Andy Ricker: "The Drinking Food of Thailand" | Talks at Google
I'm. Really, excited to be here today. Sitting, with Andy Ricker who. Is a known, Thai food expert, he, is a. Big. Part of actually, pushing, our American, consciousness around. Thai food and understanding. Of a beyond Pad Thai green. Curry the, things you see in so many restaurants, here. In America. He has Pok Pok in Portland, and New. York restaurants. He, has won a James Beard Award which. Is hard, to get so I'm here to. To. You, know be accurate in which years. Well. I won for Best Chef one year and I went for writing, in another year oh I. Didn't know about the writing one Wow so many talents. And. You've, published. Your second cookbook this year which is why we're all, here today it's called the drinking food of Thailand. Before, we dive into that I wanted to ask you guys in the audience quickly, how many of you have been to Thailand. Wow. That's. Great and. Then. How many have been to Pok, Pok, it's. Very cool uncle yeah. Not. Super surprising. Well, great so there's some people that aren't fully acquainted, me with your restaurants. So I thought it might be good for you to dive into your. Expertise, and kind, of how you got here you don't, look like your tie no, am i right that's true you're, very right about that so, how did we get here how are how, did so the question how did I, start. Your journey, to. Becoming a Thai food expert, basically, well, first of all I want, to say that I don't consider myself an expert okay. I consider. Myself more of a student. And. How. I got here was by, traveling. I mean essentially that's that's. The way that's the in my opinion that's the best way to let if you're curious about something, that is a living. Culture or living, art. Form or cuisine or something that comes from somewhere else you go there and check it out I went, there initially, as a backpacker, in the 80s and I, wasn't really looking for anything, except for a good time right. Which I had and. I. Went. Again in the early 90s, and the. 92 to be exact and I. Had a really good friend of mine who was living there who. Had married, a local, woman who worked at the University. As a professor, and. They were she. Was from chin mine that's where he had settled. In so they. Introduced, me to the, local, cuisine while, I was there which, was. You. Know the it. Was very seated that they introduced me to some seasonal. Dishes right, I didn't, really realize that there was such a thing as seasonal, food yeah when it comes to Thai food because my experience, was much like a lot of other folks in, America which is that you get your experience by going to a Thai restaurant here, and, for. Many, many years things, are changing a lot now over the last ten years things have changed a lot but you. Know during that time you, know it was basically the same menu wherever you went and it never changed, so. You. Know, being. In Chiang Mai and being introduced to a dish that was like local. Seasonal. Regional. Was. Really kind of shocking what was that dish remember, yeah remember, I mean I've told this story probably a million times but um. It's. A dish called gang head pop head top is a type of mushroom it looks like a puff ball it's kind of really dark brown kind, of that's kind of a bitter taste. To it very earthy and bitter but. It's a really prized wild, mushroom so, right around March April they start coming up in the forest and people I, I live, in Chiang, Mai I live in a small village about. 20 kilometers, north of Chiang. Mai and, during. Hit top season if you try to go to the market in the village. As. Soon as the head tops start popping, up around like all of a sudden all the shops are closed any like where where is everybody why and they're like oh they're off gathering, head table because head top gets 200, baht a kilo, you know or more so. And. They're you know you go get them for free out of forest right so this is a very really highly prized but they only come up, you. Know for about a month month, and a half out of the year and when they come up they start it they make some dishes using. That. Mushroom. Yeah. And so that was that was the way, that I kind. Of first, connected, with the. Idea that there was something. Regional. Local. Seasonal. Ephemeral. Yeah. Like, just, like. Regional. American food or Spanish. Food or Italian food or French food or anywhere where there's there's a regional. Seasonal, type. Cuisine. And. From there you just kind of got hooked and then you kept going. Back to Thailand and just became a real true student of the food yeah. I started. Going back again and again and again and, it. You, know at first it, was very tentative, because I couldn't speak the language I couldn't. Read still can't read the language and. I. Didn't really know that much about it so I was relying on.
My. Friends, to kind of guide me and, friends. Of friends I, was. Just spending all my time in markets walking around looking at stuff slowly, learning how to speak the language until. I started to gain enough knowledge that I could kind. Of start really, delving, into it, cool I know at that time what were you doing for work were you a cook for you okay. So I, was initially. I was. Working. As a cook or a sous chef or whatever okay. Yeah. In Portland. Yeah, it was mostly Portland, at this point. And. Then I. Started. Being a painting contractor I, was painting contractor for about eight years and what that allowed me. To do was you know I'd work really hard from the, spring through the end of summer into the holiday season and then. Work, would dry up over the holiday season which was perfect, so I could go, to. Thailand and hang out for a couple of months and so. That happened every year and that was where I really started digging, in during. You know sort of the mid 90s up to the early 2000s, so. Let's talk about the book, the, title is interesting, mmm the drinking food of Thailand not, Thai drinking, food you. Know what I actually had a bit I had a little bit of a battle with the editor. Over that, tell. Us about it okay so. It. Wasn't it wasn't a major like the first we had a huge, fight about the the photograph. On the first book this wasn't so the, title of it is a hongou clam which means with. Food, with whiskey a hunk of clam and the. Drinking food of Thailand is instead. Of Thai drinking food when you say when, I think of Thai food or, Thai. I'm. Thinking of the center of Thailand I'm. Thinking of. I'm. Thinking of the Thai people and they they're, the. Dominant culture, but they're not the only culture there there's the the people of the north that cone Hmong and. Then there's like subgroups, of ethnic. Groups young. Mun, that. Type of thing that if, you look back far enough in history you see that the, Thai people are the most dominant culture, now but they weren't always right and the. Language of the north is different from the language of the center is different from the language of the Northeast which is where mostly, Lao. And Khmer people live. The. The. Climates. Are very different, staple. Rice's are different the very south of Thailand has its own culture. Language. And food and, so. When when you say Thai food to a Thai person, say. We're in Chiang Mai and you say to your friend you want to go out and eat and they say what do you want to eat if you say Thai food you're talking about central Thai food you're gonna go eat or you. Want to eat Isan, food you're gonna go find a northeastern. Restaurant. Restaurant or if you want to eat Thai food, you're gonna go eat sh and Thai a food it's not Thai food right so I know it seems petty, but. I kind of went to the mat with them because I wanted to say Thai drinking food I'm like no it's really it's not because we're going kind. Of around the country a little bit and cherry-picking, things and some of the food that's, that's, featured in here has nothing to do with Thai central, Thai food at all so that. Was important to me to make that distinction and in a lot of ways that's kind.
