There were two Thai establishments I had wanted to hit while in Portland. The first being Pok Pok. Pok Pok is the much raved about Thai restaurant which has been written about just about everywhere as well as showing up on a couple of television shows. I visited last march and had almost nothing to add to the chorus of praise. I figured a second visit might enable me a better formed opinion. Unfortunately they were closed.
A long walk across the river would take us to Nong's Khao Man Gai. I've written about this dish here and here. I was excited to try this place as this wasn't a dish I ever imagined really eating outside the kingdom. Closed as well.
Now here's a problem I've briefly hit on before. Eating this kind of food is tough as there's a lot of shit out there. Many meals end in disappointment. We search and search for the simple pleasures of these simple dishes that are super common in their places of birth. How much effort should we put in to get this transplanted street food? What standards should it be held to? Making a trip for something you like is fine and good, but sometimes the journey's just not worth it. The journey that the recipe has made, and your journey across town for that one place that hopefully doesn't make a mockery out of a dish you know and love. The shift from an everyday meal to a unique dining experience like we were looking for at the above is always a hard one for me to wrap my head around. Maybe it would be better to just eat something else.
Lucky for us, literally fifty feet away from Nong's was a cart simply named Somtum Gai Yang. That is, papaya salad and barbecued chicken. It wasn't the revered Pok Pok, but it was something.
It's tough for me to review this stuff. It didn't live up to what I once took for granted in Thailand, but it was pretty good. The Som Tam while a little unorthodox and lacking dried shrimp, still managed to be salty, sweet, and spicy. The chicken was surprisingly moist and delicious. Better than your average dry and bland chicken so prevalent in America.
While I don't think I'll be rushing back, it's nice to see that this particular kind of Thai food is catching on and not only found at one token place in the city. Give it a try if you work in downtown Portland or are a hungry wandering manic.
Somtum Gai Yang
SW 10th and Alder
Portland, OR 97205