Barack Obama’s Official Dinner in Thailand: My Thoughts on the Menu


Photograph Credit: © Mary Ungrangsee. Used with permission.

I’ll let other people who are qualified to deal with the other aspects of the US president’s trip to Asia and his stop in Thailand do their thing. I’m all about the food here. So while the economists and political analysts are discussing things such as the US-Thai bilateral trade agreements, I’m turning my readers’ attention to the menu of the official dinner at the Thai Government House to welcome President Obama. This happened less than 24 hours ago; that tells you how giddy I am.

Firstly, I’d like to thank the beautiful and talented vocalist, Mary Ungrangsee, who was at the dinner last night for having graciously allowed me to use the photo which she’d snapped of the menu. (The original photo was posted on Twitter by @MaryUngrangsee.)

Secondly, wha?!? (Insert a gaping mouth, bulging eyeballs, and flailing limbs here.) No Pad Thai on the menu?!?

Just kidding. Please read on.

Does it matter what they served the president?

In the context of my blog, yes. If you’re a long-time reader, you know everything is analyzed to death here.

But seriously, though, this menu illustrates what I think about Thai restaurants overseas — something I’ve been mulling over for months now for the book which I’m writing).

[Maybe I’m reading too much into this. For all I know, it could have been just a group of chefs who came up with these menu items on a whim. It could have been one person (not entirely inconceivable) or a group of influential people in the Thai government (who may or may not know much about food) dictating these menu items to the chefs. [Added December 12, 2012: I’ve recently found out from Vichit Mukura, Executive Chef of the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, who was in charge of executing the dinner that he was the one who came up with the menu. However, the original plan was changed quite a bit due to the input from the prime minister who communicated her wishes through her people. Green curry beef was one of the items on the proposed menu that remained. No word on what other dishes remained unchanged.] But to keep our conjecture optimistic and idealistic, let’s just say this menu was carefully, thoughtfully, and knowledgeably planned with the dual intention of showcasing the best of Thai cuisine and pleasing our guests.]

You need to be very familiar with the restaurant and street food scene in Thailand in order to detect the random dissonance of typical menu offerings at Thai restaurants overseas. At a given restaurant, you’ll often see dishes that are hardly, if ever, served under the same roof unless we’re talking the roof of a food court or a market where anything goes. Many of these dishes require the kind of specialized skills which often take decades to develop at the exclusion of others.

More on that later. Let’s look at this menu.

[Added November 30, 2012: Here’s a slideshow of the dishes I’ve put together for Serious Eats.)

Here are my thoughts (which are equally random, if not more) as I surveyed the menu for the first time and tried to make sense of it:

1. I’m glad mee krob (หมี่กรอบ RTGS: mi krop) was included on the menu. It may not be obvious to those who don’t read Thai, but that’s what “Herbed crispy noodles with minced shrimps [sic] and chicken mixture” is. Everyone likes mee krob. (Carrie Bradshaw certainly does.) I also think that the dish represents the flavor of Central Thai cuisine very well. The fact that it’s a classic dish that has survived domestic culinary changes and the bombardments of foreign influences throughout the past decades says a lot about it. The placement of this sweet item after a phla (“Spicy salmon salad with Siamese herbs”), essentially a more herbal (and some would say more sophisticated) cousin of Thai spicy salad, yam, is also a good call, in my opinion.

2. Then things get interesting with some regional fares thrown in to conclude the appetizer course: spicy papaya salad, grilled chicken, and North-East [sic] rice sausage (sai krok isan).

[Added November 20th, 2012: Here’s a picture of two of the appetizers (papaya salad, grilled chicken, and mee krob) which US Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie Kenney, had posted on Instagram. Do they look like what you’d imagined previously?]

Okay, so I guess we want to take the president to the Central Plains first with the first two items then put him on an express train to the Isan plateau. Fine. I guess we’re on a regional theme here as in let’s round up the best of all regions into this menu. Hooray.

