Lucky Rice is a festival that celebrates and promotes all things Asian– an event that speaks to my inner Asian self (I often tell people I’m half Asian and frequently I just get nods. It’s practically the truth!). I’ve been traveling through the spicy lands for years now and feel very at home when I’m in the Orient. Specifically, Thailand really rings my bells.
After coming home this past winter from a few months of studying Thai language and working in David Thompson’s restaurant Nahm, I felt even more convinced that I’m mildly obsessed with all things Thai: the culture, the people, the wats, street food, the carts of exotic fresh fruits, khlongs (old canals), chinatowns, fresh coconuts for an afternoon snack, motorcycle taxi rides, VIP movie theatres and standing to respect the king before each film, wet markets, palm sugar and pandan, humidity and durians. To name just a few. I want to learn as much as I can and have been reading about Thai history and culture whenever I have a free moment. When I said mildly obsessed, what I really meant to say was completely!
So David and Tanongsak, the loveliest duo of chefs to ever run a kitchen, are in New York to lend their talents to this festival. I told David that I intended to work with him at Pok Pok, where a dinner of Northern Style food was showcased to New Yorkers mostly unfamiliar with this style of Thai food. David obliged, Andy ok’d, Tanongsak laughed his infectious laugh…and I was in the kitchen with familiar tastes and smells I’ve missed.
We all arrived in the kitchen ready to slice shallots, fry curry pastes, wrap things in banana leaves and combine flavors for zing-y palate pleasing tastes. We picked cha-om, a leafy green that I had only seen in Thailand before, for fritters, and wrapped bits of sticky, herbaceous pork and peanuts in brined mustard greens for a passed hors d’oeuvre. David fried off kaeng hung leh curry paste with fatty pork belly and ribs and then made a pungent and astringent maquem (prickly ash) curry, which was much thinner and reminiscent of a soup. Chef Tanongsak worked his sweet magic and made a great dessert. Though we don’t have great fresh coconut milk and cream to work with, he made do and served a grilled banana in sticky rice along side a small bowl of sankaya (egg and palm sugar custart) with durian over sweetened sticky rice. In his kitchen in Bangkok, I would always finish the night with a bowl of this leftover dessert. It’s absolutely one of my favorite things in life (because it includes durian of course!). So for me, it was the perfect final touch to a great dinner.
David brought in many of his ingredients from Thailand, including bags and bags of shallots and ginger. Surprisingly, even these every day ingredients are very different from the every day ingredients of yonder.
Being part of a Thai kitchen, if even only for the day, reaffirms my love for the food. It’s exciting to have Andy in the city cooking Northern Thai and it only makes me want to continue to learn this special cuisine…and then one day cook it out of my own kitchen!