Khanom Thai – Sweets

Instagram Post 7/11/2019

When I approach Khanom Thai’s stall (number 10) with ethnojunket guests in tow and they ask, “What’s good here?” I can honestly answer, “Everything.” With a focus on sweets but not to the exclusion of savories (that’s another post), Khanom Thai obviates the need to seek out another venue for dessert after eating our way though Elmhurst’s HK Food Court (82-02 45th Ave in Queens).

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These are Bean Cakes with Salted Egg. Soft, flaky, swirly layers of creamy, tissuey dough swathe a confection of mung bean paste surrounding a heart of salted egg yolk. But don’t deconstruct it: just take a bite and taste why it’s remarkable. When you look closely and stop to think about it, these are really a sweet metaphor for the egg reimagined, its white shell protecting its two-tone sunny contents.


Coconut Pancakes, griddled fresh, right before your hungry eyes, warm and chewy. The color difference isn’t chocolate vs something else; it’s merely two different types of ground rice batter.


Obscenely decadent dessert: rich vanilla ice cream, sliced bananas and chocolate sauce oozing onto a warm roti, rainbow nonpareils for a bit of crunch. ’Nuff said.
 
 

Lamoon

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as four posts, published on 4/24, 4/27, and 5/19/2018, and 7/4/2019.


Northern Thai food is staking a claim in NYC and Lamoon at 81-40 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens is the latest leader in the Chiang Mai charge. Don’t confuse Bangkok Thai and Isaan Thai (Northeast Thailand) cuisines with that of Northern Thailand; it’s spicy for sure, but it tends to be more herbal and less sweet. The word “lamoon” carries the connotations of delicate, mild, tender, or taking care, and there’s no doubt that they pamper their guests with flavorful dishes prepared with tender loving care, but they’re not shy about presenting authentically spicy food to which the words delicate or mild would never apply. Try powerful, intense, exhilarating, or just plain amazing. If Otto is there, let him be your guide; he’s extremely helpful.

(Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)From the appetizer section: Kung Pare, Crispy Baby Shrimp Cloud. Crispy indeed and especially tasty dipped in the accompanying sweet sauce – I’d say you’ll be on Cloud 9 with this one, but I give it a 10 for sure.

Khao Kun Jin – Jasmine Rice and Ground Pork Marinated in Pork Blood. Don’t let the pork blood put you off; it provides color and a depth of flavor that makes this one something special. Once again, don’t neglect the sauce (this one is different) – it uplifts the dish and will do the same for your spirits!

Also from the appetizers section of the menu, fried fermented pork ribs, garlicky and distinctive.

Kanom Jeen Nam Ngeau. Kanom Jeen (you may have seen it as khanom chin) are the familiar rice noodles that are wallowing unseen at the bottom of this bowl; Nam Ngeau (aka nam ngiao) is the soup in which they are luxuriating. Spicy, replete with pork, pork ribs, cubes of pork blood (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it), and tomatoes, there’s a separate side dish of crisp, cool bean sprouts, scallions, and pickled veggies (it keeps the cool side cool and the hot side hot) for mixing in.

Fried Rice Nam Prik Noom. We ordered this one with chicken but only because we were already committed to consuming a pigful of pork. Delicious to be sure, but the addition of their homemade nam prik noom (roasted green chili paste) pitched it over the top. When you visit Lamoon, make sure you try this amazing smoky, spicy condiment. (I wonder if I can get a portion of it to go; it’s that good.)

Tum Kanoon – crafted from shredded green jackfruit, ground pork, homemade shrimp paste, tomato, makrut lime leaves, cilantro and scallion. Served with sticky rice (always eaten with the fingers in Thailand) and some crispy pork rinds (think chicharrones but Thai) on the side. From the Main Course section of the menu, and another winner!

Sai Aua – you might have seen it as Sai Oua – is classic Northern Thai ground pork sausage made with chili paste, makrut lime leaves, lemongrass, cilantro, and pork ear and served up with contrasting cooling cucumber. My only complaint is that I should have ordered more! A signature dish at Lamoon.

Thai Tea Pad Thai, a new member of the family. The noodles are prepared with Thai tea, a universal favorite, along with a palette of ingredients that results in a dish that doesn’t taste like you’d expect it to from its name – certainly not seasoned like the Pad Thai you’re accustomed to – and those shrimp were perfect.
 
 
Lamoon is located at at 81-40 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens.
 