Of What I've attempted. To do with the restaurants, in the books since the beginning is kind of point, out that it's that. Thailand. Isn't a monoculture, though, if. You ask somebody, from Thailand who's from Isan they still feel Thai right, but, there's a back there's a back history, to everything that's, that's not a parent got. It that helps to define the food and it may help it helps people to understand. The. Food itself and how to eat it and how it fits into the context, of the culture. So. I'm. Guessing that you can't get any of this food in any of your restaurants no. You can you, can absolutely we, have a restaurant, in Portland called the whiskey soda lounge which is dedicated, to this food but you know actually yeah. So. If people are just picking up this book for the first time which I'm guessing a lot of people in the audience here will be doing is. There, like a good, icebreaker recipe. In the book yeah, starting. Place there is there's probably, one of my favorite, dishes. In the genre is something called yum-yum met mama wonky Mabon which is long. Webpage it. Should be pretty early on okay, it's in the solids but, essentially it's a very long way of saying cashew. Nut salad so really, really it's like it's very very simple you just roast, cashew, nuts either dry or in oil and then. You just sprinkle salt. Scallions. And chilies. On top of it and they, just eat it with a spoon and, it's. About as easy as against the recipe, it's, a recipe believe it or not and, that. Picture you can see the picture that's taken I should talk a little bit like, show. That show him the picture yeah so. That was taken at a karaoke. In. I'm. Trying to remember where we were when we took this I think we're an pong. North of. North. Of. Bangkok. When we took that at. A hotel they had like a karaoke. Slash story. Of stage shows place. Cabaret. And. It's. The table number 35 they're. So. Cool so these are pictures yeah but so what we did so, what we did was we went around and we took photographs, of, the food, and. That that's a different place that's that's a Bangkok at a Isan, style, cabaret. We. Went to these various different types of drinking establishments, and we shot the dishes there, they'd. Bring it put it on the table and bam we'd shoot it with a hard flash kind. Of like to make it you know so that the vibe should feel kind of like you're out somewhere at night but, that that's that, dish, itself, is something that you can find almost anywhere we're gonna go out and go, drinking sorry.
The Road anywhere where they can cook stuff it's such an easy thing to do and people love it so much that, yes and, it's kind of if you think about its kind of perfect, drinking foods hot. It's. Like nutty, and salty, crunchy. And. It goes great with beer or whiskey so, like a really good thing to just throw together if you're good people over and you want your watching the football game or whatever yeah it's it. Looks really dopey simple almost lazy but it's proud it's one. Of the most delicious things in the book very, cool how, about something that is like. More, labor-intensive, maybe. A little more daunting but, you just think it's so. Amazing you're so proud of it and it's worth the effort for people to maybe spend yeah, a whole day finding, the ingredients and cooking it so one, of the one of the premises of the book was first of all was to go out and shoot it and and, then do the recipes later the, other one was to have. A little, bit of discovery, during the process of making the book like. Trying to find a new dish or some, interesting, way. Of cooking that I hadn't had before in, the process, of making the book so there's this one dish called. Sea. Chramu, dynam, which, means, pork. Ribs cooked under water. And. It's it's kind of a punny thing it, essentially. The. The trick is that you you, you kind, of you. Pound up a paste, of aromatics, and chilies and garlic and stuff like that and then you, you. Mix it either with chicken wings or with pork ribs and you put it into a pot with. Maybe just a little bit oil but not much and then. Fire. It up and you put a bowl of ice water on top of it yeah, the ice water seals the top of the pot and as. The moisture from the the cooking paste. And meat and everything hits the bottom of the bowl it, condenses, and drops back down into the pot now, how, did I find this in, the weirdest place so I was in, Slovenia. Not. Thailand, not Thailand, but. I was traveling with a good friend of mine this guy named David Thompson who's a really, well-known Thai, chef also. Obviously, not Thai. And his sous-chef. Pot. Said. Hey have you ever heard of this dish. You, know by Nam and I was like no I never heard of that before, yeah and he explained it to me so when I got to Thailand, I started looking into and I asked a few people around it turns out it's kind of an Isan thing and northeastern, thing. And I. Didn't, have a recipe, so I just kind of looked around on the internet to see if there was anybody who was making it I couldn't. Find anybody important in Chiangmai area that actually made it it's, kind of think it's more kind of like something, that people do at home okay, so I talked to some friends from Isan they're like oh yeah yeah that's it's this whole thing and so, I you, know it. Was described, like, they described the various different things you would put into it so I just kind of tried, it you know and it took me probably about, six. Or eight times to get it right but. It's. A really interesting technique. It's, a delicious dish it kind, of smothers, the the meat in this paste and it kind of sticks, to the ribs and its really really spicy, really. Savory. And it's it's improv, you want to impress somebody with your cooking skills it's a good one that's. Really cool that story is so interesting too so you never actually found, someone funny you know they're never found. But. But. You know what exists I know I'm making it yeah and and I talked to some people some Isan people about it they're like oh yeah we used to do that with a whole chicken some people would like they take a whole chicken and chop it up and do it or some people say we just do it with wings but, I thought it would be really good with pork because it would allow to cook for a longer. Period of time mmm so. Anyway, smart, Wow. It's. Very cool that's that's, the chef II bit, of me coming out like I normally don't exercise. We. Expect that's what they tell me. So. I know there's a lot of maybe, hard-to-find, ingredients in, this book I would, love for you to talk about some of those maybe, here. No I think you guys are tight, here like. In San Francisco there's.
