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Sweet and Sour Red Curry of Water Spinach and Pork Belly (Kaeng The-pho) from Immm Rice & Beyond in Chicago

Sweet and Sour Red Curry with Pork Belly from Immm Rice & Beyond in Chicago
(This post assumes that you have read its prerequisite.)

When it comes to Thai restaurants in the West, the one type that brings the widest range of emotions out of me is ran khao kaeng, rice-curry shops.

They’re the ones I hope for (Rotating menu! Variety! New stuff at every visit!), look for (Why are they so hard to find in the US?), get excited about (Hooray! One just opened up in the city!), and am fearful for (I hope they won’t go out of business like the two I’d interviewed in the last 5 years…) the most.

When done right and supported by the members of their community (so the people who run them can continue to do it right), this type of Thai restaurant could become not only the most approachable but also the most variegated and interesting ‘learning center’ for those who want to know more about Thai food and sample a wider variety of Thai dishes.

But the way rice-curry shops operate in the West—and I’ll get into this shortly—can be confusing. Consequently, what’s written about them is sometimes inaccurate. And because I want them to succeed so much, seeing how they’re misrepresented or misunderstood makes me feel nervous for them at times. Continue Reading →

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Southern Thai Dry Curry (Khua Kling) from Khua Kling Pak Sod Restaurant

Khua Kling Pak Sod Restaurant - Southern Thai Dry Curry (Khua Kling)
Long-time readers of my website have probably noticed this: I love Southern Thai food. There are many reasons, and I’ll talk about them at a more appropriate time. Today is all about khua kling, the iconic Southern Thai dry curry which I love so much and—now that I think about it—counts as one of those reasons.

I recently had a chance to ask Varesara Smitasiri, owner of Khua Kling Pak Sod (literally ‘khua kling [and] fresh vegetables’), one of Bangkok’s hottest Southern restaurants, a few questions. One of her chefs had also done a demo of the dish for my readers. And this khua kling fanatic couldn’t have been giddier. Though this fine home-style restaurant isn’t the only place where you can get Southern Thai food in Bangkok, I’d be remiss to not include it on the list of great dining spots in the city. Really you should go. Continue Reading →

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Caramel-Glazed Pork Cracklings and Peanuts (กากหมูถั่วหวาน) from Baan Varnakovida (บ้านวรรณโกวิท)

บ้านวรรณโกวิท
Choosing where to eat in Bangkok is never easy; we’re talking about a big and diverse city, teeming with choices. But if forced to identify only one segment where I think the city’s best food is found, I would point to the homes—specifically the homes of old families who cook from recipes passed down for generations. A close second would be restaurants that serve traditional Thai dishes based on family heirloom recipes.

I never understand—or like—the whole unless-it’s-found-on-the-streets-it’s-not-good-or-authentic sentiment, which I’ve noticed from time to time in travel writing or travelers’ comments about Thailand, especially Bangkok. It doesn’t reflect the reality of how Bangkokians actually eat or the way they see their own food. It’s objectively wrong. It minimizes the importance and contribution of the restaurants in the city many of which seek to preserve local traditions and support responsible farming as well as small-scale artisans. It affects me the same way fingernails on a chalkboard do. And I find it just as irritating as the assertion that royal Thai cuisine is the only authentic Thai cuisine.

There’s nothing wrong with being excited about street food or even loving it to the exclusion of others. I, too, love street food. It’s fun; it’s convenient. The streets are where you’ll find lots of things that even the most able and dedicated home cook won’t/can’t make at home. But when that excitement turns into blind, broad-stroke deification of cheap street food and disparagement of more refined establishments, it becomes problematic. Continue Reading →

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