 

Chao Thai – Grilled Sausages

Instagram Post 6/18/2019

So since I was in Elmhurst, I went to Chao Thai, the tiny Thai restaurant at 85-03 Whitney Ave. Just for kicks, I ordered the two grilled pork sausages offered on their appetizers menu: Northern Thai Sausage (A21) and E-San Thai Sausage (A22) with an eye toward delineating a simple distinction between the two for anyone curious. Both come with lettuce, sliced onion, shredded ginger, and the slender Thai peppers often called bird’s eye chilies.

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They’re very different, of course: Northern Thai Sausage (ไส้อั่ว), transliterated as “sai oua” and similar variants, highlights spicy notes of red curry paste.


E-San Thai Sausage, (E-San refers to Northeastern Thailand and also sports many spellings like “Isan”) is called “sai krok Isan” (ไส้กรอกอีสาน) and can be distinguished by its fermented flavor profile.

My understanding is that “sai” which appears in both names, among its many definitions means intestine in this case – or casing if you prefer 😉.

Which is better? Depends on what you’re in the mood for (you knew I was going to say that) but if I were introducing someone to Thai sausage for the first time, I’d probably opt for the sai oua only because for a newbie, spice is usually easier to get past than funk!
 
 

Songkran Festival

Instagram Post 5/22/2019

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Songkran is Thailand’s New Year and last month there were two opportunities to celebrate along Woodside Ave in Elmhurst, Queens where we found this treat. IMO, it manages to incorporate each of the most fundamental elements of Southeast Asian sweets into a perfect singularity: pandan, sticky rice, coconut milk, and durian.

Combine them, and the result is to dessert as Euler’s Identity is to mathematics. And if you know what I’m talking about, we can be best friends forever. 😉
 
 

Eat Gai

Instagram Post 5/20/2019

Gai is Thai for chicken, and if you want to eat gai, Eat Gai is the place to do it. But it’s not just random chicken; there are two specialties and both are exemplary.

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Khao Man Gai is Thailand’s answer to Hainanese Chicken, but the exquisitely tender, poached chicken is only part of the story; the rice, the broth, and the sauce are where the chef’s talents can shine – and here they do just that. Khao means rice and Man means oily or fatty so the name is approximately oily rice chicken; but notice that rice – oh, that chickeny, gingery rice – comes first. A cup of chicken broth is traditionally served alongside (not shown here) but it’s not your everyday, thin, afterthought of a chicken broth; one sip unleashes a rich, collagen laden stock shock, pointed up by a float of cilantro. Three custom sauces are raveworthy as well: spicy green chili sauce, amazing brown ginger sauce, and black sweet soy sauce round out the dish along with fresh cilantro and cucumber. Check out the bits of chicken gizzard and liver that are neatly tucked away as well.

Southern Thai Fried Chicken Wings. If you’re a fan of jumbo, crispy, meaty fried chicken wings, you’ve found a home. Coated with Thai inflected seasonings, lightly pickled veggies on the side and that spicy sweet sauce that’s the perfect complement for Thai chicken, you might not want to share. Just sayin’.

Eat Gai is in booth 46 at the new Essex Market, 88 Essex Street (crossing Delancey from the old Essex Street Market) in Manhattan.
 
 

Boran

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as six posts, published on April 4 through 10, 2019.


On very rare occasion, I venture into a restaurant and know after a few bites that there is no choice but to return and work my way through the entire menu. That’s how the story begins at Boran, 462 Court St in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Five of us enjoyed a compelling Thai meal (from multiple regions of Thailand I should add) that started magnificently and kept getting better with each course. Note that the selections I’m covering can be found in the Authentic Style (sometimes identified as “signature”) part of the menu or among the daily specials; they’re not included on the take-out menu or elsewhere on the dine-in menu.

Here they are, in no special order. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)

Meang Kham

There are some foods that are meant to be popped into one’s mouth whole, no biting allowed – Indian pani puri comes to mind. These are Meang Kham: dried shrimp, roasted coconut, roasted peanuts, shallots, ginger, lime and sweet shrimp paste all nestled in a betel leaf; open wide and let the flavors explode in your mouth.