Very Few things that are in this book that you can't get in a good, Southeast, Asian market in San. Francisco this. Particular, book it's. A few things like occasionally. Like, for one of the recipes for LA there's. A few spices that are really difficult to get ahold of, that you. Have to, really. Hunt it down I found, them in New York through a purveyor. There and, I bet if. There's anybody from Chennai the lives here or northern, Thailand you probably be able to find a few of these things so there's one called McQuinn which is kind of a black prickly, ash relative. Of prickly ash it's relatively. Hard to find there's no real substitute, for what. Does that taste like, kind. Of like black prickly ash. I. Was, thinking of just like a. Peppercorn. It's peppery but it doesn't have that numbing, that really not a flavor that that Szechuan peppercorns, have and. It's got kinda it's kind of got a bitter, kind, of like very distinctive. Flavor, that. It's not entirely, unlike Szechuan, peppercorn. But also not quite like it either I think, that that particular type. Of tree. I think, there's a lot of different varieties a bunch of different varieties green there's green red. Black and then, a whole bunch of other stuff, the, trees are amazing that they're the trees for the for the session I don't know if you've ever seen it before but the the trunks, have. Like these crazy, spikes, on them so whoever decided to climb one to get the get the stuff out of there the first time was a real, daredevil a real. Hero yeah cooking, it might not have lived to tell the tale. Are. There things that you have to order online like. Certain things that you. Mmm. Again. I really. I think if you if you look around here. You're. Gonna find everything you need, perhaps. If you live in Kansas City you might have to order stuff online or maybe frozen, things but here I think you're pretty good, awesome. So, how about if if people are gonna get this book for someone, for Christmas or as a gift is, there some kind of a companion gift, you think might be good with it like yeah, a bottle of whiskey or 6-pack of beer I think is probably the best companion, for that would be the most efficient. Would probably want to get it for somebody who likes to drink yes. Actually. I'm interested to know vessel, more I, mean really like it's, really difficult to make this food without a mortar and pestle okay, I don't really know how to do it without it so. What. You want is a granite. Mortar and pestle you should have one of those anyway if you're cooking, so. Hot where do you find one of those do they ask you William summer oh, they. Might have like a little crap you want it right you want to know please have granite so I'm you want to go you want to go to a Southeast Asian market, and they typically have them the, range in size from conservative, this to this. You know it typically, you can find some that are about that big and try to get the biggest one you can find because, it's not gonna be that big and you. Can make curry pastes in it and there's.
Almost Every recipe require, that tool, almost every not not all the young mom wonky meep on doesn't. Noted. So, that's it that's just kind of like a part of the. The. Pomp and not the pomp and circumstance but the preparation, of most high dishes is that people whip out their mortar and pestle and they're just, well. Mashing, together flavors, I can give you a story about that too so the. Store the the name of the restaurant bock bock is the, sound of a pestle, hitting a mortar okay, so, the. Way that I came up with that name was, many. Years ago I was on the, deal diesel. Railcar from, Korat back, to Bangkok and. I. Had come from I come, from all the way up in Chiang Mai I've come all the way down through Isan and ended up in Colorado or or Obon. Ratchathani and I. Went there to eat, lop. Duck lob and, I. You. Know I I, was, on the railcar back to Bangkok. And I was, sitting in third class because I was a broke-ass backpacker. And. There. Were some folks there who were her workers from, Isan who were going back to bangkok after. The holidays and we, started talking and they. Said why are you here why, did you come to Cole rot because at the time there were very few there. Are some expats there but not many tourists and. Even. Though it's one of the biggest metropolitan. Areas in all of Thailand it's, like second. Or third largest in all of Thailand by. Size. And. I said well I went to, to. Eat the food and, I named a few the dishes and they're like oh you like to eat that can, you cook tunas he I can, yeah I can cook some things and there and I set out yes, can you cook he. Said yeah. Bok-bok-bok. Making. The motion. Of the, pestle. Hitting water I got it and, yeah, but. And. It was it was very much not hot moment because in in his mind he connected. The idea of cooking with, a mortar and pestle that was his meat he didn't kind of go like like. That or. He. Was like Bock Bock it was mortar, and pestle right away so, it. Is like, literally there, there. Is no way to cook Thai food without a mortar and pestle that I know of that that is gonna give you kind of results that are anywhere. Near what, I think they should be you. Can use a some, people use blenders or food processors, or stuff but there's, something about it that's not quite right. As far as drinking, goes. I, noticed, I was skimming, through the book I noticed you talk about a lot of things that you can get here like some kind of Thai. Beer that I've never heard of rice whiskey. What, do you recommend, that people drink with this food here, in San Francisco I'm guessing, it's not gonna, be a Sonoma, Cabernet, or something like that well, you can do you can drink whatever you want wines actually, started to become quite popular in Thailand with the upper-middle class it's kind of a luxury, item and kind of a, big. Face thing to do is, buy wine, there's actually a couple of wineries in Thailand, now. They're. Not good but, that's you, know it's, to be expected it's, not quite, grape growing country, right so. Beer. Is probably the thing you're gonna you're gonna have the easiest time drinking. And eating. With us using, as, the the, main, rooms. But. Thailand. Is a rice a, rice. Liquor country. Historically. Beer, started. Out as a luxury item there and for a lot of folks I'd, say the vast majority of the of the poorer folks that live in the countryside it's still a luxury item so. It was introduced to Thailand back probably, 60 or 70 years ago a little.