3. <Cheering crowd audio track is abruptly turned off>

Meat ball [sic] soup. Oh.

I was wrong. I guess we don’t have the regional theme going on, after all, for we’ve got something that can’t really be classified geographically.

For those who are not familiar with this meatball soup, it’s not the kind of meatball soup you’ve seen in other cuisines. The meatballs in this context are the bouncy meatballs that you see in Thai or Vietnamese noodle soups. Granted, the chefs might have come up with a more sophisticated version of these meatballs (very likely), but still the name kao lao luk chin nuea (เกาเหลาลูกชิ้นเนื้อ) unmistakably points to the kind of soup you get at a noodle stand — the kind you won’t normally see at a place serving the three appetizer items previously seen.

4. Okay, so that’s kind of fun. We’ve got some sophisticated Central dishes punctuated by some jewels from the Northeast and a quick low-carb lunch at a street noodle stall. Let’s see what comes next.

5. Ooh. We have a samrap (สำรับ), a full meal ensemble, here: jasmine rice, green curry, salty and sweet sides of salted egg yolk(s?) and sweet shredded pork, and the grilled river prawn with sweet and salty (you mean sour?) tamarind sauce. These choices are so brilliant that I’m just going to pretend really hard that I understand the presence of the Chinese-style stir-fried vegetables with crabmeat sauce.

6. The fun doesn’t stop there. Check out the dessert. “Chilled pandanus flour threads with taro root in coconut syrup” is lod chong (RTGS: lot chong), oblong pandan-tinted rice flour dumplings served in sweetened coconut cream with the addition of steamed taro root and usually topped with crushed or shaved ice (the assembled dessert usually looks like this). I love this thing — this classic combo out of the countless combinations you could get out of the many, many shaved ice dessert components. It’s what I always got at my high school cafeteria and whenever I’m at a mall food court in Bangkok.

Great. After the noodle stall meatball soup, we enter the realm of something between sophisticated home cooking and upscale sit-down restaurant food. Now we’re kind of back on the streets, pointing at things at a shaved ice dessert stand. Alrighty.

7. Why not the quintessential coconut sticky rice and mango for dessert? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s too, uh, predictable? If tiresome predictability is what they want to avoid, then they’ve succeeded. I, for one, didn’t think I’d ever see lod chong at a state dinner. But, hey, we all just did. I would have gone with Thai-style coconut ice cream with assorted toppings. But that’s just me.

8. Or perhaps mango as part of the first dessert item is superfluous given what comes next is assorted tropical fresh fruits. What do you think?

9. Before concluding with coffee or tea, the menu with no discernible theme ends with some bite-sized mignardises sucrées in the form of Portuguese-influenced desserts. I thought that was a nice touch.

10. Notice that many well-known dishes, such as pad thai or pad see-ew, are missing. The reason, I think, is not so much that they’re considered too pedestrian, too unsophisticated for a state dinner (hello, meatball soup!), but it’s more because these dishes are one-plate or one-dish meals (stand-alone main courses, complete units unto themselves) which can’t be incorporated into a typical samrap without obvious clumsiness. So, yeah, no pad thai.

11. But wait, what about tom yam kung? How could they leave that famous soup out? Well, it could be that same tiresome predictability factor at play here again as in the case of coconut sticky rice and mango. More likely, I think, it’s because the menu already starts out with an herbal, spicy and sour seafood dish and has a shrimp/prawn dish with sweet-salty-sour flavor as a main course.

All in all, this reminds me very much of the menus of typical Thai restaurants overseas, especially those in the United States, i.e. no themes, anything goes. Whatever you want or whatever we think you want, we have it.

This stands in contrast to restaurants or food stalls in Thailand that tend to stick with one dish, one type, or one genre of food. In other words, there’s a tendency to go deep as opposed to wide. More on that in a future post. The only difference between an overseas Thai restaurant menu and this menu that I can see is that the former is primarily driven by profitability whereas the latter is driven by hospitality. Still interesting to see that even though the two may differ in terms of execution and level of expertise, when it comes to composition, they’re surprisingly very similar in their themelessness and the kind of cross-disciplinary expertise they require.

