West End office workers are getting a new power lunch spot, and it’s a mighty slick one at that. But Soi 38 is a far cry from the buttoned-up downtown restaurants of yore. Thai street food, golden graffiti art, a 50-seat patio, and a top-notch cocktail program are set to make Soi 38 worth a visit any hour of the day.
So what exactly is Thai street food? During a pre-opening media tour, DCist did the hard work of sampling a number of dishes and drinks for the edification of our dear readers. Owners Nat Ongsangkoon and Dia Khanthongthip wanted to develop a menu that reflected the food they ate at home, instead of the same dishes that grace the menu at practically every Thai restaurant. As a result, prospective diners will recognize some familiar names, but there will also be many new dishes for adventurous fans of Thai cuisine. Some examples: Succulent coconut milk-marinated pork belly skewers with in-house made lime chili sauce; juicy chicken folded into fragrant pandan leaves; and pad thai hor kai, a variant of pad thai swaddled in a tender egg crepe. Whole fried chicken featuring an airy, crackling crust and umami-packed dipping sauce was a particular standout. Chef Mitchai Pankham, who hails from northern Thailand, has other intriguing items planned, including ped roti (roasted duck wrapped in roti bread) and kor moo yang (grilled pork neck with lime and chili). Dishes will run $10-18 during lunch and $14-25 at dinner.
The cocktail program, developed by local mixologist J.P. Caceres, is also nothing to sneeze at. Caceres has taken the flavors of East Asia and carefully blended them into a very modern cocktail program. Bottled drinks feature riffs on classic cocktails and martinis. Smoky Chinese pu’er tea and chili bitters kick up the Thai Manhattan, while kaffir lime lends a heady, floral perfume to the Pretty Little Lime, a fresh take on a gin martini. But it’s not all serious behind the bar (there is, after all, a giant glowing dragon eye emblazoned on the wall). There are coconut-laced tiki drinks which can be ordered as a single or shared portion, complete with ridiculously long straws. Meanwhile, The Emperor’s Punch — a sweet-savory brew of tamarind syrup, lemon, whiskey, and chili bitters — is served out a blue and white tea set. Singapore Slings will also be available on tap and are likely to become a fast favorite at happy hour. For teetotalers, there will also be creative soft drinks, such as lemongrass and pineapple soda and Vietnamese-style iced coffee.
If you believe dining is a fully sensory experience, Soi 38 will not disappoint. The boldly decorated space marries slick modern lines with rustic beams, wicker basket light fixtures, and fantastical golden murals. Dragons snake across the ceiling, curling around the bar, while elephants parade over the booths lining the wall. These creatures are the work of Gaia, a Baltimore-based street artist commissioned by architecture firm Design Republica to create a transporting dining experience. A communal table and partially open kitchen are meant to give diners an additional flavor for the open air cookery common in Bangkok’s night markets.
Soi 38 is located at 2101 L Street NW and anticipates opening late this week or early next week for lunch and dinner service. The restaurant hours will be Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Filling office blocks with businesses and keeping them that way used to be just about the right price, good location and maybe access to a car park.
But lifestyle is now just as important, which is why one commercial property firm is serving up something special to keep tenants happy.
GVA, based in St Catherine’s Court, Clifton, introduced food markets at Temple Quay, home to much of the city’s finance industry, to liven up the area and make it more appealing.
And now those markets are becoming a weekly event, every Thursday lunchtime.
With a growing interest in street food and artisan produce, the markets have been attracting hundreds of customers, mainly office workers looking for something to do, and something to eat, in their lunch break.
Vicki Williams of property adviser GVA, which manages Temple Quay, said: “The markets have proved a great way of adding to the vibrancy of Temple Quay making great use of the square and views of the river, providing an interesting lunch time offer to local occupiers.”
The first Thursday will continue as a food market, with the second and fourth Thursdays of every month dedicated to street-food.