Longer But it was imported, from like Germany or Holland, or. Something like that yes, which brands. A back. Then I couldn't tell you okay I don't, know it's mostly the Chong and the same ha right so and, there's there's a story there it's actually in the book I. Know. This, guy named Nick Bearden bhakti and he's the, grandson. Of the founder of Singh and the, Singh family, is the. The Baron bhakti family, is a very high. So family in Thailand they're very, very rich they. Own Singh they're connected to the royal family and all that kind of stuff and. Nick's. Grandfather. Used. To own a ferry company, that, went across the chop prior River from. Bangkok. To Bangkok no and. He. Started seeing, the. Motor cars coming, into play and then bridges, being built across the river and he could see that his, business. Was probably, not gonna be as strong. In the future so. He started looking for ways to diversify and he had studied in Germany, and. His. Brother was, in in Germany as well studying and come back as an engineer, sent, his brother back to Germany to learn how to be a brewmaster, so, the brother went back learned how to be a brew master came back and they started brewing beer, you. Know for. Which there was almost no market, so. He spent, I think you. Know the first few years that they were open several years they brewed like four or five different brands. Of beer and he, went and he you know he'd go to towns and he put on a movie night and give people beer to taste and, out. Of like the five or six different, formulas. They had the one that stuck was the sting which is like a kind. Of a tiger. Like a little. Bit sweet. Well. The the sing is a, mythological, creature, and, it kind, of tiger. II so but the but the beer itself yeah kind of I think beer itself was kind of like. Whatever. It was the one that people liked so that's what they stuck with and he got rid of all the other crowd smart. It's. Not rocket science, and then and then they they, did a couple, of really sneaky, moves which was to kind of petition the crown to to kind, of make it difficult for other people to compete with them okay. So that's, why there's only a couple of beers left there's some really arcane, laws there. Where. It's. Basically the its, cow it's counter to what you would think it would be you can only commercially. Produce beer, if you produce a huge. Amount at, a time okay, and and. Sell a huge amount at a time so if you produce less than that amount you can't sell it public you can sell it in your own establishment. But, you can't sell commercially. Which. Has been really problematic, for the people are in to craft beer in Thailand because they can either import stuff. At great, expense or, they, can only they can make it but they can't really sell it outside of their own little pub hmm, so, they've had they've. Had a kind of a lock on on the beer.
Industry. There for decades, decades and decades slowly. Starting to change now but. Even. Then beer, was a luxury so, and and today if you're say. You're working on a rice. Farm or you're working in a factory you're. Your median wage there is probably around it. Got, up I think they they'd pumped it up to like closer to 500 baht a day and then they just cut the minimum wage, recently. Back down to like three hundred and ten baht a day or two hundred seventy five a day so it's possible that because that, president died right it's because the military took over and the the kind of it's it's a long plateau only, a politics of it but it's it's uh there. Was there was some populist, shit that was going on for a long time that kind of got axed, and. That. Was one of the things that was very populist. The. The. Upshot of it is that if you're a worker and you're and you're making 300, baht a day which is roughly nine. Bucks. A day okay, and you go to 7-eleven, and you buy a beer it might cost you hundred baht for a big, bottle of beer 90, to 95, 200 baht for a large bottle of beer but. You can also go down to the local lock I'll stand and, you can buy a whole bottle of rice whiskey for 80 baht that's what I was reading about in the book so right, you can you know one bottle of beer gets nobody fucked up and one. Bottle of whiskey it's for people fucked up so yeah it's a it's a matter of economics plus they've been you know it's a rice culture going, back hundreds, and hundreds and hundreds of years, and. You. Know so people are used to drinking that so, that was a lot of this these things were kind of made. With that I in mind now if you want to try to replicate that here, go, and buy the cheapest. Crappiest, shochu, you can find. Are. So true, and, that that approximates. What kind, of a crappy, locale or what whiskey, will be like okay same thing it's distilled from rice typically unless, it's distilled from barley or you know just look, for a rice base shochu, that's not too expensive and you can get an idea of what lock-out. Tastes like. Sounds. Delicious. Fantastic. So, when I was in Thailand I. Remember. People telling me that the beer was unregulated, and that there was amphetamines, and some of the chances that's a total that's a total lie okay I just had to help I know that's off topic but I was I think I think what what they're talking about is that there was there's rumors out there that I I'm not sure whether they're, true or not that the, alcohol, content isn't. Regulated from batch to batch, yes. I remember, hearing that so, that that sometimes. You'd get the beer and it's stronger, than others I don't know that that's true anymore I think that, mod the beer making in Thai was very modernized, and there's there's lots of controls and stuff like that I doubt that's true anymore but. Chime that the thing is