What do you think of this menu? What would you have done differently? 

44 Responses to Barack Obama’s Official Dinner in Thailand: My Thoughts on the Menu

  1. อาหารไทย November 19, 2012 at 2:41 am #

    That’s normal food in thailand. You can find “kao lao luk chin nuea” in everywhere in Thailand.

    • Leela November 19, 2012 at 2:49 am #

      Yes, but that’s not the point. The point is that you don’t normally find it at the same place where the other dishes are found.

  2. Pete November 19, 2012 at 2:49 am #

    Goodness me! first dish on the menu sticks out!… ‘Spicy salmon salad with siamese herbs’

    It seems crazy to be using salmon ( imported, I presume, hopefully not farmed or pre frozen as well ) This is typical and highlights a current trend in Thai cuisine to use an imported ingredient ( which they seem to think is superior to any locally or organically produced ingredient. This is something that I can never understand about Thai people, they always see imported ingredients like salmon, wagyu beef, alaskan crab as the best, while gastronomy around the world moves towards sourcing ingredients locally, (within a few kilometers of the restaurant), championing local artisanal produce. This is the time when we should be showcasing the best of our local produce, not flying in salmon from half way around the world.

    The rest of the menu just seems like a strange selection of dishes that don’t really go together..
    Meatball soup? Served together with the meal ( Thai style) or separate (European style), eating ‘arharn jarn diew’ together with a meal, that’s a first for me! This dish seems an odd fit to say the least!

    The menu just seem to lack the showcasing of excellent quality produce and seasonality, tradition or any creativity from the chef, with no real focus or elegance. I wonder what the chefs at government house are doing?!

    • Leela November 19, 2012 at 2:54 am #

      Great points, Pete. Thank you. The use of imported ingredients may be a prevalent trend now (possibly to add both perceived and real value to restaurant dishes in order to justify high prices) but it already started more than 100 years ago among the elite. Imported canned salmon and herrings are listed as ingredients for a traditional dish, lon, in some of the oldest Thai cookbooks. I’ve talked about it here: http://shesimmers.com/2012/09/lon-pla-salmon-salmon-coconut-milk-relish-หลนปลาแซลมอน.html

      • Pete November 19, 2012 at 6:11 am #

        I’ve been looking online to see if any libraries has a copy but nothing comes up… I’ll have to have a good look next time i’m back in Thailand… Did you search the name of the Newsletter ปฏิทินบัตร แล จดหมายเหตุ?

        thanks..

    • Nat December 24, 2012 at 1:29 am #

      From my research on plants and migration in Isan, I found that much of Thai cuisine’s ingredients are imported, if not at the moment, then at least historically. e.g. som tam is made almost completely of plants not native to Thailand and coming all from the New World tropics- papaya, chili, tomatoes, peanuts, and even phak katin ผักกระถิน http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leucaena_leucocephala native to Mexico, yet this dish is considered as link to Isan identity as apple pie in the US. The only native ingredients left in it are the lime, fish sauce, palm sugar, and sometimes makok (vi apple, Spondias dulcis).

      Granted these ingredients are all now grown in Thailand and are usually not imported currently, but they were imported at some point.

      So there has always been a pull for importing food, that slowly morphs into growing the foreign ingredient in Thailand if climate permits. Thais are very adaptable, and I bet within a few years, someone will have figured out how to raise salmon in Thailand, perhaps way on the top of frigid Doi Ithanon! ;-)

  3. rc November 19, 2012 at 4:04 am #

    I heard he likes “kuytiow nuea” from his childhood days in Indo – I doubt the kaolao neua (without the noodles) could have satisfied that particular craving.

    You are right the menu sounds like a Thai restaurant in US or UK. I’d never serve stuff that like ‘kang khiow wahn’ which is murdered by all those foreign Thai restaurants – we have so many other curries to introduce him to. Should have served dishes that you don’t find in those restaurants – we have so many of them that are way more impressive. Yod Mara phad koong or Minced Pork, Yum Dok Anchan, etc…. look at even a Taling Ping or Baan Khun Ying menu.