The street markets are part of a wider campaign to offer businesses based at Temple Quay, their staff, visitors and people passing through, attractions over the lunchtime period. Temple Quay is home to 5,000 people in more than 30 businesses.
The market traders include Agnes Spencer’s Jamaican cuisine; Niang’s Thai Snacks; She Sells Sushi; American Kitchen, Jacob’s finest falafel and humus dishes, as well as Sue’s Cakes.
Vicki said: “Bristol is quickly establishing a reputation as a centre for really interesting and innovative food.
“These markets have brought together some amazing producers who are building up a very loyal and enthusiastic following with people who work at Temple Quay, helping establish a real sense of community here.”
The Temple Quay market will be featured as part of the Bristol Food Connections festival in May, with the Bristol Eats market on Thursday May 8.
GVA works with David Pyne of Square Route, Sophie Bowden of Mullion Cove, as well as the BEATS food collective (Bristol Eats), to put on the markets.
The demographically diverse Mina, the harbor town just five kilometers from downtown Tripoli, is distinguished by its nautical charms, guileless diversions and simple indulgences.
Some defining features of the area include the verdant islands off the coast – four of which have been declared natural reserves where fish are bred in their natural habitat – the town’s old lighthouse and its breezy four kilometer seashore, which is almost always teeming with people who’ve come from far and wide to take advantage of the fresh air.
Rambunctious children play along the corniche on weekends as their parents stroll vigilantly by, youths whizz past on bicycles and elderly men sit impassively on plastic chairs. Food stands are a permanent fixture along the corniche and Mina’s winding alleyways, where tantalizing aromas mingle with the salty sea air. In many ways, Mina’s street food is like the marina city itself, ostensibly simple to prepare, impervious to culinary trends and laden with a rich history.
In the early morning hours, Jamal Khaja and his son Mohammad can be seen unloading piles and piles of freshly fished scallop shells, which they hammer open and clean immediately so they can be ready for the morning rush of customers along the corniche.
Fishermen dive several meters to pluck the shells, which can be mistaken for rocks, along the sea floor. By 10 a.m., Jamal and Mohammad have a giant bowl overflowing with raw scallops ready to be sold. They decorate the stand with halved lemons and empty fan-shaped shells, their fluted patterns glistening under the sun.
“We have to sell out all the scallops from the morning the same day,” Jamal says, “because they’re only appetizing for one day.”
For customers, the scallops are doused with lemon juice, cumin and salt with chopped carrots on the side and sold for LL3,000 a plate. Mohammad, however, prefers to eat them straight out of the shell after he cracks them open by the sidewalk.
Scallops have become a popular street food in Mina after the demise of “tutiya,” another type of mollusk with a spiky outer shell. Due to over-fishing, they are no longer available in abundance Local vendors fear the same fate awaits scallops as well.
“Gradually it will disappear,” says Abu Wassif, another vendor. “Best to enjoy them while we still can.”
In Mina’s fish market is Ibrahim Bandour’s famed fast food eatery, serving an assortment of stuffed beef tripe and intestines. Founded by his father Abdul-Nasser nearly 40 years ago, the restaurant is one of few that still sells the delicacy.
Bandour says most restaurant owners are discouraged by the arduous preparation steps necessaryto make the dish. But the Bandours have forged strong relations with local butchers over the years, some of whom have pledged to cater tripe to them exclusively. The questionable-looking parts are displayed in a glass case outside their shop.
To prepare stuffed tripe, the stomach of the cow has to be cleaned and the fat trimmed off. It is then boiled and bleached, which gives tripe its characteristic white color. Beef tripe is made from the first three chambers of the stomach; the Bandours prefer the rumen, which is the first chamber and has a flat and smooth texture.
The broth in which the stomach and intestines are cooked is set aside to accompany the main dish. Once softened, the tripe is stuffed with rice, minced meat, onions and almonds and cooked thoroughly. It is then cut open and arranged with an assortment of dried mint, cumin, paprika and salt. Customers can eat the rice with fresh bread or dipped in broth.