Mixed Appetizers

This platter featured some universal favorites including chicken satay, grilled honey pork, Northern Thai style sausage (sai oua), and an assortment of tasty fried crispy treats, but a particular delight for me was the Sa Cu Sai Moo (you’ll see alternate spellings elsewhere) shown at the top of the photo reposing in their spoons. I first tasted these pork-filled steamed tapioca dumplings in a Thai restaurant in Manhattan that closed decades ago and have had difficulty finding them since; they’re often available with a peanut filling instead of pork, but that’s just not a moo-ving experience 😉. They’re also available as an appetizer item themselves, not as part of a mixed platter. Definitely try them!

Meang Pla Tood

Another flavor/texture bomb was Meang Pla Tood, one of their signature dishes: meang (you might see miang) refers to food wrapped in leaves, pla is fish, tood (you might see tod) means deep fried. This is deep fried boneless dorada with cashews and dried shrimp enhanced by ginger, red onion, bits of lime (even the peel) and lemongrass, one of those synergistic devils where the whole definitely exceeds the sum of its parts. Tasty, incredibly crispy fish and crunchy nuts in a perfect blend of sweet, sour, spicy, salty and bitter condiments that characterizes Thai cuisine. Frankly, this dish blew me away.

Khao Knook Gapi Boran

An excellent submission from among Boran’s signature dishes, Khao Knook Gapi Boran. In center stage, shrouded beneath the toss of cilantro, is the soul of this dish: fried rice infused with funky shrimp paste and topped with sweet pork. Decisions to be incorporated ad libitum from twelve o’clock, fried eggs, cucumber, red chilies, bits of pickled long beans, shredded green mango, dried shrimp, chicken sausage and red onion.

Nam Prik Aong

When you see Nam Prik on a Thai menu, you’re venturing into a fiery zone; it’s a condiment made from roasted red chilies, garlic, shallots, lime juice and fish or shrimp paste. Nam Prik Aong (you might see ong) zooms in on Northern Thailand; the dish adds nam prik to ground pork in a tomato-based sauce and is generally served with cucumber and lettuce for wrapping along with pork cracklings (you might see chicharrones 😉), freshly steamed veggies like broccoli and carrots and sweet kabocha squash. This plate also featured Sai Aua (you might see sai ua), addictive, spicy Northern Thai sausage.

Nam Ngeaw

A classic dish from Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Vermicelli rice noodles plus pork that’s been simmered in a spicy, garlicky, tart, tomatoey broth (nam means water, liquid, or juice) served with shredded fresh cabbage, bean sprouts and pickled mustard greens. I can’t think of a flavor that was missing.

Pad Thai

So after all of Boran’s spectacular, authentic, signature dishes I’ve been nattering about, I’ll leave you with just one more: Pad Thai. Now don’t go all anticlimax on me; this is not like any pad thai from your corner we-can-grab-lunch-here restaurant. Swaddled in a blanket of thin omelet, the steamy components maintain their heat as the crispy ingredients linger outside waiting for you to fulfill your role: break it open, mix it well, and enjoy it like you’ve never tasted pad thai before.
 
 
Boran is located at 462 Court St in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
 
 

Ugly Baby

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as four posts, one from my first visit in October 2017 (the first three dishes), the others from a more recent excursion published in March 2019.


If I recall correctly, it’s a cross-cultural superstition and particularly so in Thailand: if you’ve just given birth to a beautiful baby, you proclaim it ugly lest an evil spirit punish your hubris and abduct your newborn. Such is the story behind the name of this outstanding restaurant, Ugly Baby, at 407 Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. The chef, half of the team that graced us with Red Hook’s Kao Soy and Chiang Mai, is back with a vengeance, and authenticity seems to be the name of the game.

Here are a few of the extraordinary dishes we enjoyed. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)

Laab Ped Udon

Spicy duck salad. Could this be the best laab ped I’ve ever had?

Kang Hoh

Northern dry hung le (a curry paste) and red curry paste with pork shoulder, spare ribs and mung bean noodles. Not a dish you see everywhere: you definitely need to try this one!

Kua Kling

The menu describes this as “southern dry eye round curry – brutally spicy”. It was. Not a dry eye in the house! A high spice level – even for me and I have a high tolerance – so I suggest that you get at least one order of sticky rice and do a bit of the beef and a bit of the rice in each bite for balance. That way, you’ll actually get to taste the complex flavors of this dish (it’s not just hot!) and you’ll find it delicious.

Kang Ped

Sting Ray Curry. Topped with betel leaves, this spicy treatment of sting ray was top notch. That cluster of little beads on the right is a stem of green peppercorns; if you’re into cooking, you can find them in Thai markets brined in jars. Highly recommended.