that when Sean came out and started competing with, Singh, they did two things they made it cheaper and they made it stronger. That. Was there and they made it sweeter and that was that was quite Sean got really really popular and Singh. Battled. That by producing. Leo beer, which. Also is a little stronger cheaper. But not as sweet a little lighter all, right so it's diversifying, a little bit yeah and, that happened a while back all, right, so. I'm kind of also curious, this, doesn't have to do with the book but I'm wondering as. A traveler how you avoid tourist, traps I'm. Sure you're pretty good at that Oh how. Do you make sure you get the, food that people in the country are eating, and not the crappy, deluded version of that what what I think I think it's important to, not. Think about it so much as like, if I go off the beaten track I'm gonna find right, the true stuff because. Unless you. Read Thai. And you know what you're looking for like you actually know what, to look for like, you know the names of the dish you know where you're gonna find it you know what the good one is gonna be you, can read Thai or you with somebody you can read Thai the trust you're gonna be able to eat the food you're, gonna have a very difficult time finding anything at all and. Likewise. If you're in the middle of a tourist trap there's always some good food there because, the, people who work in the tourist traps eat too, so. If you go to say, MBK, my balloon, Krong was the the most famous, mall even though it's kind of the oldest and crappiest one now. Where. Is that it's in it's near cm. Square in the center of Bangkok okay, and, you, go to. You. Go inside there's all these food courts there and some are quite flashy and, there's you, know the place where all the tourists go but, there's also a food court on the fifth floor in the back corner that's run by Isan folks that's.
Actually, Really bang, on like, hardcore, country. Style Isan food right in the mall and that's where all the people that work there go to eat so, you don't have to be in, you. Don't have to go off the beaten path to find good food you just have to be willing to dig in and see, what's there and the. Best advice I can give is go to where the people who are working near, where where they, can go to the airport go to. Swanepoel. Airport, mm-hmm you get down to the bottom level where, the taxi cabs aren't you go all the way to the end and there's a cafeteria in there there's a food court that's where all the people that work in the airport go for lunch and it's, actually really good same, story at Dunn Hmong there's an there's a place there that all the workers go that's really good. So. You can be on you, could be on pep pong road and or. You, could go or go to calcine or something you're still gonna find good food you just have to look for it a little bit does. It make sense yeah. I mean you just have to kind of watch where you, have to pay attention you have to have your eyes open and watch where people that live there are going basically no no the good thing is that nowadays. The, there's such a thing as the internet so, you can go on the internet and go best. Food in this area and there's going to be some. English-speaking. Local, or. English-speaking. Expat, that lives in the area who's mapped all these places and you, can find them because there'll be pictures, of the damn place there'll be a pin. Dropped on it and you feel like it's getting harder, though Thailand gets more touristy, like I know that tourism has really exploded there in. Eight. Years probably i I don't know that tourism is at fault with, the changing food culture there I think it's mostly having to do with. Globalization. Modernization. That the existence, of a, middle. Class. Speaking. About urban areas right. That. You know there's, the, tastes, of the Thai people are changing but you can still find. Things. Made as they were decades. Ago still. Can just get a look a little bit hard the. The question of authenticity is, one that I know comes up a lot I feel, like it makes sense to talk about that sure, it's definitely been in the media a lot lately people, you know debating. The authenticity of, certain foods and, I'm. Sure that you've asked, this question a lot but how do you how do you deal with you, know naysayers, or people that challenge. The authenticity of your cuisine well that's easy we don't claim any authenticity and, to start with that. Helps, part. Of you know when we when, Pok Pok open, I banished, the word authentic and traditional from, the vocabulary. Because. There's such loaded, words that mean different, things to different people. The. Absurdity, of authenticity. I talked to any chef anybody, is a cook and. Who. Has any knowledge of you. Know food ways and that kind of thing and that then the notion of authenticity just, kind of goes out the window. Authentic. Is what. You. Experience. As authentic. So. If, your mom makes. Say. Tom, Kha gai one. Way to. You that's the authentic, way because that's what you grew up taste eating, tasting, and you've been told by, everybody in your family that that's the best version right right, meanwhile. The, dude up the street. Their. Mom made it too and he's been told the same thing as far as he's concerned his, version is authentic, so, no matter if. You, were if, I was to come along and go here's authentic. Whatever. People. Would say that's not authentic because I, know what authentic is because my mom's Thai and she made this way and you're like well I you know I don't know yeah. That's. Why we don't use the word authentic, right but. Do you think there's something to be said for, the way in which you approach a cuisine that is not your own like.
