Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thai Food Crawl 2014

I had the wonderful opportunity of being a part of a Thai Food Crawl sponsored by the Royal Thai Consulate General in Chicago.  This Thai Food Crawl highlighted the best Thai restaurants in Chicago that offered the most authentic dishes prepared in traditional Thai fashion.  The purpose of the Thai Food Crawl was to showcase dishes Thai cuisine offers beyond your standard pad thai.  And who would be better to choose the most authentic Thai restaurants in Chicago than the Thai Consulate?  The top picks were the following: 1) IN-ON Thai; 2) Jin Thai; 3) Herb Restaurant; 4) Aroy Thai; 5) Rainbow Thai Cuisine; and 6) Sticky Rice, in no particular order.  We are all guilty of ordering the usual pad thai or basil chicken (which, yes, I will admit that I love) whenever we order at a Thai restaurant.  But this food crawl taught me that Thai food offers so much more than merely sweet, savory, and/or spicy flavor profiles.  Authentic Thai food incorporates salty, sweet, spicy, sour, and bitter flavors, all the while including crunchy, chewy, and crispy textures wrapped up into one bold yet balanced dish.   Also note that the picture above does not include chopsticks. *Gasp!* One of the first things I learned on this food crawl was that a sign of an authentic Thai restaurant is to see only a fork and spoon on the table.  Additionally, all curries and pastes are made from scratch consisting of countless amounts of different types of dried chilies, herbs and/or homemade seasonings.  Not only did the Thai Consulate provide a coach bus to transport the food enthusiasts (i.e. gluttons) around town, we also had Steve Dolinksy (a.k.a. The Hungry Hound) lead us through the evening while we were accompanied by the Consul General of Thailand, Songphol Sukchan.  Talk about food crawling like a BOSS.  Now my expectations have elevated to a level where I expect to see Alpana Singh piloting my next wine tasting.  Special thanks to my wonderful friend Bee for the invitation as well as the Thai Consulate for sponsoring such an eye-opening and fabulous Thai Food Crawl that will forever change my food crawl and Thai food standards. #dinelikeroyalty
A pamphlet was provided to to each guest listing out the tasting menu at each restaurant. 
Lead the way, Hungry Hound!  [Insert howling sound here.]
Familiar with the Thai iced tea? Well... 
There is so much more than that!  Every restaurant offered a different Thai iced beverage that used different types of tea leaves which tasted so delicious and unique.  Who knew that there was more than your standard Thai iced coffee and Thai iced tea?! My eyes have opened to a whole new world of beverages.  #gamechanger
First Stop: IN-ON Thai.  We began our crawl with the Mee Krob. Crispy stir fried rice noodles dressed in a sweet sauce served with fresh soybean sprouts balanced with acidity by som saa, a Thai citrus fruit.   This dish is considered an ancient dish originally only served to the Royal Court of Thailand.  
Kanom Jenn Name Ya.  Noodles with fish curry at IN-ON Thai.
Spoon the fish curry over the rice noodles and top with fresh vegetables and lemon basil.  You can top the noodles with the different vegetables according to your taste.  I personally loved topping the noodles with the sour, pickled vegetables with the fresh bean sprouts.  The curry is made from fingerroot, a spice which resembles a milder version of ginger.  In Thailand, the Kanom Jenn Name Ya can be enjoyed during breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Similar to how Americans love bacon served during breakfast, lunch, or dinner... and dessert.
This condiment is called prik nam pla.  Prik nam pla is akin to ketchup (or now, Sriracha?) in America because prik nam pla is the staple condiment that can be added to any dish.  The flavor is very salty and spicy.  A little goes a LONG way. I had the Deputy General Consul physically stop me from dripping a teaspoon full of the the prik nam pla into my dish because I was being too ambitious with this sauce.  A novice move on my part. 
Second Stop: Jin Thai.  
Khanom Buang Yuan (Thai crepes) at Jin Thai. 
This dish is assembled similar to how you would put together a lettuce wrap. The thin crepe was filled with coconut, shrimp, fried tofu, and vegetables with a side of sweet pickled cucumbers.  
Dried chili peppers, fish sauce, sugar or vinegar was provided to season each dish to your liking. 
Boat Noodles at Jin Thai.  
Oh. My. Lord. Delicious! You MUST order boat noodles if you are at Jin Thai.  I think everyone on the food crawl was rushing to slurp up every last bite of the this before we left for the next restaurant.  Rice noodles are swimming in a dark broth thickened with pig's blood providing an absolutely savory aroma and rich flavor that leaves your mouth watering for another bite.  Fun fact: historically, this Thai street food was served right out the boats pulled up to the shores of the canals of Thailand when boating was the main source of transportation and trading for the country.  
Third stop: Herb Restaurant.  Herb focuses on providing health conscious dishes that are fresh, nourishing, and beneficial to your well-being.  If you're looking for Thai food that also gives back to your body, definitely visit Herb. 
Miang Kahm (off-menu item) at Herb.  Miang Kham translated means "eating many things in one bite."  These palm-sized bits are filled with big flavors consisting of ginger, chili, garlic, lime, peanuts, and toasted coconut flakes, wrapped in a kaffir lime leaf providing layers of different textures.  Definitely request an order of these at Herb because they are the perfect appetizer before your Thai dinner.
Nam Bai Bua Bok drink is also known as pennywort juice.  This drink tasted refreshing and very healthy.  If you're into green juices and/or wheatgrass (or need to detox from a weekend), this drink is up your alley. 
Blue shrimp at Herb.  Raw blue shrimp, cumin with spicy bird's eye chili lime sauce, garnished with an apple blossom.  Equally delicious as it is gorgeous.  Warning: Very spicy! 

