world before moving to her husband’s childhood town, growing their family to include two children (now ages 6 and 8), and opening Chang Thai.
“Growing up in Bangkok, I was often at my mother’s and grandmother’s side learning how to cook Thai,” she says. “Since then, I have added my own style, but in keeping with their traditions.”
Those Thai traditions have played well in America. Over the years Chang Thai has garnered a steady following, growing from the small group of eight diners who came on opening night to earning acclaim as one of New Hampshire’s best restaurants, according to local and regional media. And, Alberini has received personal recognition from New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan for her entrepreneurship. Most recently, the restaurateur has garnered public attention through her new cooking show, “Emshika’s Kitchen,” which airs Saturday afternoons on WBIN-TV Boston.
At Chang Thai, Chef Alberini draws from the simple, pronounced flavors of Bangkok dishes. “In Bangkok, nothing is too spicy or too salty or too sweet,” she says. “Everything is very balanced, lighter—not heavy or oily—that’s why it has a desirable taste for Americans.”