My Food Journey Through Thailand
I lived in Thailand for 8 months, and the best part of my experience was arguably the food. I was stoked on my vision of what I’d be eating in Thailand because it’s always been a favorite cuisine of mine. What I didn’t realize was that Thai food is much different than what I’d been eating and loving all my life.
Thai cuisine is far more expansive than we know it here in the States. Once you grow accustomed to the heat of “Thai spicy” and open your eyes to the magical meats, salads, rice, and noodles of the streets of Bangkok, it’s tough to settle for the gloppy pad thai and cashew chicken from Mrs. Mee’s World Famous Thai-Japanese-Chinese-Latin Fusion Restaurant or whatever the hell these definitely-not-really Thai imposters call themselves. There is no shortage of inauthentic “Thai” restaurants to choose from in NYC, and I wasn’t certain I’d ever get to taste the mind-blowing miracle of true Thai food again without returning to Thailand to get it. Until I found Somtum Der, that is.
Somtum Der was first established in Bangkok in 2012 and then in New York City not long after. Bangkok and New York face a common problem when it comes to Thai food: the majority of what’s available is dumbed down for a milder, sweeter consumer palate. With traditional ingredients like fermented fish sauce and Bird’s-Eye chiles, Somtum Der brings the bold flavors and intense heat of Northeastern Thailand’s Isan region to Bangkok and NYC alike.
First, for the somtum, or green papaya salad. Somtum Der serves up 8 different varieties of the dish, many of which you won’t find in most Thai restaurants in the City. Tum Ploo-Plara is the most authentic (and funky) of the salads, exhibiting an ultra-fishy flavor from the fermented fish sauce and salted field crabs. This is an option to try only if you’re feeling especially adventurous, as this flavor may be disagreeable to the average American palate. Instead, opt for the Tum Thai Kai Kem, made with green papaya, tomato, limes, chiles, palm sugar, and salted boiled eggs, which provide a creamy relief from the vengeful capsaicin fire in your mouth.
Whatever somtum you choose, order a side of the Khao Niaow, or sticky rice, to sop up the juices left behind. You’ll more than likely want to order some more of the rice to repeat this finger-licking ritual throughout your meal. Just sayin’.
Get some larb plates. These spicy chopped meat (or mushroom) salads are chock-full o’ crunchy toasted rice flour, fresh herbs, sweet shallots, salty fish sauce, and–you guessed it–chiles. A beautiful balance of flavors and textures in the meatiest salad you’ll ever lay eyes on. You’ll be on the winning team no matter which dish you choose, so have fun and order a couple. My favorites are the Larb Moo (pork) or Nam Tok Nue (grilled beef), Larb Pla Dook Yang (grilled catfish), and Larb Hed Kao Kuo (mushroom), but you do you.
Next up are deep fried goods. Sa Poak Kai Tod (the fried chicken). Order it, eat it, and thank me later. Also order the Sai Krok Isan (fermented Isan sausages). These tangy little gems are unlike any other sausage with which you’re familiar. You’re going to want to utilize the condiments that come along with the sausages, too. The peanuts, lime, chiles, ginger, and herbs all contribute a piece to the complete flavor puzzle. And you’re going to want in on that puzzle.
Go for the grilled. Eat all of these things. Yes to the Moo Ping Kati Sod(grilled coconut milk marinated pork skewers), yes to the Nue Rong Hai Der & Khao Ji (grilled marinated beef), and yes to the Moo Rong Hai Der & Khao Ji (grilled marinated pork). Yes, yes, yes.
Wash it all down with some malty Beer Lao. It’s not Thai, but be glad. Beer is not the thing Thailand does best.
If you have the capacity to stuff any more food into your face, make that food the Thai Tea Panna Cotta.
Gather your mates, head to Somtum Der for a no-holds-barred Thai foodcation, and eat according to the Feast Breakdown. You will be pleased.
Originally published at newscult.com on March 19, 2015.