The Bandours also have stuffed beef intestine, tongue and brain on the menu, each requiring its own specialized preparation method and costing between LL5,000 and LL8,000 per plate.
“Our business is open during the winter months,” Bandour says. “It’s too heavy to consume in the summer.”
Not far from the Bandours’ restaurant is Abu Nazih’s kaak bakery, which has been making the specialty bread for 83 years. One of Mina’s charms is that its vendors are capable of relaying how the preparation of near-staple items, such as kaak, has changed over the years.
“Everything has changed, it’s not the same as it used to be,” the elderly Abu Nazih says of how kaak used to be made. “Yeast was natural back then, we used water soaked with chickpeas as a base. Now there are artificial yeasts.”
The difference is in the taste, he says: “It’s changed a great deal, it used to be fresher.”
But Abu Nazih has stayed true to the older methods. His oven, for instance, is still fired by wood, which he collects and piles next to it. Street vendors come by in the morning to buy his kaak, which they spread with cream cheese for customers along the corniche, who stop to take a breather from the day.
The event is
scheduled for 6-9 p.m. inside and outside A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard, 108
Cleveland Ave. Admission is free and includes live music from the Big
Spring Brass Band, Rocket City Jazz Orchestra and Rocket City Latin Band.
Huntsville Inc., which is organizing the event, is calling it “the largest
congregation of street food vendors anywhere in Alabama.”
following mobile food vendors are expected to be on hand: Badd Newz BBQ; Big
Foot’s Donuts; Crave Heat; Dallas Mill Deli; Earth Stone Wood Fired
Pizza; Food Fighters Bustaurant; Ice Cream Truck; I Love Bacon Truck; Neon
Lilly; On-On Tacos; Peppered Pig; Piper Leaf Teas; Rocket City Espresso; Rocket
Dogs; and Sugar Belle Cupcakes.
over 1,000 people at our previous food truck events, so we’re expecting a
similar-sized crowd this time,” Downtown Huntsville Inc. CEO Chad Emerson said
Monday. “It’s just another example of the interest growing in downtown.”
Street Food Season kickoff will also be one of the first large public
gatherings in the Meridian Arts Entertainment District, the smaller of
two downtown districts with relaxed open-container rules created last summer. It encompasses
10 acres around the Meridian Street-Cleveland Avenue intersection, including
Bud Cramer Park, A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard, Furniture Factory Bar Grill and
Lone Goose Saloon.
Other public street food gatherings are scheduled for the third Friday of May, June,
July, August, September and October at parking lots in the Meridian and Quigley arts and entertainment districts, said Emerson.
Street food has a lot of cachet these days, turning up all over food and travel TV programs and referenced increasingly across restaurant menus. I just wish we could catch a little more of it on the streets in New Orleans.
The appeal is easy to see. Street food in the wild offers grab-and-go gratification, a low-cost invitation to try something tasty without getting tied in to a whole dining experience.
Food trucks and barbecue trailers are doing their part, you can get a quick pizza slice here and there, scoop-and-serve gumbo or yaka mein from neighborhood seafood markets can qualify as street food, and parades always seem to inspire some bootstrap entrepreneurism from food vendors. But these are outliers and exceptions. It’s hard to say New Orleans has a viable street food scene of the sort some other cities seem to cultivate.
Still, at certain times and places, something very close to the glittering ideal of street food blossoms all around the city, and that’s during festivals.
This weekend’s French Quarter Festival is a prime example. Most of the 60 or so food vendors are local restaurants serving modified menu items and festival-time creations al fresco for four days. All have the order-pay-and-eat rhythm of street food down pretty well, whether they’re serving crawfish crepes on plastic plates, (Muriel’s Jackson Square), boudin links on sticks (Crescent Pie Sausage Co.), fish tacos (GW Fins), grilled chicken livers (the Praline Connection) or even portable portions of baked Alaska (Antoine’s).