    I guess the government wanted to reflect its “working class” background (this is a true example) as opposed to having served some really delicious “chao wang” style Thai cuisine :)

  4. Jack November 19, 2012 at 4:21 am #

    If they used the “look chin” you can buy at the Phuket airport (all giller, no filler) then okay. But i feel they really missed an opportunity to showcase Thai yum (like winged bean or even som o if they want to play it safe and obvious) settling for that Chinese ruammitr.

    You know a lot of thought went into it, and the presentation and service was probably faultless (aside from the grammar farts). But I don’t get the impression (based strictly on this menu) that Obama or Hillary are going to go back home and be like “Ooh, let’s order this, I had it once in Thailand and it was crazy good.” I doubt they’ll remember what they had by next week, except maybe meegrob and some spicy things.

    • Leela November 19, 2012 at 4:40 am #

      But I don’t get the impression (based strictly on this menu) that Obama or Hillary are going to go back home and be like “Ooh, let’s order this, I had it once in Thailand and it was crazy good.”

      Totally agreed.

  5. Rona Y November 19, 2012 at 6:00 am #

    I’d have done yum pla dook foo.

    And some kind of whole fish dish, but I suppose that would have been more difficult to serve.

  6. Nan November 19, 2012 at 6:00 am #

    Oh my god. What the hell? Seriously? I mean, like SERIOUSLY? Meatball soup! Lod chong! *faints*
    The presentation better be top notch, otherwise this is like if Yingluck were to visit the White House and they served her casserole and hot fudge sundae.

  7. Jetsada November 19, 2012 at 6:24 am #

    Geesh. Lod chong (green worms) and taro? Least favorite thing among foreigners. Whoever came up with this dessert choice has never left Thailand or made friends with foreigners. Tub tim grob would have been a much better, more refined choice. I’m disappointed and embarrassed.

    The bean desserts might have looked cute, but speaking from experience, most Americans hate beany desserts. It’s the texture thing. I would have gone with small bites of sweet sticky rice with different toppings.

  8. Newbia November 19, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    It makes sense that there would be a lack of theme in the menu. First of all, if a President came to visit my country I would certainly want to showcase the best dishes of every region. Thai people should be proud that their country has such a diverse bounty of different cuisines. Second, if the menu had showcased cuisine from only one region in the country, it would be an insult to every other region. If the menu had only, say, Isan dishes, then people from other regions would feel that their cuisine was unfairly ignored. If it had only street food-inspired dishes, the menu wouldn’t feel elegant enough for a state dinner, but if it had only the fanciest dishes, then it would be ignoring all the delicious street food. Overall, I think this menu hits a nice balance and shows the variety of Thai food. Also, I just *love* the dessert section.

    • Leela November 19, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

      Agreed on the point of street and fancy foods. But the point you’ve brought up regarding regional diversity is an argument against this menu, not for it. The northern and southern cuisines are not represented here at all.

  9. Kimberly Field November 19, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    I have to agree about the dessert. Lod Chong and Taro? They are really pretty and look really pretty but for the most part certainly not something I go out of my way to eat at a buffet in Thailand. I think that the Mango Sticky rice would have been a wonderful way to finish the meal and certainly something that Thais or farangs would love and enjoy. Thanks for the menu I love reading fancy menus even if they don’t make much sense!

  10. TC November 19, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    I too am happy that they served mee krob. Very few Thai restaurants in the US serve it. I don’t know why.
    I’m also a huge fan of som tam and Isaan sausage. Overall, I think the menu/food they served is a pretty good representation of Thai food for a farang President. :)

  11. howeird November 19, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    1,000 thanks for showing the menu. Until now I had only seen the horribly translated English. (My old eyes wish the Thai font was as large as the English). I understand your criticism of all those items being on the same menu, but it reminds me of eating in the night market in Haad Yai in the 70’s, when I could order all those things (except for the salmon – there would be some local fish instead) while sitting at a table. I could flag down a runner who would take my baht, gather the items from several culinary specialists around the market square, and have them delivered to my table. I would not be surprised if the palace has many chefs, with at least one who is an expert at preparing any given item on the menu.