I Think that doesn't have anything to do with authenticity I think that that has to do with, with. Something else I did for me all thank yeah I think, authenticity, is, is like a kind, of different. Subject from that. The. The. Way that you approach cuisine, if you were willing to learn about it you just learn as much as you can and you don't assume that you know anything you don't assume that that you've learned the gold standard, you don't assume that. The. Way you're doing it is the right way, what. Are you trying. To learn about Thai, food everything, I mean the more regions. Like, yeah the south is that the south of Thailand is a giant mystery to me I've spent, some time there I have the basic idea of what it's about I've, spent. Some probably have, maybe. A little bit more experience, there than most people, but by far, I feel like it's it's a whole mysterious, new cuisine that I that I could, spend a lifetime learning do you plan on it, or. Are you more interested in the regions you're already especially I plant I plan on spending more time there I was just there shooting. Some video with the tight or ism Authority and we just ate some amazing. Food and. You. Know it's a totally different flavor palate, than the North, different. Ingredients, and. Different. Traditions that it comes from different, way people think about the food the way that they eat is different, and, you know I look forward to learning as much as I can I mean I've got hopefully, I'll live long enough that I can delve. A little bit into that yeah, you know yeah. So. What, are you what are your goals right now professionally, like do you want to basically just retire in Thailand as quickly as possible I'm, just trying to keep my head low right now it's, it's. Kind of a jungle out there yeah, the restaurant industry and explain, that in. What way is we're, gonna have to start all over again it'd be here for hours. Are. You talking about just the physical opening, of a restaurant no I can open restaurants, all day long I can find a restaurant, design, it do the menu get it open no problem it's the managing, of them, got it open that's problematic. We've. Got a we've got a huge, problem in the industry with, with. Wage income. Disparity, between the front and back of the house with the front of the house taking the lion's share the money back. Of the house trailing. Behind meanwhile. Restaurants. Work. On a very very thin margin very, thin and, there's. No way in our, current system of tipping to reconcile, those two things right, without, a chance. See change in the way that. The. Dining public looks at restaurants, and. It's an extremely difficult problem, and nobody knows what the answer is yeah, the. More people try like people like Danny Meyer who's an industry, leader tries to change things he, starts getting sued by people for trying to do the right thing so it's cut its is, a very very fraught, and, there's a lot of emotion, around it there's, not a whole lot of facts being used, to kind. Of, disseminate. Information to the public it's a very difficult thing to educate the public on there's. A bunch of things. That people think are true that aren't true, that it's very difficult to talk about because they're political, right so. It yeah it's just not a great like if you any of you are thinking of opening a restaurant don't do it, don't.
Do It right now wait. Never. Get better, professionally. I think I think like me, like most people I know that in the industry we're all just kind of looking at what we do well mm-hmm. And work with what we have and try to to kind of like hone in on that and really maximize. Whatever. We can out of what we already do right, know most, people so you're not gonna be opening a lot more pop box problem, no I mean we've got a we got a quick service, kind. Of version. The pot POC that doesn't, like that we're trying to do because we think we can keep. It very simple relatively. Low cost and we could pay everybody in the place the same amount which. Is higher than average yeah, that's the way to go these days that's why you're seeing so much fast casual everywhere, because, it's, sustainable. Both, in theory, more. Sustainable. People keep on current trying to crack this operation, yes. It's, proven, to be difficult so, right, yeah. So. What else do you want to talk about I don't know maybe we can ask the people if there's, something they want to talk do you guys have questions. Yes. So. My. First job ever well, first. Like paycheck. Job was as a fish monitor so, I always loved going to fish markets when I travel mm-hmm, and I went to Thailand this February. Went to Bangkok to the big rock market, yeah it was amazing do, you have any other recommendations with, in Thailand of like really cool, Markus yeah, yeah I mean every every, major city. Has. Some kind of large market. In. Bangkok when you go back go to clung toy that's, a real education, that's a real kind of crazy, that's, kind of the biggest market, in all the cause kind of like this cleaned up nice place with organic, food and. Oh. You went to Colombia to a ok Klong Toey is is like really down and dirty you're wading through effluent. On the floors and stuff it's pretty crazy, it's, also full of all kinds of weird weird shit to be honest with you there's yeah, there's lots of, formaldehyde. Being, sprayed or whatever they call that stuff for formal and getting sprayed on vegetables, and meat and stuff so it's kind of it's a little bit hectic if. You go up to Chennai so go to auto car then next, time you go it's that's a very it's an amazing, market it really is it's it's beautiful it's there's lots of really good prepared foods there it's, or there's a lot of organic food like.
Sustainably. Caught seafood, all, this kind of stuff it's a really great market if you go up to Chennai, there's a couple places you can visit one's. Called Talaat, moon my and that's kind, of new market new. City market it's a big central, market kind of like the. Clong toy of Chiang, Mai except for not hectic. It's. Very busy but not hectic and that that's really cool because you can see a lot of the very very local stuff, at. Anytime you go to any. New part of Thailand you want to go to the, morning market because you get to see what the local people are buying and eating and, you'll, see the same thing over and over again but you'll also see some very local, stuff, as well so, you. Know it's just I, believe there's. A couple of people that are working on a whole book on it right now the folks from eating Asia I think are working on a book on markets. You, were talking about the the seasonal, mushroom in Thailand and you were talking about the, only available for one month. Which month is that typically. March April time, okay yeah, it's it's in the hot season right, now is that like a like a specific. Instruction. To like pick them like before ringing, after ringing um I've, never gone out and found them in the wild but typically its during the dry season, so it's it's beef it's right. April. Is typically, very hot right and that, it rains sporadically, so it's probably right after it rains a little bit you might guess. But. They're they're kind of like a puffball they're round and really dark yeah, yeah I think they taste better when they're inside the, casing yeah, yeah yeah. Definitely. Um what. Are your thoughts on Thailand. Trying, to close. Down the street, vendor, Street Market it's a great question so I don't. Know if you guys are familiar but. Sometime. In the in the last year, somebody. From the government announced they were gonna shut down all the street vendors in. In. Bangkok and. Right. After they got named best, street food city. In the world and. So, it was it was kind of a PR nightmare and, they had the the, cultural, minister. Popped up and said no no no no we're not doing that we're.