Khao Yum Pak Tai.  Thai rice salad with an apple blossom flower.  This dish is composed of rice served with bean sprouts, toasted coconut flakes, lemongrass, chopped kaffir lime leaves, sliced mangoes, and other vegetables with a dash of lime juice.   Mix everything together like a salad and eat! 
Fourth Stop: Aroy Thai.  Nam Ta Krai is a lemongrass tea that is refreshingly sweet with a zesty lemon-ginger flavor.
Tam Khanun at Aroy Thai.  Stir fried Jackfruit salad. This is a fantastic vegan dish made with jackfruit that provides a meaty texture,  without the meat!  It is seasoned with chili paste, garlic, tomatoes, kaffir lime leaves, coriander and onions.  
Larb Khua.  This minced meat salad originates from northern Thailand.  This dish is cooked over low to medium heat rather than the typical high frying temperatures necessary to cook rice noodles (i.e. pad thai or pad see ew.) The meat is cooked with a paste composed of dried chilies, garlic, and shallots and served with sticky rice and pickled cucumbers. 
Fifth Stop: Rainbow Cuisine.  Nam Ma Toom.  Bael Fruit drink.  I had never heard of the bael fruit before Rainbow Cuisine but apparently, fresh picked bael is a sweet yet sour fruit with many health benefits. The tea was reminiscent of a sweet peachy passion fruit tea. 
Nam Khao Tod at Rainbow Cuisine.  A crispy rice salad that is DELICIOUS.  A must order at Rainbow Cuisine.  The salad is originally from Laos and is made of crispy deep-fried rice balls mixed with minced pork sausage, peanuts, coconut, shallots, mint leaves, green onions, cilantro, lime juice, and fish sauce.  Can we have enough flavors in one bite?  Also, can we please take the time to admire the hand-carved rose? 
Sai Oua at Rainbow Cuisine.  A Thai sausage from northern Thailand made with pork but unlike the Sai Krok Isaan [below], this sausage is made with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, shallots, cilantro, birds eye chilies, garlic, salt, and fish sauce. 
 Sai Krok Isaan at Rainbow Cuisine.  Pork sausage from northeastern Thailand made with ground pork seasoned with chopped garlic, salt, and steamed rice.   
Sixth and Final Stop: Sticky Rice for my personal favorite: DESSERT! 
Kanom Krok (coconut custard hotcakes) were being prepared as soon as we stepped inside the restaurant. 
Kanom Krok is a mixture of flour and coconut cream fried in shallow wells that provide a crispy outer shell but a chewy and soft center that is filled with either green onions, corn, taro, or pumpkin filling.  Absolutely delicious! I love warm desserts and these little bites provide a perfect balance of a savory/sweet flavors! 
Ruam Mit at Sticky Rice.  Ruam Mit means "social cohesion of diverse elements."  If I were to break down the translation even further, this dish is Thai-style shaved ice with toppings.  A bowl is filled with shaved ice, jackfruit, lotus root, tapioca, rice noodles and topped with coconut milk. 
I love and appreciate a beautiful dessert spread.  Too cute.
Khao Niew Ma Muang at Sticky Rice. Warm sticky rice sweetened with coconut milk served with salted yellow mung beans and ripe mangoes.  One of my favorite Thai desserts! 
Maprow On. Fresh young coconut water! It doesn't get any fresher than this. You can also scrape out the fleshy coconut as an additional treat.  VitaCoco is child's play compared to a freshly cracked young coconut. 
Plus, they make for a great photo-op! 
Stefanie and I felt pretty cool dining and chatting it up with Ji Suk Yi and Steve Dolinsky.  We tried to play it cool all evening.  I think it worked. #pictureinapicture
A huge thank you to the Royal Thai Consulate in Chicago for a night filled with delectable Thai cuisine and fun memories.

Kop khun ka.  Kop khun krup. 
Happy eating.