  12. R. Saunders November 19, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    At first glance, I thought the menu was OK, but then after a second look, it seems quite pedestrian, and not really a good reflection of Thai cuisine, or appropriate for a head of state, or even very imaginative for the Thai chef who came up with it.

    It looks like something you could get at a better Bangkok hotel buffet.

    This seems more of a menu of “ok, how can we play it safe for the farang.”

    I would have gone regional, seasonal, and progressive–and perhaps a little less Chinese and European, and and much more Thai.

    I am not saying I wouldn’t eat that meal or it wouldn’t be good or be well-presented, but I doubt it would be something I would come up with to showcase Thai cuisine for a sitting US president who is making his first and probably last call to Thailand.

    But what do I know?

    They could have had Jean-Georges as their consultant, but I doubt it.

    Ironically, and folks here will probably crucify me for being a hypocrite, but the thing I would’ve kept on the menu is the som tam, because of the flavor, texture, and color profile, its place in the progression, a representation of a region, and it is not something you usually find done well in the US.

  13. PloyR November 19, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    Right from the beginning, “Siamese herbs” strikes me as pretentious. Does anyone else feel the same way?

    I was going to say something about the bad use of English (they don’t have a proofreader or editor?), but when I see a typo in Thai “ลูกชุป”, I gave up.

    Mee grob is a good choice, btw. I also agree with you that if they wanted to go for an icy dessert, coconut ice cream or young coconut sorbet would have been a much better choice that carries a nice balance between street and elegant. Goes well with the fruits that follow, too.

  14. Isa November 19, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    I don’t know, I think it’s good that they’ve given him a broad overview of Thai tastes. If you’re talking roadside in Thailand, generally each stand only serves one dish – or if it’s a bit bigger and more like a restaurant, perhaps a few more!

    As long as each dish was well done and no less than authentic, I think it’s actually better that they’ve done this, rather than giving him a narrow taste of, say, only Isan food or only Chiangmai food.

    Sounds like he ate well!

  15. Vanda November 19, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    I think it goes without saying that the menu is not as aw-amazing as we would have hoped. If it was up to me, I would have served the president Nam Prik Kapi (fermented shrimp paste chili) – a wholesome Thai dish served with fresh veggies and a nice plump Thai mackerel. Yum..! His reaction upon first bite would have been priceless. On second thought, the stinky shrimp breath this dish leaves eaters may actually hinder international relations!

    I think the menu and its ingredients may not have been decided by the Thai host alone. According to this web article – http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2772/does-the-president-have-an-official-food-taster – the President’s secret service may have a big say on the menu, ingredients, and how things are served. Perhaps this is why Salmon was used? And the menu reflects Thai food typically found in the US? Maybe.

    Sidenote – I’m curious to know what fruits were served? None of the truly impressive ones – Mangosteens, Durian, and Rambutan – are in season.

    @Leela – thank you for this post. You sparked some great conversation.

    • Leela November 19, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

      Vanda, I had the same question about the fruits too. But these days, you know, you get anything almost all year round. Remember back when we were kids how mangoes were 1. gnarly and spotty not pretty and uniform, 2. available only during the mango season, and 3. incredibly delicious? Sticky rice and mango used to be something you enjoyed a couple — 3 at the most — months a year when the mangoes peaked.

  16. Lambsy November 19, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

    Thanks for such an interesting, and as always, amusing, dissection of the menu.
    As a lover of Thai food from Thailand, what I enjoy about your blog Leela, is the opportunity to learn more about Thai food.
    You’ve turned this menu (I’d be happy to eat it) into another learning experience. And for that I say, thank you!