Just Clearing up some places and we're gonna we're, gonna kind, of make, it so that you have to get a permit and we're gonna regulate it we're not gonna bent we're not gonna ban it we're gonna regulate it but I think actually the guy who piped, up actually. Was, telling, the. Hidden truth is that there, is an alts has been this sort of like. Cadre. Of elite folks, in Bangkok, who feel that it should be more like Singapore they don't like the dirtiness of it to. Be fair. A. Lot. Of the the. Food that you find on the street in Thailand, in Bangkok, especially. These days. There's. Problems, like first of all they clog the, sidewalk so you can't walk it's, a difficult city to walk in already but they and they clog the business area so you can't it's, very difficult if you're trying to do business there. Also. A lot, of the food that they're selling is crap it's. Just not good. The. Bummer of it is though that this is this is work for people who are you. Know migrant. They coming from the country and they they or they're they're very poor and that they this, is a way for them to make money and they're serving people who want it so. It's a very difficult thing to kind. Of balance. It's. Already happening if you go to Bangkok, now if you were there two years ago and you go to Bangkok now sukham, wait is now clear. There's no, vendors on the street unser complete at all and. It used to be from basically from SOI, 1 all the way up to SOI 24. Solid. Vendors day and night day, time it was not just food vendors but like you know all the vendors are out and it's. Weird it's. Really weird they've. Been pushed onto the side sois and into, like doorways, and down little side streets and stuff like that, and. It's. It's I think it's a at. The end of the day if if, Bangkok. Turned to Singapore to be a terrible, shame, I don't, think the Thai people will allow that to happen I don't, think that that's gonna happen I think, that it'll, happen in central business areas, and will happen in the heavily touristed, areas except for places where they, kind of form food courts and stuff like that but I don't think it'll go away entirely, but, Singapore still has a good reputation for its you. Guys great it's got a rate great reputation for food but it's on court and food halls yeah, restaurants. And I think they're there they're, those in Bangkok. Who wish that that was how it was and. You. Know at Singapore. Honestly. The food in Singapore I think has gotten better recently, like in the last ten years I think that really that whole the, food court the food hall thing is made the vendors it's gotten competition, so. You got it you gotta be good or, else you're not gonna get any business I've had amazing street, food in Singapore like, two top-notch, super, clean delicious. So. Yeah I mean I I'm, I miss that vibe. Walking. Around to certain areas but in other other cases it's kind of you know what, I'm gonna do right.
Yeah. Do. You think the US has gotten better about representation. Of regional cuisines like, I've gone to a, Nissan restaurant, in both Houston, and New York and enjoyed that a lot mm-hmm. Yeah as far as Thai food goes absolutely over, the last 10, you know especially, the last five years there's been a big explosion I think that a. Certain. Amount of it has to do with the fact that. Younger. Thai folks who either, have, grown up here or who. Have come here as students who, are more hip and in, tune with what people are willing to eat have, finally, kind of gone you know what we can do this one. Of the things that that you would you, find the old guard Thai, restaurant. Owners they just there, was a cultural, thing that's. Changing, where they they just. Culturally. Couldn't believe that you as a fighter on can. Eat what they eat is, they look at you and go no. Way you. Can't, you can't eat spicy you can't eat funky and there's no way but. But. That's, not really true I think for a couple of reasons number one, we. As a as a country, as a population. I've. Gotten a lot more adventurous, and number two we've, gotten a lot less white and. There's. There's people out there you, know whose, parents, are from another country or, they've. Grown up in a you know in a home where the. Food wasn't bologna, sandwiches, and you, know they, go to school and you. Go to college and they're with other folks from African. Culture or Southeast Asian culture South. Asian culture Middle. Eastern culture all mixing, together and, I think, there's just a bigger, there's a broader, acceptance because the people who are spending. Money on food now are not, lily-white, anymore, I think. That has a lot to do with it as well but, yeah like as far as Thai food goes virtually. Every city you go to now there's something popping up that is kind of like regional. You. Go to Atlanta, there's a lot, and guys. Calling it a lot market. Means. Market Market. And. There's there's, a you. Know in in New York especially when we open Pok Pok in New York five. Plus, years ago. There. Was us, and there are a few you know there the old school like I had a supa. Pie that kind of thing and since. We've opened, there's now you, know probably eight or ten different restaurants that are specializing, in Isan or northern food or you know really, high-quality, central, Thai food so. It's definitely a trend. For. Those who maybe aren't familiar with the different varieties, of Thai. Food what, would you say, characterizes. Like, each foods each, of the regional cuisines. Okay so there's, you, know there's four basic, regions. In Thailand the. North northeast, center and south. Starting. In the north this. Is a lot, of the food that we do it at Pok Pok is from the north. The. Staple rice there is sticky rice and the food tends to be because it's landlocked. Mountainous. Rivers. Tends. To be in jungle it tends to be. Herbaceous. Salty. Spicy. But not super spicy. Little. Elements. Of sour that come from leaves and and other kind of fruits, aside, from lemons. And limes and stuff like that and. Bitter. Is a flavor that features, pretty. Heavily in northern Thai food, Isan, which is the arid northeast, part of of Thailand, where the folks are mostly Lao and Khmer, food. There tends to be very simple. They. Don't have a lot of resources so a lot, of fermentation. There a lot, of relatively. Spicy, things. So. Hot and and, and, kind of, salty. Tends to be the predominant flavors, sour. In, Isan. Sticky. Rice is a staple. They, eat a lot of things that, that's a place where a lot of things like. Ant. Eggs. Insects. A lot. Of things that it's a like I said it's a very arid region and that the sources there aren't a lot of resources so people get food where they can and over, the years over this you know centuries, they've kind of developed, a taste, for for.
