It seems safe to say most people have had Thai food at some point in their lives Even if nothing more than quick takeout from your neighborhood Thai restaurant, this type of cuisine is becoming more and more popular all around the country. There are numerous Thai eateries in Los Angeles that we both have experienced, but we’ve never cooked authentic Thai food at home. Luckily, there is a small neighborhood east of Hollywood lined with many Thai markets for us to explore, which come in handy for this month’s Ethnic Exploration. This month’s experiment was definitely one that lead us down two separate paths, but in the end, the journey was a good one. We definitely learned several things along the way.
The fun started in the neighborhood of Echo Park, which finds itself nestled somewhere between Hollywood and Downtown. We decided to check out A-Grocery on Sunset Boulevard. The local market takes pride in its wide variety and low prices. It is stocked with not only Thai goods, but also a few Filipino, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese ingredients. We poked around, speaking with the manager as well who directed us to the aisles we needed to peruse in order to grab a few ingredients for the day’s recipe. Our goal was to cook up a traditional pork laab–spicy pork with onions and fresh herbs. We’d also make a Thai tea to wash it down.
We only had to pick up a few necessary, but new to us, ingredients. Laab does not have a very long list of elements, but there is one that cannot be missed, and that is toasted rice powder. The name tells you exactly what it is–rice that has been toasted and ground into a fine powder. You have to use Thai sticky rice though for the real deal. We could’ve made our own, but we decided to pick up a small packet. We also grabbed fresh lemongrass, Thai chilis, vermicelli noodles and galangal powder. Galangal is part of the ginger family and plays a huge role in Thai, Laotian, Indonesian and other Southeast Asian dishes.
The market has an impressive amount of products stuffed into the small shop. We stumbled over Thai teas and beverages, condiments and sauces such as fish sauce, oyster sauce, ginger sauce and spiced additions as well. Move to the next aisle, and you’ll run your fingers over puddings and frozen custards, dumpling and spring roll wrappers, glutinous rice and bao flour, spices and herbs, and fresh and interesting produce galore. If you need to grab fresh meats and fish, they have them too. All the fish heads you want! Oh, and don’t forget to check the frozen aisle for pork blood, lumpia wrappers, sweet desserts and pre-packaged foods. Look carefully because you never know what you’ll find in there.
We walked out with two very full bags of goodies. Even though we only needed a few ingredients for our recipes, it was fairly impossible not to snag other things along the way. With everything we purchased, we didn’t spend more than $25, and trust us, we bought a lot. It was time to cook, and we were armed with everything we needed.
1487 West Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Here is a slight disclaimer. Our dishes were pork laab and Thai tea. If you’re familiar with laab (also spelled lab, larb, larp and laap), then you may know that it’s a dish that originates from Laos. Laos is locked between several counties, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma and Thailand. It is the national dish of Laos, and it’s popularity has spread to not only Northeastern Thailand and Thai restaurants here in the States. If we must be honest, this is not an indigenous Thai meal, but it is one that has been well adopted into the Thai culture. (For a truly interesting look into the linguistic background of laab, check out the smartly written post from Leela at She Simmers.) For the Thai tea, we added our own twist–coconut milk.
Pork Laab – Serves 4
1/2 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon toasted rice powder
1 teaspoon galangal powder
2 tablespoons water
1 shallot, diced
1/2 small red onion, diced
Zest and juice of 3 limes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemongrass, chopped
3 Thai chilis
Chinese vermicelli noodles, cooked
1. In a medium bowl, stir together the shallot, red onion, lime juice and zest, garlic, fish sauce, cilantro, ginger, mint, lemongrass and Thai chilies. Set aside.
2. Heat the canola oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Once hot, add the pork and cook approximately 5 minutes. Stir in the toasted rice powder, galangal powder and water. Continue to cook until done, approximately 2-4 minutes.
3. Pour the meat, along with its juices, into the bowl with the chopped vegetables and seasonings. Stir well to mix. Serve over the cooked vermicelli noodles.
