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Authentic Thai in the Bay Area


alycemoy
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I have a huge love of all Asian food and for Indian and Chinese food, and can gauge a restaurant cuisine's authenticity and quality to some degree by looking at their menu. Of course, there's the more sophisticated food, and the more homey food, but certain dishes pull you in... the stews and braised dishes... drumstick curries and minced-pork patties.... braised tripe and slow-cooked pork shoulder.... the unAmericanized dishes...

However, every Thai restaurant I've been to has a very similar menu. The standard curries, the pad thai and drunken noodles, and the occasional good salad and larb.

I've read about Thai stews and other more homey foods... foods that grandmothers would cook at home, or food that would be considered street food in Thailand.

Is there any place in the Bay Area that makes good authentic Thai food? And good homey Thai food? Heck, what dishes are considred authentic and homey, so that I can perhaps gauge restaurants a little better from their menu?

--Alyce

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Eager to hear people's favorites.

I can't vouch for authenticity, but one of the best Thai restaurants we've been to so far is Marnee Thai in SF in the Sunset (First location on Irving, the second on Ninth Ave.).

They do have some dishes that one doesn't see in some Thai restaurants: Hor Mok (sic; seafood cooked in a spicy coconut custard and stuffed into a banana leaf), green papaya salad, ginger corn cake appetizer, spicy noodles with cooked egg and crab and the appetizer in which each diner puts a bit of sauce, roasted coconut, dried shrimp, lime, ginger, peanut etc in a green leaf before rolling it up and eating it. The flavors are also more bright and intense in the dishes that are found in other Thai restaurants: Thai Beef Salad, Thai Squid Salad, etc.

Any more details on the Peninsula restaurant Melkor? I couldn't find it with a preliminary Google search. Thanks.

I'm sure Pim would also have suggestions if she sees this thread.

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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I'm a huge fan of Thep Phanom in the Lower Haight. Their regular menu is the typical stuff, but they have a second menu of specialties (which apparently isn't on their website) that are much more interesting. They're a combination of authentic but lesser-known items, and a few modern thai dishes.

I'm a big hor mok fan, Ludja. If you have a hard time finding it, it's not even that tricky to make, once you find the banana leaves. I made a batch for a thai potluck recently:

hormok4ch.jpg

I'm happy to share the recipe. :)

If you really want home-style thai food, I have to put in a plug for Kasma Loha-unchit and her thai cooking classes in Oakland.

~A

Edited by ScorchedPalate (log)

Anita Crotty travel writer & mexican-food addictwww.marriedwithdinner.com

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Nice photo ScorchedPalate ! And thanks for the encouragement to try making it at home. I have made some forays into Thai cooking but haven't made this yet.

I remember having a very similar experience to what alcyemoy described above shortly after I first tasted Thai cuisine, about 15 years ago. I bought a bunch of cookbooks and once I starting reading them was disappointed that many of the dishes weren't listed on Thai restaurant menus--in English anway. :raz: So I started cooking... not a bad thing.

Still glad to hear of peoples local rec's though...

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Thanks for the recs! It all sounds really good.

Cooking Thai didn't even occur to me. But what cookbooks are good if I wanted to take a look?

Here's a thread on Thai cookbooks. I've cooked from a number of different ones, including: "True Thai", "The Original Thai Cookbook" and "Practical Thai Cooking". I've heard good things about Thompson's book and "Hot Sour Salty Sweet" on various threads on egullet. For an unfamiliar cuisine, I found it helpful to see different versions of a given recipe sometime. Libraries are good before you decide which ones you might want at home!

Also here's a good thread on Thai cooking at home.

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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For distinct Thai dishes, try Ozone Thai on Polk near Sutter (second floor). In particular, they have small plates on the back of the menu (which unfortunately they didn't put include in their online menu) that are different that what you'll find in most Thai restaurants around. You'll find things like preserved egg salad, duck in sweet soy sauce, salted fish, garlic and pepper fried pork intestines, olive ground pork, etc. The salads (asian mushroom and duck in particular) are also good there, but stay away from the desserts.

For more standard Thai fare, I like nearby Thai House Express at the corner of Larkin and Geary. Nothing terribly fancy there, but the food is consistent and tasty. They sometimes have some interesting specials on the board above the kitchen, though some of them are only written in Thai. Ask your waitress to translate it for you, and insist when she tells you that only Thai people would like them.

The Thai temples in San Bruno, Fremont and Berkeley have food at lunchtime on Sundays. Nowadays the food at the Berkeley location is catered by nearby restaurants, but the other two still feature food cooked by just regular Thai people. Typically they don't have very unusual dishes, but they make the standard stuff like larb, som tum and fried chicken very well. I've heard the spread is more interesting on days when there's a Thai festival going on, but have never tried it then.

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Wow Malik, thanks for the tip re: Ozone Thai and Thai House Express and for the additional info re: eating at some of the local Thai temples. Duck salad, yum...

A long time ago we used to eat at the Khan Toke on Geary (liked it then but haven't been in a while). They had an excellent duck salad. Has anyone been there recently?

and the appetizer in which each diner puts a bit of sauce, roasted coconut, dried shrimp, lime, ginger, peanut etc in a green leaf before rolling it up and eating it.