    As for Thai restaurants in Australia, there are so many to choose from yet they are all predictably the same … I would love to be able to take some of the ideas from your forthcoming book/blog/and my own travels, down to the local Thai restaurant and ask if they’d have a go at making that for me.
    Now that’s an idea …..

    • JenniferS November 19, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

      hi lambsy-
      wondering whereabouts you are in aust?
      i am in melbourne (& visit thailand every 18mths or so – but do have a preference for the isaan/laos areas & food) and we have some amazing places here.
      my fave is “yim yam” who have the flavours dancing around in your mouth.
      there are also a couple of others that are certainly a cut above those awful suburban farang oriented restaurants that should be shot for claiming they sell thai food ;)

      BTW, leela, am loving your blog and thanks so much for this post on the presidential menu!
      (am still coming to grips with “meatball soup”, mmmmm not sure about that one)
      jennifers

      • Lambsy November 25, 2012 at 4:59 am #

        Hi JenniferS
        I’m in Sydney – happy to have some recommendations here.
        Most places are just ok, but you know what I always enjoy is having a chat with the Thai people who work there or who are owners.
        Will try to check out yim yam when next in Melb.
        And thanks to Leela for feeding us more ideas … pardon the pun :)

  17. Leela November 19, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

    I just added to the post a link to the Instagram picture taken by Ambassador Kenney: http://instagram.com/p/SLdT7_imfP/ Now you can see how the grilled chicken, papaya salad, and crispy noodles were presented.

  18. Joe November 20, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    In this context, doesn’t it make sense to serve him a broad variety of dishes from all over the Thai culinary map? He’s a foreign dignitary paying a visit to the country, makes sense that they would serve a “Taste of our Country” kind of meal. I could see the president’s chef doing the same thing if Thai dignitaries were eating in D.C., e.g. serving a meal that includes specialties from the South, the Midwest, the West Coast, the Northeast, Hawaii, etc., none of which would normally be found on the same menu in their respective places of origin.

    • Leela November 20, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

      Joe, yes, that’s why both the post and some comments have pointed out how this menu does not make sense: it includes only two regions leaving out the rest. In fact, that suggests the inclusion of the northeastern cuisine is more coincidental than intentional.

  19. Fork and Whisk November 20, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    Looks like an interesting menu. Would have liked to have tried it myself.

  20. Noi November 21, 2012 at 2:10 am #

    There’d been news come out a few days before the President came that Beef Meat Balls Soup had a great chance of becoming a part of the state dinner as it is one of the President’s favorite dishes. I love the menu execpt Lod-Chong!! I guess the chef would like to present an unconventional Thai menu – not typical Thai menu you could have anywhere from overseas Thai restaurants. (I learned from other website that a Thai chef named Vicit at Oriental is the one who created this menu.)

    • Leela November 21, 2012 at 3:01 am #

      The irony, though, is that this menu turns out as eclectic as what you’d find at most Thai restaurants overseas.
      I just found out about Chef Vichit’s involvement as well. Thanks, Noi.

  21. Caleb November 21, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    Leela – Slightly off topic, but I wonder whether you think a “deep” rather than “wide” thai restaurant could be successful in the US. I don’t know about national trends, but Pho for example has become quite popular in my area as an example of a “deep” rather than “wide” (Vietnamese) restaurant.

    • Leela November 22, 2012 at 12:27 am #

      That will be addressed in the sequel of this post. For now, the short answer is, absolutely. A change in that direction has already been brewing.

  22. Glennis November 24, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    I love what you’ve shared with us… I don’t have your background in traditional Thai, but even I look at “meat ball soup” and cringe… They may be the most light and delicate meatballs ever, but still…when you have a cuisine which celebrates vibrant flavors in such luscious combinations… And, I’d prefer a lovely carved piece of mango with sticky rice anytime over…green wormy looking things…. I agree, the menu is confusing. Had the task fallen to me, I think I’d have chosen regional dishes that either showcase the natural commodities of the area, or a strictly regional dish elaborately up-graded. Still…would I have shunned an invitation? Not likely. I truly appreciate your interpretations!!