All this can happen, of course, because the festival setting provides the natural habitat needed for street food, namely a high volume of passersby looking to eat without slowing down, and also the official sanction to sling food out in the open.
These aren’t conditions a would-be vendor can rely on all the time, so the French Quarter Festival is more a dream of what New Orleans street food could be rather than a realistic model. But maybe somewhere between all the food stands and stalls massed out there this weekend are nuggets of inspiration for something else. Even if it proves an uphill battle, think of how delicious the field research could be.
Think New Orleans needs more street food? This weekend’s French Quarter Festival is teeming with inspiration for new ideas.
Street food is a term that has a lot of cachet in the dining world these days. I just wish we could get our hands on it a little more.
Street food is all over TV food programs, with telegenic hosts leading viewers on vicarious romps through the market stalls and homey huts of exotic destinations for thrilling food finds. And the mention of street food can hold happy memories for people who have witnessed it action elsewhere — whether it’s the crêpe stands of Paris, the dealers of those slim, simple, utterly satisfying bocadillo sandwiches around Spain, or even just the slice-on-any-given-corner pizzeria culture of New York.
The appeal is easy to see. It’s about efficiency, easy access and sometimes even a little adventure — a low cost invitation to try something tasty without getting tied in to a whole dining experience. And so, these days, savvy marketers have even started applying the street food tag to restaurant concepts where the only connection to the street is the fact that customers drove on one to get there.
When I think of street food, I’m not thinking of a take-out window or a waiting list to join the communal table. I’m thinking: I give you money, you give me food, and I walk away eating it. As hard as it normally is to find examples of this around town, there are certain times and places where something very close to the glittering ideal of grab-and-go street food blossoms all around us.
That’s festival time, and the spring version of it is about to explode. Festivals provide what street food needs to thrive, namely a high volume of passersby looking to eat without slowing down. They provide this only temporarily, and only in very prescribed areas. But when you’re in the thick of one, it’s tempting to look around and imagine the possibilities.
French Quarter Festival, now underway once again, is a prime example. This free festival is spread across the riverfront, and in addition to all the music stages it brings about four dozen booths representing New Orleans restaurants, from the grand to the grassroots varieties. All have the order, pay and eat rhythm of street food down pretty well, whether they’re serving prime rib debris po-boys, crawfish sausage, shrimp remoulade in cardboard boats, boudin links on sticks, meat pies in greasy little packets, vegetarian hot dogs, seaweed salads, lamb sliders, pork chop lollipops, turkey legs, fish tacos, bowls of gumbo or even a hand-held serving of baked Alaska. Seriously, it’s all out there on the streets this weekend.
Of course, the other thing festivals provide — again temporarily and in limited areas — is permission to do street food. The food truck operators who have been planting the flag for their own version of more street food around town can attest to the hassle of trying to start something different. That has not been a smooth road.
This French Quarter Festival setting is more a dream of what New Orleans street food could be than any realistic model. But maybe, somewhere between all the food stands and stalls massed for this weekend’s annual event, there are nuggets of inspiration for something else. Even if it proves an uphill battle, think how delicious the field research could be.
Click here for a roster of food vendors at this year’s French Quarter Festival.
It never seemed likely to work, right up until it did. Mexican and Korean? Really? Latin American and Asian? Are you kidding me? And from a roach coach? Only it did work. It really did.
Roy Choi was the first to do it with his Kogi BBQ Taco Truck in Los Angeles in 2008. The Tabe BBQ food truck in San Diego wasn’t far behind, patrolling San Diego streets by 2010, offering its own take on Korean-Mexican fusion tacos and burritos curbside (@tabebbq on Twitter, with daily locations listed at sdfoodtrucks.com).
The food at Tabe (pronounced “tah-bay”) is at its best when it’s closest to the core idea: Korean-barbecue fillings inside tortillas. Perhaps Tabe’s best dish is its spicy-pork taco. One bite and suddenly that counterintuitive Mexican-Korean-fusion thing starts to make sense. A deep, full, meaty flavor with hints of heat and a layer of sweetness, it was a flavor profile I immediately recognized as more than just a bit like tacos al pastor. Of course it works.
