Friday, September 10, 2010

Portland II: the Khao Soi Strikes Back

Another kind guest post from my friend Adam to compensate for my post slackingness from having an actual job (or 2) these days. I've also started another blog, Chocolate from the Source, on my chocolate explorations, bean-to-bar making, and the chocolate company I'm starting which seems to be taking time away from my khao soi hobby. :( But never fear, Adam is here to save the day! And he's being modest as we went to Sripraphai in Queens a couple of months ago and he was keeping up with the fast and furious pace of 13 esoteric dishes I ordered and he remembered the Thai phrases I taught him, so I trust him and his wife to know a great Khao soi when they see it!

Hello fellow khao soi seekers. I've been invited to guest blog today
to spread the word about a place I discovered in Portland, OR. First, my credentials: I may not be as hard-core as some around here, but I know a good khao soi when I see one. I've done Chiang Mai, I've done Rhong Tiam in NYC (before they moved and screwed up the food), and I've done Sripraphai in Queens.

We were randomly wandering around Portland on a road trip from British
Columbia to Burning Man. The guy at Powell's books (the disneyland of bookstores, if disneyland wasn't soulless and commercial) pointed us to a row of lunch carts nearby for a meal. One of them turned out to be a hidden gem -- Somtum Gai Yang. Somtum, as I knew, is green papaya salad -- my other favorite thai dish. Gai yang, Nat tells me, means grilled chicken. Didn't have a chance to explore what they had to offer in that department.

We ordered the
khao soi, somtum, sticky rice, and an iced tea.
Everything was perfect. The Somtum was perfectly balanced between sweet, sour, spicy, and salty, and the papaya was just the right crunch, but just soft enough to chew without chomping. Sticky rice was done right. And the main event, the khao soi, was remarkable. Creamy but not oily, spicy and flavorful, crunchy and sloppy. Plenty of pickled greens (I moonlight as a pickle fanatic). My wife Anya and I were fighting over the spoon.

Spice: Anya has a palate of steel so believe me when I say that this
joint was not kidding around. She was high as a kite for a good half hour after lunch. And these guys know the secret to making food super spicy in that subtle way that enhances the flavors rather than blowing everything away.

Ambiance: this is a lunch cart. Still, it's adorable, built to look like a little red caravan wagon. There are a few tiny tables on the sidewalk that you can grab if you're lucky or very intimidating. We shared a table with an interesting character, a veteran of the organics-vs-large-agribusiness wars who was stranded in Portland for a few hours. He was no stranger to khao soi either -- in fact I heard him thank the chef in Thai as he left.

Not bad for a little lunch cart on the street. Rock on, Portland.

Somtum Gai Yang
Lunchcart row: SW 10th St. and SW Alder
Portland, OR 97205
Southwest Portland
(503) 522-9543


Dave said...

Good to see a post about West Coast khao soi. Where's the photo of the cart, though?

Unknown said...

sw 10th ave & sw Alder st.

Nat said...

Thanks, Bat, fixed.

stereolad said...

Hi Nat!
Yes, I can vouch for this one. The moment I had their khao soi, I knew it had to make it on this blog. Their som tum is also nothing to sneeze at.

Jeff Landers said...

Another worthy khao soi to try on your next trip through PDX: Lemongrass, located at N.E. 17th and Couch, one of Portland's oldest and finest Thai restaurants. Shelley, the owner, started me on my own Quest for Khao Soi.

Joshua Trupin said...

I couldn't find this cart in PDX last week, but I discovered khao soi at Pok Pok, which was pretty good. They put a bone-in chicken leg in it, and it also came with toasted chili paste and pickled vegetables. It was fairly mild, however. (