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Sripraphai 2007-present


Fat Guy
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(This topic continues the old Sripraphai topic)

I was out at Sripraphai last night contemplating all its rave reviews (including two stars in the New York Times) and wondering whether it had declined, it was never great in the first place, or there were blind spots that led me to love it more in the past than I do now.

The first thing that jumped out at me (again) was how positively awful Sripraphai's pad Thai is. It's worse than the pad Thai at the average suburban strip mall Chinese-Thai-Vietnamese-Japanese restaurant. Overly sweet, dry, sticky. I've always known it was bad, and felt, well, just don't order it. But sometimes you're with a friend who won't take your advice. And isn't a Thai restaurant that serves bad pad Thai kind of like an Italian restaurant that serves bad pasta?

In addition, our fish was as usual overcooked by a long shot. I don't think I've ever had a non-overcooked fish at Sripraphai.

That being said, some dishes were, as always, amazing -- their quality has not dropped off even with time, expansion and acclaim: the chicken soup with coconut milk, ginger and mushrooms is one of the best soups going, and the soy sauce noodles are great enough that we usually wind up calling for a second order even though we've already over-ordered everything else.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The first thing that jumped out at me (again) was how positively awful Sripraphai's pad Thai is. It's worse than the pad Thai at the average suburban strip mall Chinese-Thai-Vietnamese-Japanese restaurant. Overly sweet, dry, sticky. I've always known it was bad, and felt, well, just don't order it. But sometimes you're with a friend who won't take your advice. And isn't a Thai restaurant that serves bad pad Thai kind of like an Italian restaurant that serves bad pasta?

No, it's not analogous at all. Pasta is an integral part of most Italian cuisines. Pad Thai isn't eaten much in Thailand and didn't originate there.

my surmise is that the only reason it is on the menu at Sriphithai at all is that Westerners keep ordering it. Kind of the way they have chopsticks for the Westerners who ask for them as well.

more here:

http://goodearthpeanuts.com/recipes/padthai.htm

(agreed on the Tom Kha Gai btw, that's the best rendition I've had of that ubiquitous soup)

Edited by Nathan (log)
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Pad Thai isn't eaten much in Thailand and didn't originate there.

Interesting. Can you point to references to substantiate those statements?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Fat Guy's read my mind - I'd been meaning to post about my last trip to Sripraphai about 3 weeks ago but hadn't, and was praying that it was just an off night. I talked it up for days and days to someone who had never been, but even I have to admit that I was disappointed in our meal. We ordered a whole fish that was also ridiculously overcooked. We asked for everything moderately spicy, but I don't think that any of the dishes had a substantial amount of heat. Papaya salad was flat, noodles lackluster. Some dishes were still great - I was, as always, enamored of the beautiful, clear flavors of the tom kha gai and the rich beef massaman curry. Service was erratic and non-attentive, and we waited a really long time for our food. It just seemed to have little in common with all my other trips there (mostly last spring) when I just couldn't get enough of it and went every weekend. What happened?!

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According to Temple of Thai:

History of Pad Thai 

Pad Thai was originally developed in Bangkok to serve busy office workers with fast, nutritious and delicious food to eat in their breaks, but nowadays variations can be seen on menus across the country.

Although the dish is now popular in many parts of Thailand the best Pad Thai is still to be found at the food stalls of Bangkok. Some of the food vendors there have been preparing nothing but the same Pad Thai dish for over 25 years! Pad Thai can be eaten as a light meal at any time but is especially popular in Thailand at the night markets.

Pad Thai is a favorite dish of so many people for very good reason and it is worth taking the time to master it properly.

According to Wikipedia:

This dish was introduced and made popular as a national dish by Luang Phibunsongkhram when he was Prime Minister during World War II

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Pad Thai isn't eaten much in Thailand and didn't originate there.

Interesting. Can you point to references to substantiate those statements?

I gave you one in my original post. I take it you didn't read it?

I've heard this from several Thai acquaintances over the years as well.

Its a fast food in street stalls in Thailand, not a restaurant food. It almost certainly did not originate there because "pad Thai" means "Thai style noodles".

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Fat Guy's read my mind - I'd been meaning to post about my last trip to Sripraphai about 3 weeks ago but hadn't, and was praying that it was just an off night.  I talked it up for days and days to someone who had never been, but even I have to admit that I was disappointed in our meal.  We ordered a whole fish that was also ridiculously overcooked.  We asked for everything moderately spicy, but I don't think that any of the dishes had a substantial amount of heat.  Papaya salad was flat, noodles lackluster.  Some dishes were still great - I was, as always, enamored of the beautiful, clear flavors of the tom kha gai and the rich beef massaman curry.  Service was erratic and non-attentive, and we waited a really long time for our food.  It just seemed to have little in common with all my other trips there (mostly last spring) when I just couldn't get enough of it and went every weekend.  What happened?!

