Photos from khaomangai.com
Very sadly, Kathy and I never had an opportunity this month to visit a local food cart together. Sad face. :( However, earlier in the month two somewhat miraculous and rare things happened: I was downtown with ample time to wander and find lunch somewhere, and in addition, I realized that I had cash on me. I never have cash on me! Who even knows how this happens! (Okay, so I babysat for a friend and he gave me cash.) So I wandered over to the behemoth of original downtown food truck rings, near SW 10th and Alder. The variety of food offered here is particularly overwhelming, mainly in the breadth of choices of foods from different regions of the world. And then I saw this cart, and I said, hey, I have seen this truck before--in the paper! I read about this in the Oregonian, like a nerd! I should follow blindly to what journalists tell me! And I was SO GLAD I did!
Approaching new carts such as these for the first time can often be scary. Especially when you're downtown during the week at lunch hour: you're surrounded by business people type folk who do this everyday and who know the routine. They are fast, efficient, confident. But you don't know what anything on the menu even means! And you feel extremely apprehensive about asking questions to strangers, most of the time! But ALAS! At this food cart, there is just ONE OPTION: a Thai dish called khao man gai. There are some embellishments you can add to it--getting the chicken in it fried (although after eating it, the chicken was so great as is, I don't know how I feel about it fried), or getting it served with chicken livers (blech), or getting extra of anything. But in general, this is what you do, and what happened to me:
Me: -walk up to the counter-Nong: -makes eye contact, smiles- "One for you?"Me: -delighted- "Yes!"Nong: -nod-
That's it people! It's a beautiful thing! I then shuffled to the side and waited for her to make eye contact again to tell me that my stuff was ready. She handed me my bag and I walked away. Easy breezy beautiful Cover Girl.
My one issue this day was that I didn't quite have anywhere to take this bag o' food and sit down. And, shockingly, it was raining. So I wandered awkwardly for awhile until I found a bench on 10th across from the Living Room Theaters, sat down, and uncovered my cutely wrapped up ball of rice and chicken. So what is khao man gai? Let me steal blatantly from her website, like I did with the pictures!
It is one of the most popular THAI FOOD that you can find almost everywhere in Thailand especially Bangkok. The original Khao man gai is from Hainan province, China. You can also find it called Hainanese chicken. It is chicken poached traditional cook with whole chicken. Then use the chicken broth to cook the rice with all aroma thaiherbs. That’s also the reason to use whole chicken because you want the broth to have the most chicken flavor to cook rice. Serve with the pungeon sauce that made from fermented soy bean puree mix with garlic, ginger, thai chilies, vinegar and sugar. Also serve with few vegetable to refresh the meal which is some few pieces of cucumbers and cilantro.
1) Yes, her writing IS adorable; and 2) Guys. It is simple--rice, chicken, and a sauce--and it is one of the most goddamn delicious things I have ever tasted. EVER. I sat on that bench in the rain and was almost moaning with happiness. (In retrospect, I actually think I did talk out loud a little to myself--a little "Oh man!" here, a "Holy crap!" there, since I already kind of felt like a crazy person for sitting on a wet bench eating my lunch in the rain.) Everything about it is perfect. The rice is perfect and light and fluffy! The chicken is moist and flavorful and wonderful! The sauce is AMAZING! It is perfect!
It also comes with a light, brothy soup which I wasn't quite sure what to do with. But Nong also explains this on her website:
In thai style it cannot be complete without the some clear light taste soup to balance everything together also to clean your throat making to meal so enjoyable.
Ah. Okay. I figured it was something like this. So, see, in America, we don't really understand this "cleansing your palate" thing; we prefer to eat super fast until we almost feel sick and then we move on. So, you know. I clearly took a few sips (since I also didn't have a spoon), shrugged, and, feeling faintly guilty, threw it out. I did eat the cucumbers which also come on the side, however, which actually did make me feel a little palate-cleansed-y.
Also, you must, must, must visit this page on her site and watch the short video of her telling her story, just for the point at 30 seconds in when she is describing tourists who've read articles about her, and after she says, "And they come to try chicken and rice!," she smiles with the most adorable, sincere, heart-melting slight overbite of ALL TIME.
After I sat back on my bench and collected myself a little bit, I got up and walked the few short steps to the corner of Burnside to take a visit to Powell's before having to head to class--with a very wet butt. So, essentially, it was the perfect Portland afternoon.