Soup of the Fortnight: Thai

Posted by Anita on 01.30.06 4:01 PM

thai yellow curry noodles (c)2006 AECWe ate a lot of soup in thailand… many were noodle soups, as one-dish meals, and we also had soup just about every night with dinner. Some of them were the hottest dishes of the evening!

Chiang Mai-Style Curry Noodles (Kao Soi) is actually more like a brothy noodle dish than an actual soup, but I loved them so much on the trip that I feel compelled to include a recipe.

kao soi (c)2006 AECUpdate:I finally managed to scare up all the ingredients I needed to make Kao Soi! I pounded the curry paste this morning (and have the bright-yellow turmeric-stained digits to prove it).

Update again: The kao soi turned out a bit too thick. It was nice, but it definitely didn’t qualify as a soup, or even “soup noodles”, so I thinned it with about 1 cup of chicken broth before refrigerating the leftovers.

At breakfast this morning, it was just like I wanted it.

cooking, recipes, Soup o' the Fortnight, Thai, travel
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Cruisin’ for Asian

Posted by Anita on 01.25.06 5:15 PM

kanom krok pans & thai stoves (c)2006 AECCameron was otherwise occupied yesterday, so I decided to head over to the East Bay and check out a couple of Thai stores in Berkeley. I wasn’t shopping for anything in particular yet, but I wanted to get a sense of what each store had, as I ramp back up to cooking Thai more often. Specifically, I wanted to know if I would be able to find Thai produce like young peppercorns, wild pepper leaves (bai chapoo), holy basil, pea eggplants and such.

Totally bypassing the theme of the afternoon, I started off the day with a stop at House of Chicken and Waffles (444 Embarcadero West, Oakland). I’d go into more detail here, but that’s a topic for another post. (Do you see my nefarious plan for blog domination taking shape? I knew you would.) Anyway, it’s probably a good thing that I was stuffed, or else I would have spent half the afternoon stopping at the taco trucks I passed along the way.

I hesitate to admit publically that I had never been to Berkeley Bowl (2020 Oregon Street, Berkeley), but I suppose I am among friends. I feel pretty safe in saying that this would have to be the best outpost that I’ve ever encountered for hard-to-find produce, including a wide variety of asian vegetables and ‘exotic’ citrus. Impressive bulk-foods section and competitive prices on everyday groceries, too. I wish I lived closer so I could bypass Whole Paycheck. Serious points off for the zoolike atmosphere and parking-as-combat — and remember, I was here on a Monday afternoon. God help you if you go on a weekend.

Next stop was Tuk-Tuk Thai and Asian Market (1581 University Avenue, Berkeley). They’ve got a pretty decent selection of thai foodstuffs in a clean, well-lighted store that won’t scare farangs. The size of a small supermarket, this place has nearly all of the ingredients you’ll need for a thai feast, mostly at prices that are competitive with Erawan and other local southeast-asian markets. (I found many things for less in the International Drive stores below, but you would have to make multiple stops in order to get everything you needed.) They have a small assortment of thai housewares, including special pans for kanom krok, and thai woodstoves!

There’s even a small boutique of hilltribe textiles at the front of the store, and a real tuk-tuk in the middle of the place, looking cleaner than you ever saw one in Bangkok. My first impression wasn’t all that good: the hot-food counter looked pretty sad when I was there (lunchtime on a Monday) — it’s pretty nervy calling it a food court! — and the produce section was abysmally empty and overpriced. You’ll need to stop by Berkeley Bowl on your way home: bird chiles and kaffir lime leaves are twice the price at Tuk-Tuk, and other, more exotic items are non-existent. Still, for packaged dry goods like noodles, curry pastes, and coconut milk, they’ve got you covered.

A couple of blocks further down University, I reacquainted myself with Erawan Trading Market (1463 University Ave). Their tiny storefront about the size of a walk-in closet stocking an amazing array of thai groceries, magazines, and videos. My motto here is: “If you don’t see it, ask” — This isn’t the sort of place that carries 25 bottles of each brand, so you might have overlooked it. Their produce selection wasn’t as good as I remembered it being 3 or 4 years ago, but the folks working there were just as friendly and sweet as ever. I think the free parking at the motel next door is a new addition. The only thing I saw here that I didn’t find elsewhere was Thai cardamom.

Deciding I had some more time to kill, I surfed over to Kasma Loha-unchit’s List of East Bay Markets with Thai Ingredients. I’m probably going to come in to work late on Friday and hit the Old Oakland Farmers’ Market, so I deliberately bypassed the Chinatown listings in favor of those under East Oakland.

First stop was Sun Hop Fat Supermarket (501 East 12th Street, Oakland). Recently relocated to the other end of its block, the new store is a warren of formerly-separate stores. One houses a pretty good selection of produce; another is the dry-goods section; the last is the butcher shop and fishmarket. Oddly enough, it was in the latter that I found the day’s best prices on coconut milk, both Mae Ploy and Chaokoh.