In my experience, if a Caucasian asks for an Asian restaurant to go easy on the heat they don't get any real level of spice at all. In fact, if you ask for it to be at an "authentic" level, trust me, they're still going easy on you. If you want any heat at all....just ask for it to be "authentic"...that'll get you a moderate level of heat.

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The wikipedia link is interesting.

Its sourcing is sketchy. It doesn't say where pad Thai originated. Rather it notes that during WWII the government introduced it to the country (from where?) and encouraged its consumption. That's not analogous to pasta.

from the link I posted above:

"I don't really know how pad thai became the most famous of Thai foods in America. To me, it is but one of many quick fast foods, with the best served by noodle carts, inexpensive sidewalk eateries, and small, nondescript mom-and-pop noodle shops, rather than fine restaurants, in the cities and towns of Thailand. I always find it amusing when restaurant reviewers judge the quality of a Thai restaurant by the quality of its pad thai, as noodles can hardly take claim as lying at the heart of my country's cuisine.

In fact, its name literally means "Thai-style stir-fried noodles," and for a dish to be so named in its own country clearly suggests an origin that isn't Thai. "

http://goodearthpeanuts.com/recipes/padthai.htm

Edited by Nathan (log)
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(Actually you posted without that link, and added it later).

Nathan, you've made two broad claims:

1. "Pad Thai isn't eaten much in Thailand"

This appears to be incorrect. I'm unable to find a shred of evidence to corroborate the statement that "Pad Thai isn't eaten much in Thailand," and indeed there is much evidence that pad Thai is ubiquitous in Thailand -- a national dish, seen on menus across the country, etc.

2. Pad Thai "didn't originate there."

I don't really understand what that means. Tomatoes didn't originate in Italy, so does that mean dishes with tomatoes "didn't originate there"? If that's the standard, nothing originated anywhere. However, what it seems we can conclude is that pad Thai has been a significant part of Thai culinary culture since World War II.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Kind of the way they have chopsticks for the Westerners who ask for them as well.

Chopsticks are part of Thai cuisine, especially towards the north where there is more Chinese and less Indian/Malay influence. Chopsticks are used for noodle dishes while forks and spoons are used for rice-based dishes.

At least, that was my experience when I traveled in Thailand for two months.

Sean

Edited to include a comment on Phad Thai

All of the phad thai that I had from street cart vendors in Bangkok was horrible. Dry and flavorless. I'm sure there are street cart vendors that do it right, but there are plenty (at least the ones I tried) that do it wrong. The best phad thai I had was made in a cooking class that was given by a thai instructor.

Edited by naes (log)
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Kind of the way they have chopsticks for the Westerners who ask for them as well.

Chopsticks are part of Thai cuisine, especially towards the north where there is more Chinese and less Indian/Malay influence. Chopsticks are used for noodle dishes while forks and spoons are used for rice-based dishes.

At least, that was my experience when I traveled in Thailand for two months.

Sean

correct. they are used for noodles only.

other dishes are eaten with spoons. (the fork is used to shovel the food onto the spoon)

edit: my point was that in Thai restaurants here one routinely sees Westerners requesting chopsticks for all Thai dishes...not just noodles.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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1. "Pad Thai isn't eaten much in Thailand"

This appears to be incorrect. I'm unable to find a shred of evidence to corroborate the statement that "Pad Thai isn't eaten much in Thailand," and indeed there is much evidence that pad Thai is ubiquitous in Thailand -- a national dish, seen on menus across the country, etc.

2. Pad Thai "didn't originate there."

I don't really understand what that means. Tomatoes didn't originate in Italy, so does that mean dishes with tomatoes "didn't originate there"? If that's the standard, nothing originated anywhere. However, what it seems we can conclude is that pad Thai has been a significant part of Thai culinary culture since World War II.

I overstated. It is now eaten widely as a fast food in Thailand...especially in the cities.

Tomatoes are an ingredient, not a dish.

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I made my first foray out to Queens a month or so ago to sample this well known restaurant. After eating there, my partner and I both said to each other "What's the big deal?" Food was just ok...perhaps a little better but not worthy of the accolades I had heard from all around, including a Malaysian friend who said it was definitely the best Thai place in NY. Maybe they have gone downhill; I can't say b/c I hadn't been there before, but the meal I had was not out of the ordinary.

