Dish: Tibetan Trader Pad Thai
Roots: Nashville / Finland
Cooking in Nashville since 1988
Though born in Nashville, Sarah Scarborough’s upbringing had a worldly tone from the beginning that gave her wings.
Her mother moved to the United States from Finland at age 26, while working as an airline stewardess.
“Mom wanted us to be smart and empowered,” she says, adding that they weren’t allowed as children to fret about body sizes and appearances. Rather, they feasted on European-style beef casseroles and were taught to appreciate life’s little luxuries like butter. The priorities in her home were pleasure and acceptance over fear: “Are you happy, are you healthy, does your body work?”
Through this love of food and self, Sarah’s mother also taught her children to be open to other cultures.
Sarah left Nashville for college in Connecticut and ended up in Bozeman, Montana through an interest in farming. “My whole life I wanted to be an organic farmer,” she says.
While learning about the land, she worked at a restaurant called the Tibetan Trader alongside friends who also liked plants and cooking. They started the “Saturday Night World Kitchen” to explore various cultures through food.
Also at the Tibetian Trader, she learned a recipe for pad thai that she has carried with her around the world.
“I’ve made it a million times for a million people in a million different countries,” she says.
Handwritten on the back of a printed page inside a spiral bound cookbook from the Madison, Wisconsin-Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition, the Tibetan Trader Pad Thai recipe is splotched with sauce and bedazzled with doodles from Sarah’s hand more than a decade ago.
She’s made adaptations to it along the way. But when she cooks it as the recipe calls for—with brown sugar, fish sauce, chilis, and lime—it takes her back to the place she first discovered the dish.
“That smells like the Tibetan Trader,” she says.
Also at the restaurant, Sarah developed her recipe for chai, and when the Tibetan Trader closed, it became Firepot Chai, the company she has since revived here in Nashville. In the meantime, though, Sarah continued to spread her wings traveling and living in Alaska and New Zealand. She created an additional tea company that she sold to The Republic of Tea and became a buyer for that operation, which sent her to places like Sri Lanka, Japan, England, India, and Nepal.
Sarah returned to Nashville nine years ago. It’s where she met her husband, and it’s where her two children were born.
“I joke that I’m a salmon and came here to spawn,” she says. “Yeah, I have roots here. Nashville doesn’t have an ocean or mountains to climb. But I have to have roots in order to have wings.”