Just remembered the name of this, one of my favorite Thai dishes... Miang Kam

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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It wasn't all that long ago (if you are of a certain age, anyway) that there were virtually no Thai restaurants in many US areas that now take them for granted. People who were in the Bay Area at the time will recall Siam Cuisine in 1980 as something of a pioneer, and from that time and place, Thai restaurants spread rapidly in the Bay Area, and to other US regions, though people who came on the scene later, when these restaurants were established, may be unaware of the diffusion.

Plearn Thai Cuisine in Berkeley was another early, influential entry (though I have not eaten there for a few years and cannot speak of how it is it today). I posted a note about its history, 10 years ago on the then-dominant Bay Area HTTP restaurant forum (now defunct). Originally it opened (1981 or 82) near the top of University Avenue on the north side, and had a sign in the window boasting (rather as McDonald's used to) of the number of Pad Thais served. About 1983 it moved to the larger, former health food store site at 2050 University Ave., across the street and down from its original location. (For the record, that health food store was the first place in the US I noticed Birkenstocks advertised, about 1973.) The proprietress, Plearn (with a long family name), became something of a doyenne among Thai restaurateurs in that region and era. When Sweet Basil opened, on Solano Ave. circa 1988, I ran into Plearn there, carefully sampling the fare and nodding her imprimatur to the delighted (and relieved) owners. Much like the scene in From Julia Child's Kitchen (1975, p. 20) where she describes a restaurant meal with her husband in the 1950s in which Colette wheeled by and gave an apparent nod to Julia's order. (Speaking of linked events, the book where I read that is the same copy you saw JC autographing for me if you ever watched the Biography television program on Julia Child. La Ronde.)

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Thanks for the recs! It all sounds really good.

Cooking Thai didn't even occur to me. But what cookbooks are good if I wanted to take a look?

I'll second ScorchedPalate's recommendations -- Thep Phanom's specialties definitely step out beyond the plates you'll find at typical Thai restaurants.

In the kitchen, I've successfully followed one of Kasma's recipes to make a whole fried fish. I'm looking forward to taking a couple of her classes.

c

i play the rock. you shake the booty.
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I did not but my girlfriend went without me.

She says it was a life-changing experience. Oh... and she says My Choice is the best restaurant in the world.

fanatic...

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what dishes are considred authentic and homey, so that I can perhaps gauge restaurants a little better from their menu

Although I don't know SF Thai,.......

Many guage a Thai restaurant by bizarre renditions of duck lip curry and pig snout sausage.

For the most part, it's not that exotic.

Lunch will often consist of a spoon of this, or a spoon of that, over rice.

One thing that sets "down home" street food apart from anything you'll find in a "Thai food restaurant" is that Thai stalls usually stick to one item, or variations of it.

Here's my favorite duck soup spot:

dusitduck.jpg

Here's a slideshow of "typical" stall food (scratch the dimsum and tempura):Bangkok Food

All the single dishes ran 25~35 baht ( 65~85 cents).

I threw in the tempura for price comparison.

At Fuji Restaurants, this set, along with fruit and Thai tea for desert, will run 110 baht, or less than $3.

The "rotiboy" is from Singapore.

ScorchedPalate Posted Yesterday, 05:16 PM

  Malachi, have you gone on one of Kasma's trips? Cameron and I are going this winter after 5 years of postponements (ours, not hers!).

Have a blast!

Anyone interested in Thai food should take a trip to Thailand.

Although the flight is grueling, and a bit expensive, compared to US destinations the rest of the vacation will cost nothing.

Edited by Stupid_American (log)

For Bangkok eats, check out my Cheap Eats Bangkok

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It all looks soooo good!

I've been itching to go to Thailand and eat to my heart's content there.

It's just unfortunate that there's no good rendition of the street food there in the restaurants, especially if it's simple food. I never understood why restaurants don't carry such things on their menus...

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It all looks soooo good!

I've been itching to go to Thailand and eat to my heart's content there.

It's just unfortunate that there's no good rendition of the street food there in the restaurants, especially if it's simple food. I never understood why restaurants don't carry such things on their menus...

One of the biggest problems is the format of Thai dining versus Western dining.

Thais will go to this cart/still/shop for duck soup, that for pad thai, and still another for laad naa.

Many shops graduated from stalls, which graduated from carts.

In the US, health codes of most counties don't lend themselves to food carts.

There's really no chance for the one dish wonder to get the exposure to grow into something bigger.

As far as offering the items on their menu, many of the "Thai restaurants" in Thailand suffer from the same mediocrity as those in the West.

Often what makes the "stand out" dish is a broth or sauce with requires some commitment.

When they try to be all things to all people, the usually fail on most counts.

Also;

Although most of the carts, stalls and shop will beat most anything here, there are good and bad.

If you are to head over, check resources such as this, and ask locals after you arrive.

Thais are always happy to share their favorite spots.

"Business Lunch"; Soi Convent:

convent1.jpg

For Bangkok eats, check out my Cheap Eats Bangkok

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