Coconut Thai Tea – Serves 8
6 bags Thai
2 cups coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar, plus more to taste
1. Pour eight cups of boiling water over the tea bags and steep for approximately 5 minutes.
2. Remove the tea bags and stir in the sugar until melted. Add the coconut milk. Serve over ice.
Well, if we could say that both of our recipes worked, that would be great. Unfortunately, we cannot quite admit that. Something about the pork laab did not meld. Perhaps we used too much toasted rice powder or maybe our brand of fish sauce was too overwhelming. Something did not work. Maybe we should’ve followed the She Simmers recipe instead of doing our own thing, but hey, we’re the Duo. We don’t know how to follow directions. The Thai tea also did not float our boats. It separated in an odd fashion, and the color was very…orange. We could’ve kept those recipes under the rug, but why not share our faux pas with you. At least you’ll learn from our mistakes. In the meantime, we had to go back to the drawing board.
With a big Thai fail on our record, we set out to find inspiration for a new treat. The same afternoon we left A-Grocery Warehouse, we stopped off in Thaitown to explore one more market for a foreign beer. It turned out to be Silom Supermarket. Silom did not have the beer, but right outside the door, they had a flat top griddle set up and a short line forming. We saw these pancake-looking sweets topped with a white cream and stringy, yellow threads. We asked the woman in front of us what she was waiting for, and she said they were Thai tacos. Thai tacos? She offered us two from her box of many, and the second they hit our lips, we were sold. This is what we needed to make! We asked the man behind the griddle what they were called, and he only said Thai tacos. We left with our own box of Thai tacos and the decision to find out how to make them. After putting a call out to Twitter, Cheng at Have Your Cake and Eat It Too hooked us up with the real name for our new loves–khanom bueng. They are a very popular street food that comes in two versions–the salty version features shrimp and coconut, whereas the sweet one is topped with either candied egg threads or coconut. The toppings always sit on a bed of coconut cream. With just a bit more research, we set off to make Thai tacos. And this time, we followed recipes.
5321 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
3 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1. Starting with the topping, bring the water and sugar to a boil over medium heat, stirring often to make sure the sugar has melted. Reduce to a simmer and continue to heat for another 10-15 minutes.
2. Carefully spoon the eggs into the cheese cloth and squeeze through the cloth, circling over the pot. Use a heat resistant utensil to quickly stir the eggs in the water to break up the strands into small pieces. Remove from the pot with a strainer once cooked and set aside to cool.
3. For the meringue, add the egg whites and lemon juice together in a clean, dry mixing bowl. Beat on medium high speed for about a minute, then slowly pour in the sugar and continue beating until you have glossy, stiff peaks. Cover and chill until ready to use.
4. Once ready for the batter, whisk together the salt, sugar and flour in a small bowl. Set aside. In a medium bowl, beat the egg white and vanilla until light and frothy. Stir in the dry ingredients until smooth.
5. Heat a griddle or very shallow pan over medium heat. Spray with a bit of nonstick spray if necessary. Spoon a thin layer of batter on the griddle’s surface, spreading out to form an oval shape. (If you have the traditional kra ja on hand, use that! With no kra jas on hand, we found the back of a spoon to work just well.) Cook until just browned on one side, then flip. Immediately spread a bit of meringue cream on the top and sprinkle with a bit of the sugared egg. Carefully fold over into a taco shape and set on a platter.
*Traditional recipes for khanom bueng batter are made with rice flour, mungbean flour, palm sugar, egg, salt and lime water. We attempted this exact version on the first round, but we did not have lime water. Many recipes say you shouldn’t even make khanom bueng without lime water as it adds flavor and creates the crispy texture of the shell, and they were right! We tried to make our own lime water, stirring it into the batter, but the final taste was not up to par. It was definitely nothing like the batter of the khanom bueng we had outside the market in Hollywood. Looks like we should go back to the market, grab some lime paste and try this one again for authenticity!
Finally! We achieved culinary greatness! Well, at least on this day. Even though we had to use a basic fortune cookie batter to get the taste we were looking for, we were pleased with the substitute. It tasted almost exactly like the crispy tacos we grabbed outside of Silom Market. As you can see, this month’s Ethnic Exploration took us on a whirlwind tour around the world, and we tackled not just one recipe, but three. The khanom bueng top the list of course. We had quite an interesting time stepping one foot into the world of Thai food, and with pantries stocked with staple items, we are poised to try other recipes. What’s next? We should probably work on a new pork laab recipe, so it’s right on the money. If you have any suggestions, let us know!
Click HERE for printable recipes.