  23. olga November 25, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    Leela, i’d be super curious to see if you’ve been to Pure (in NYC in Hells Kitchen) on 9th avenue and if you thought it was thematic. The restaurant is focused on a region in Thailand (though I am forgetting which) and the food is unlike anything else I’ve seen in Thai restaurants. I’ve loved what I had but since I’m no Thai food expert, I can’t be certain if this is a version of what Americans would have or actually something somewhat authentic.

    • Leela November 25, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

      Olga, I haven’t, but it’s definitely a place I want to check out on my next trip to NYC. From looking the menu, though, the only theme that emerges is “everyday street foods” which, as far as I can see, includes 3 sub-themes (a noodle joint, a rice-curry or fast-food-made-to-order joint, and a group of random street food carts.

      I don’t see the regional theme being very strong or intentional. Almost all of the dishes are from the Central Plains with only one Southern specialty in the mix (“Wok Chili Turmeric with Beef”) and the pork crackling snack/side which is a Northern thing. The noodle section shows more of a regional theme, featuring noodles which purport to be made according to specific regional traditions (the Northeast isn’t represented).

      However, I’d say the scope and range of their dishes are narrower than those of several Thai restaurants in the US, and that is a very good thing in my book (most Thai restaurant menus are a mile wide and, inevitably, an inch deep). So this narrower focus helps set the stage for this particular restaurant to pull off something awesome. But I can’t say whether they live up to their potential until I visit.

  24. Christian Rene Friborg November 25, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    What a detailed analysis. Good read!

  25. spikygreengobbermontser November 26, 2012 at 2:24 am #

    What would i have done differently?A scenic motorbike taxi ride across Bangkok to Pa Yai’s for a phd Yam Naem Khao Tod.I think he would have loved it.Hes probably bored of all those official dinners.
    PS Ive just read your writing a book.So happy to hear this i absolutely love your site!

    • Leela November 26, 2012 at 3:03 am #

      Best suggestion ever.

      P.S. Thanks!

  26. Laura December 9, 2012 at 10:44 pm #

    I confess I only skimmed the comments, but serving different things makes sense to me. No it is not how a Thai person would eat them, but at the same time they only get the one meal to wow him. I feel like if a foreign dignitary was only here for one night you might see Cajun plus Southern plus New England plus…

    I am glad you identified the mee krob as such. I had no idea that is what it was!

  27. gautam August 26, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    Lates calcarifer, pla kapong kao, or barramundi, wild-caught in estuaries, about 1.5-2 kg sizes, gutted through the gills, maybe stuffed with aromatics or with a minced shrimp and caul fat stuffing, skillfully fried with a cross-hatch pattern and dressed with any number of Thai dressings. Each diamond of the cross-hatches would come off as individual servings for an appetier, served by a skilled waiter, and the crisp skin of this species is excellent, contrasting with a slightly fiery, light tangy herbal Thai dressing and the absolutely wonderful flesh within.

    The bone-in whole fish frying keeps the flesh moist, and the bone structure of this species is ideal for the type of service I mentioned, and it is flaky in just the right way. Leela, please experiment yourself or better yet, ask a Cantonese chef to fry one for you in this manner and you prepare the dressing. Must be FRESH FISH, like 6 hours out of the water. if possible. No stuffing needed.

    The green beans with lump crabmeat, at Krua Apsorn as reported by you, perhaps reduced in chili heat to accommodate all the other members of the entourage, This is for those who may not eat beef. Would that have fit into the place occupied by the vegetables with crabmeat sauce?

  28. Pohaku May 23, 2014 at 11:21 pm #

    Interesting. Obama grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia so many of these dishes (or variations of them) will be familiar to him. Mee krob, for example, is pretty commonly served at Thai restaurants in Honolulu. Keo’s has been serving it forever. May have been novel for others in his entourage though.

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