Khao Soi Nuer

Northern egg noodle curry soup with beef shank. A popular street food in Northern Thailand, it’s a complex dish of contrasting textures and complementary flavors authentically executed here.

Khoong Muk Kai Kem

Khoong Muk Kai Kem features shrimp (khoong), squid (muk), and salted egg yolk (kai kem) – assuming I’ve decoded the Thai correctly. I admit to being an avid fan of salted egg yolk in all its forms; here it serves to thicken the sauce and add texture as well as flavor to the seafood. An excellent dish.

Kang Hoy Bai Cha Plu

Mussels, betel leaves, and cha-om in “ugly red curry”. Cha-om are the gossamer leaves of the Acacia pennata tree which can be consumed either raw or cooked; the betel leaves are the larger pieces you see in the photo. This dish is a good example of why I like Ugly Baby so much; another winner.

Lin Moo Yang

Grilled Pig’s Tongue. Lin means tongue, moo means pork (easy to remember because of the barnyard irony), and yang means grilled. Pig’s tongue is enjoyed by many cultures; my first exposure was as a kid – part of a soul food dinner – and I’ve been a fan ever since. Don’t be put off by the idea of tongue; it’s a delicious meat and when it’s grilled, especially Thai style (the cuisine has a way with a grill), it’s unforgettable. Try this one.

Moo Pad Kapi

Pork Belly and Shrimp Paste. You already know moo, pad is a stir fry (Pad Thai, right?), and kapi is shrimp paste. Cooling cucumber on the side, this dish with its red peppers, infusion of funky, salty shrimp paste, and crispy fried shallots perched on top was perfection with its sticky rice accompaniment.
 
 
Ugly Baby is located at 407 Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. One of my absolute favorite Thai restaurants.
 
 

Chicks Isan

Instagram Post 1/22/2019

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Feeling peckish? You might consider a visit to the stall from Chicks Isan that roosts in DeKalb Market, 445 Albee Square West in Brooklyn. If you like chicken wings, you need to try their Zaab Wings – you might see the spelling “zabb” elsewhere but either way it’s your clue that you’re hearing about food from northeast Thailand; the word means flavorful and delicious. Speckled with a crunchy coating combining chili, lime, and mint, they’re crisp, spicy, and not at all greasy.

There’s more to a bird than its wings, however, so we also got an order of Isan Style Grilled Chicken (Kai Yang) marinated with shallot, garlic, turmeric, and coriander root. (Thai cooking commonly uses coriander root along with the stems and leaves; it brings a pungent, earthy quality to the party.) The agreeably grilled half chicken came accompanied by two sauces, the sweet-hot orange colored one you see universally, and a more unusual herby, spicy variety that complemented it distinctively.

Lots more to try from their menu as well….
 
 

Pata Market – Sakoo PakMor

Instagram Post 8/13/2018

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Many years ago I used to frequent a Thai restaurant that offered the street food Sakoo Sai Moo (you might see it as saku) as an appetizer. (Sakoo = tapioca – think sago, sai = stuffed, and moo = pork.) So we have a chewy tapioca starch-based steamed dumpling stuffed with deliciously seasoned pork and peanuts and meant to be consumed wrapped in a lettuce leaf with fresh Thai bird peppers. I was heartbroken when they went out of business and have since been on the lookout for these favorites at Thai prepared food places. Unfortunately, I usually find a sweet version stuffed with peanuts but no pork. Until now. Pata Market at 81-16 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens and their comprehensive grab-n-go spread came to the rescue with a container labeled Sakoo PakMor that contained four peanut dumplings plus two more filled with pork. Yes!
 
 

Pata Market – Sai Oua

Instagram Post 8/9/2018

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Pata Market at 81-16 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens has won me over with their prepared food, particularly the savory items like this Sai Oua. Sai (intestine) oua (stuffed – an apt description of sausage in general) hails from the northern region of Thailand. The stuffing is ground fatty pork with that immediately identifiable, signature northern Thai flavor attributable to chilies plus some combination of shallots, garlic, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime, fish sauce, turmeric and red curry paste. Pata Market’s was right up there with my favorite renditions.

In addition to both sweet and savory items displayed on tables (most of the shop is given over to those), there are freezer cases and reach-in refrigerators protecting perishables and hard-to-find ingredients like crickets and silkworms for the culinarily adventurous.