Tabe’s tacos come in flour tortillas, not corn, which is an unfortunate choice. In addition to the spicy-pork version, filling offerings include barbecued beef, chicken teriyaki and fish. The chicken-teriyaki taco is unimpressive, and I’m far from convinced that the world really needs another battered and deep-fried fish taco. But the barbecued beef—more galbi than bulgogi—is excellent: tender, sweet with deep umami and just a hint of the thrill of the grill.
Tabe’s burritos work less well. Fusion wraps were novel in the ’90s, less so in the ’00s. In the 20-teens, fusion wraps—and, let’s be honest, that’s what a Korean-Mexican burrito is—are a tired idea. Moreover, instead of adding layers of flavor, adding boatloads of rice just makes the dish a gut buster.
Tabe’s sliders work better. Direct and no nonsense, these are meat on a bun with the addition of cheese. Korean-Mexican fusion? No. Korean-American fusion? Check. Here, the beef filling works better than the pork. And Tabe’s Chinese five-spice-laced french fries are equally good. They are perfectly fried, and the spice enhances the potatoes’ natural flavor without overwhelming it.
If Korean-Mexican fusion is an accident, it’s one of Southern California culture and geography. Kogi’s Choi didn’t just grow up in Korea Town; he grew up in Los Angeles brimming with cultural cross-fertilization, if sometimes by crashing those cultures against one another. At Tabe, and Kogi before it, that crash proved to be a happy accident.
In its four-year history, Tabe has been through a number of incarnations. Personnel has changed, chefs have changed, locations have changed and business plans have evolved to adapt to a changing environment. What hasn’t changed is the essential idea of combining our American notion of street food with Eastern, primarily Korean flavors. And while that Korean-Mexican idea may seem counterintuitive at first, that impression will likely last only until the first trip to the Tabe truck.
Shoko Wanger recently spent eight days exploring Sri Lanka by motor scooter—and found plenty of opportunities to snack on street foods from carts, shops, and stands along the way. Most cost under a dollar. Some contained ingredients that spawned furrowed-brow guessing games. Almost all were eaten standing by the side of the road, sweat-soaked, sunburnt, smiling. Here are her favorites.
Thai food is on everyone’s lips. The proof: Nahm, chef David Thompson’s white tablecloth restaurant in Bangkok, was voted number one restaurant in all of Asia in late February 2014.
Has it always been that way?
And what makes Thai food so special?
Mostly, why is Thai food left unchanged? Western culture pervades everywhere, but doesn’t seem to blend with Thai food. How come?
Why even ask?
Bangkok is Thailand’s metropolis, capital and hub. Everything “Thai” is gathered there and a stroll by Bangkok’s street food stalls is a serious sensory assault. The most faint of heart’s knees will buckle at the first sight of street food fare: it embodies everything they can’t stand. Strong smells and tastes; the use (although illegal) of sewage as a dump for some cooking liquids; deep-fried everything; charcoal grills with mystery meat on them; gas burners with woks roaring; tiny plastic chairs to sit on and brightly-coloured stools for tables; right on the street so car and tuk-tuk fumes add to the spices in your dish.
But street food is as democratic as it gets. People from all walks of life gather and eat.
Including chef David Thompson, now known as the best chef in Asia. His two books, Thai Food and Thai Street Food, are recognized in the Western world as bibles of the genre.
Chef Thompson emphasizes that Thai food and street food are traditionally distinct.
“[Traditional Thai food] is what was – and still is – offered in the home. It’s rice based, it’s shared, and it’s placed in the middle of the table.” As opposed to street food, which is “influenced by China: it’s noodle-based.”
Dr Sirijit Sunanta, lecturer at Mahidol University in Bangkok, agrees. “Chinese originated dishes constitute street food easily available for people from all walks of life.”