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I don't think Sripraphai has changed. I think, at least in my case, the perspective has changed. I used to view it as a place where, with careful ordering, you could put together a fantastic meal. There are a dozen or so menu items that I've found to be fabulous over the years -- the best renditions I've had in New York. That hasn't changed, however these days I'm starting to think more along the lines of how so many dishes are so weak, and the menu is really a minefield for the uninitiated. Again, I don't think the basic excellent Sripraphai dishes have changed. But despite Nathan's protestations I think it's just embarrassing for a revered Thai restaurant to serve bad pad Thai -- it's almost comical.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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This is not the first time I've heard someone Thai express this sentiment:

"I don't really know how pad thai became the most famous of Thai foods in America. To me, it is but one of many quick fast foods ............. I always find it amusing when restaurant reviewers judge the quality of a Thai restaurant by the quality of its pad thai, as noodles can hardly take claim as lying at the heart of my country's cuisine."

edit: in other words, if R.U.B. opened up a branch in Paris and felt obligated to serve hot dogs due to Parisian demand, that doesn't mean that that R.U.B. should be judged by its hot dogs.

edit: it would be like judging Yasuda by its takoyaki (if it served takoyaki).

edit: or judging Grand Sichuan by its Cantonese-American dishes (which suck)

Edited by Nathan (log)
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Nathan, I don't think you've made the case that judging a Thai restaurant by its pad Thai is at all similar to judging a Chinese restaurant by its Chinese-American dishes. Pad Thai, as it seems we have clearly established, is a significant Thai dish, served all over that country. It is not an adapted or dumbed down version of a real Thai dish -- it is an actual Thai dish, and a significant, mainstream one at that.

I fail to see the sense in making these excuses. So what if it's usually the whole meal? I guess I could just go in there and order pad Thai as my whole meal -- the problem is that meal would suck. At least if you order nine other dishes that are good, only ten percent of your meal would suck. That the pad Thai at Sripraphai is poor is embarrassing. It's below the standard of even an average Thai restaurant.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I've had similar feeling on recent trip to Sripra, FG. First, has it fallen off? then, maybe it's just a bad day? and then finally maybe it was never all that great to begin with? But I keep coming back to the watercress salad. It is so f---ing good. So fiery and fabulous. Also the curries, jungle curry in particular. There are days when I think I'm going to levitate from the heat in them and the next day I usually do. . . but those flavor combinations are just spectacular. And they consistently use great ingredients.

As far as relative heat (spiciness) goes, I and at least three other westerners who have traveled in souteast asia feel strongly that the hottest thai food we've experienced was in. . . Queens. Dunno what that's about but there it is.

As far as their fish goes, I wonder if all less developed cuisines in very hot climates "overcook" fish. I'm familiar with some that do and they definitely do it because their boats don't have freezers, they can't afford ice or are out too long for it to stay frozen and they usually end up coming home with a boatfull off smelly but still edible fish which nonetheless need to be cooked a lot to overcome adversity. And certainly the practice began long before ice or freezers and then that's just the way people eat fish. Cooked long.

I've had good pad thai at sripra and not unlike the middle of the road pad thai I've had in markets and food stalls all over Bangkok. I don't see the point of a conversation about the etymology of pad thai when, as FG said, today and for many years now it is a staple in Thailand.

You shouldn't eat grouse and woodcock, venison, a quail and dove pate, abalone and oysters, caviar, calf sweetbreads, kidneys, liver, and ducks all during the same week with several cases of wine. That's a health tip.

Jim Harrison from "Off to the Side"

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Nathan, I don't think you've made the case that judging a Thai restaurant by its pad Thai is at all similar to judging a Chinese restaurant by its Chinese-American dishes. Pad Thai, as it seems we have clearly established, is a significant Thai dish, served all over that country. It is not an adapted or dumbed down version of a real Thai dish -- it is an actual Thai dish, and a significant, mainstream one at that.

I fail to see the sense in making these excuses. So what if it's usually the whole meal? I guess I could just go in there and order pad Thai as my whole meal -- the problem is that meal would suck. At least if you order nine other dishes that are good, only ten percent of your meal would suck. That the pad Thai at Sripraphai is poor is embarrassing. It's below the standard of even an average Thai restaurant.

The point is that it is a fast food dish...not a sit-down restaurant dish. Its analogous to the Cantonese dishes at Grand Sichuan because, as with them, there is no reason whatsoever to order it as part of a sit-down meal.

edit: and I think we've certainly established that it is not at all analogous to paste in Italy.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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Nathan,

Have you been to Thailand and is it your understanding that they have a cuisine that can be differentiated by categories like fast food and I don't know what, "fine dining"?

You shouldn't eat grouse and woodcock, venison, a quail and dove pate, abalone and oysters, caviar, calf sweetbreads, kidneys, liver, and ducks all during the same week with several cases of wine. That's a health tip.

Jim Harrison from "Off to the Side"

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Do anyone have this book by chance? It seems to have a reference about the origins of Pad Thai.

Everything You Need to Know about Asian-American History

I wonder where the closest library is from here....

John Deragon

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Nathan,

Have you been to Thailand and is it your understanding that they have a cuisine that can be differentiated by categories like fast food and I don't know what, "fine dining"?

No, I have not.

My understanding is that the closest thing there is to "fine dining" is Bangkok-style "royal" which is supposed to be clearly distinguishable from the regional cuisines. My understanding is also that there is a difference between a full sit-down dinner (usually done at home or, if in Bangkok, in a restaurant) and a "meal on the go".

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I think we've certainly established that it is not at all analogous to paste in Italy.

It seems more like pizza.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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