Next was Sontepheap Market (1400 International Blvd., Oakland), which Kasma lists as a 2-star market (excellent). I wasn’t all that impressed — their produce looked especially sad — but maybe I didn’t know what I was missing. They did have a fun little housewares section.

Two tiny shops further down International were a little more interesting. Lao Market (1619 International Blvd.) had a nice selection of produce, including wild pepper leaves and pea eggplants (no wing beans, alas). May Kong (1613 International Blvd.) is just 2 doors down, and seemed to have pretty good prices on dry goods, and stocked my favorite kind of Tianjin preserved vegetable, in the ceramic crock.

Closer to home: Today on my lunch hour I went to Battambang Market (339 Eddy Street, San Francisco) in the Tenderloin, where I got to see a shooting down the block. Three ambulances, eight cop cars, and a few dozen homeless/gawkers. Oh, and fresh turmeric, and cilantro with the roots on, too. I used to shop here for the things I couldn’t find at mainstream markets, and it (along with 99 Ranch in Daly City) will probably still be my go-to market for most things. I was sad to see that the formerly-decent market around the corner, variously known as Angkor Premiere Market or Tenderloin New Market (225 Leavenworth Street) has gone way downhill.


Updated 4/07: A few dozen people a week wind up on this page when searching for Kanom Krok recipes. If that’s ywhat brings you here, my teacher Kasma Loha-unchit features a Kanom Krok recipe on her excellent site, Thai Food and Travel.

East Bay, shopping, Thai
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Pancakes with li’l squares on ‘em

Posted by Anita on 01.25.06 7:50 AM

As promised, a wrapup of yesterdays trip to the House of Chicken and Waffles.

I’m about to commit blasphemy, but I think I actually like this place better than Roscoe’s. Cute decor with an air of space-age diner; bright colors and clean as a whistle.

I opted for the Angie’s Delight: 1 chicken breast, 1 waffle, plus grits.

The waffle was tasty, with a hint of spice; the chicken was nicely fried, then ‘smothered’ (actually dipped) in spicy chicken gravy. At first I thought I was going to have to ask for butter for my grits, but found a huge pool of butter lurking near the middle of the bowl… righteous!

Service was super-friendly, although it took more than 30 minutes to get my food (at 2pm… not exactly the lunch rush). And it’s not cheap: With a soft drink, my bill came to $11.

House of Chicken and Waffles
444 Embarcadero West (near Jack London Square)
Oakland, CA

breakfast, East Bay, restaurants
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Thai standby

Posted by Anita on 01.21.06 10:29 AM

Thep Phanom used to be one of our favorites when we lived in the lower Haight. Even once we moved to another part of town, we kept coming back because the food was head and shoulders above the ordinary.

A few years ago, they started sliding. It seemed that the drop in quality coincided with the removal of the specials boards from above the windows. Although it paled in comparison, the food was still very good, and we kept coming back, kept recommending it as our favorite Thai place, kept ugring people to go…

So you can imagine our sadness after eating there twice in the last 6 weeks, and having two mediocre experiences. In December, we ordered a pair of our old favorites — tom yum goong and crispy basil chicken — plus salt-and-pepper beef, a new one for us. The soup was bland and unbalanced; the chicken, formerly blessed with a wispy crispy coating, now had a blatant battering; and the beef was interesting but not terribly Thai-flavored, and unpleasantly chewy. We chalked it up to a bad night, and didn’t give it much thought.

Last weekend, we went back with a couple of friends. We shared everything, so I had a chance to grasp the breadth of the problem:

Som tam — green papaya salad — is typically blazingly hot and pungently tart. Thep Phanom’s version was neither. The rather small portion was served in a cocktail glass.

Tom yum goong was dished out tableside into flat soup plates, rather than bowls. The broth was almost clear, not even a hint of redness from steeped shrimp shells or chiles. It tasted almost as bland as it looked: no hot, barely any sour, a paltry 4 shrimp for 4 people.

Larb ped featured tasty grilled, chopped duck meat, but the rest of the dish was bizarre. There were hardly any greens –typically you eat larb by rolling up the meat and seasonings in leaves of lettuce or other leafy veggies — and, again, the spice was almost non-existant. Larb is supposed to be HOT!

Basil chicken with crispy basil (gai kprow tod) suffered from the same problems as we noted on our last visit. Very sad… this dish used to be a true standout, a modern riff on a beloved thai classic. Now it wouldn’t be out of place at a cheap chinese takeout joint.

Panaeng beef curry was unspicy, badly balanced (sweet flavors completely overwhelmed the salty, spicy tastes) and oversauced.

Thep Phanom is still OK, but it’s no longer great. It may not even be better than average.

Thep Phanom
400 Waller Street
San Francisco, CA 94117

Lower Haight, restaurants, Thai
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