Depending on where you go in Bangkok, you’ll find different types of street food. And while some of the dishes have strong Chinese influences, other dishes come from different parts of Thailand.
The best introduction to Thai street food is probably Sukhumvit Soi 38. It is a true wonderland. The regular Thai street fare dishes are represented – green papaya salad, rice and pork with basil, drunken noodles, and the infamous pad Thai – but also a few Cantonese influenced dishes, like barbecued pork similar to char siu, chicken rice and my personal favourite, crispy pork.
As chef Thompson and Dr Sunanta point out, the more traditional Thai dishes – mostly the curries – are harder to find on the street.
Dr. Sunanta is the author of The Globalization of Thai Cuisine, an academic paper published in 2005. In her work, she points out that while Thai cuisine is recognizable and relatively unique, a lot of its influences trace back to other Asian countries:
“What is known as Thai food today is in fact a combination of indigenous foods and the influences of Indian and Chinese culinary traditions. In the 15th century, Khmer cooks introduced Indian food such as curries and boiled red and white sweets to Ayuttaya’s court. Fish sauce, which is a condiment and crucial ingredient in almost every Thai dish, is a Chinese invention. Earlier contact with Western cultures in the 17th century left a culinary legacy in Kanom Thong Yip, a Thai dessert modified from a French or Portuguese dish. Chilies were introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century and in combination with fish sauce, galangal, and lime, they give a distinctive flavour to Thai dishes today.”
In other words, the surrounding countries have had influences in the formation of the Thai identity. However it is, today, jealously guarded from outside influences. How come?
“Thailand has never been formally colonized by Western states and this explains the lack of easily recognizable traces of Western influences on Thai food,” clarifies Dr. Sunanta.
Furthermore, the Thai government has now implemented a national food strategy, called “Kitchen of the World”. According to the Bangkok Post, the program “aims to develop the country’s food industry. Ambitious goals include putting Thailand among the world’s top five major exporters of food, promoting the use of Thai ingredients and condiments to produce authentic Thai dishes, and to increase the number of Thai restaurants worldwide.”
Of course, this will cement Thai food in the hearts of Thais, and influence will become even harder to come by. And, unsurprisingly, this is what happened to chef Thompson, who got in trouble for stating that he was cooking traditional Thai food.
Yours or ours
A food writer by the name of Suthon Sukphisit is quoted by the New York Times as saying “If you start telling Thais how to cook real Thai food, that’s unacceptable,” in reference to chef Thompson. “He is slapping the faces of Thai people!”
After all, he is recognized as the best chef of Thai food, and he’s not Thai. Since this outcry, chef Thompson is careful when he talks about his craft. “[My food is] pretty traditional, but I’ve got myself in trouble for saying that a few times. I’m pretty faithful to old recipes. I don’t have the ease of someone who’s been born in that food culture, so hopefully I’m more faithful to the recipes as other Thai chefs. I don’t have the flexibility.”
A chef being apologetic for being the best in his field is rather strange, but restaurateur Jarrett Wrisley, responsible for two restaurants in Bangkok – Soul Food Mahanakorn, a “Thai fusion restaurant,” and Appia, an Italian eatery – knows how chef Thompson feels. According to him, Westerners will keep flocking to Bangkok to try their hand at cooking Thai food. Wrisley says that Westerners are looking for the freedom that’s lost back home. “I think it’s a cultural problem, he says. In the States, a restaurant would be in real trouble if authorities knew that fish is fermenting in the walk-in. [...] But Thai street food is as safe as the food in any New York restaurant. [In Bangkok], there’s a freedom that’s been lost in the West.”
“Westerners are passionate about Thai food, it is not surprising some become excellent Thai chefs,” adds Dr. Sunanta. Considering Thai food writers like Sukphisit safeguard the authenticity of their food so aggressively, it is easy to see that Thai food will not be influenced by American or European tastes any time soon.
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