Things That are that are probably, not Prime, Meats what, to ant eggs taste like and, eggs are actually really good there Brent red ant and eggs they're a little they're white and they're about that big that can a pop in your mouth and they're they're they're, okay they're good, like, caviar. They're. Not fishy. Then. Center tot central, Thailand where the Thai people are, for. The last I don't know, five. Six hundred years that's been where the seat of power is that's. Where the Royal Palace is that's where the the Royal cuisine is really blossomed, it's. Also the breadbasket of the country it's where most of the produce, and rice. And. Fruit. Are grown and, so. The food there tends to be kind, of richer more sophisticated, there's access. To to. The coconut. Groves. From the south, and. Quite. A sophisticated cuisine. There so it tends to be hot, sour salty and sweet with. Sweetness, kind of being. A little more prominent, there than most other places in the country. And. Then, the south which is peninsular, Thailand below. Bangkok. Where. The, further south you go the more Malaysian, folks get down, there. You. Know see on both sides so, lots of. Seafood. Lots of fish lots of shellfish. Coconut. Groves, so a lot of really rich coconut, curries down there and the spiciest, food in the country really. The hottest stuff they've they've really developed a taste, for ultra. Hot food, down there a lot. Of influence from Malaysia. Indian, flavors. There. So. I think, that's that's a broad. That's, very general, overview of what. You might find. Well. I have a more general question about Thai food in the way you mentioned they could tie as a country, and they if you think about the food as the embodiment of the culture the way people eat it indicates, like what do you think, makes, like Thai foods impact, on culture and vice-versa I go how would you define what is unique about Thai food in the culture well I think I think these, days probably. Food. Is the the most, common. Way that Thai culture is expressed, outside of Thailand I get most people who, go. To Thailand, have, had some experience, with Thai, food it's kind of the it's, the outreach the cultural, outreach it's. Also you, got understand that Thailand, is a foodie, culture they're not foodies, but they just like food is such a huge part of the of the the culture. They're, there. It's very rare, to go, to any kind of occasion or. Fun. Happening where food isn't involved, it's involved, in every single thing there's foods that you eat, for. Special occasions, there's foods you. Go to it's not uncommon to go to the beach and see people in, the in the water eating. While. They're swimming. It's. There's, this element of fun sindelle take also know that. Thai. People in, any occasion want, to have this this feeling of sindelle and having. Food and. Having. Discourse, have like being with your family right.
So I would say as. An outsider, observing. Thai culture I'd say that probably family, is the most important thing then. The, King then. A royal fan or then Buddhism then the king and then food after, that in that, order so. It's. Hugely important, and it is kind of part, of the culture I'd cultural, identity, of taya folks. Outside of Thailand. So. You've. Been going to Thailand for about, thirty years right, and, not. Wanting to fetishize, the past or pretend. The changes and a good thing is there, anything that you've seen sort, of vanish over that period that you. Regret. Seeing go. I. Mean. You. There. Is a. From. A culinary standpoint, I think that, there has been a broad, acceptance, of. Processed. Food. That. That's unfortunate, to, me because it's, having an impact on the health of the people of the country. Youth culture is, kind of focused on things, that are kind of fast-food if, you, watch. TV there there's lots of ads for KFC and Pizza, Hut, and. Got. Young ha down and stuff like that or people, are eating CP. Eating a lot of processed foods, these days power, does swung towards. Sweet. Side of things and the fatty side of things but it's you, know if you think about it it's kind of natural it's, a natural thing when when, there's more disposable income the people who have that disposable, income want things that were out of reach before the, richer foods eating. More meat than vegetables, that kind of thing it's it's, inevitable. But. You. Can still like I said before you can still find. The. The, old ways. Of cooking it's just it's. Disappearing, like anywhere else in the world young. Folks aren't as interested, in hanging out at the family, kitchen and, learning, at the foot of their of their, dad and then taking the business over and the parents don't want them to the parents wanted to go off to university and, become. A doctor or lawyer or, whatever. You know because it's a better life, so. It's, just like anywhere else in the world they think changing. Please. Tell, me if this is a silly question but one, of the things that I noticed when I visited, Bangkok is how, a lot of the street cooking was done with, walks it.
Was Very hot and so I'm the walks are cooked at a hot temperature sure I'm, curious if you have any tips for people that live in an apartment or with. The ventilation, an, apartment, offers or those types, of stoves that apartments, often, have for. I do how do you link with it avoid, avoid the, dishes that you need a very hot walk to cool, so. POC boom fighting for instance you probably don't want to do that in your apartment, or Pat, Cu or something like that but really to get the really, great taste you need that really, really smoking hot if you have a balcony just go. Against your condo associations. Thing you got to get out there and do it anyway. But. Yeah I mean look anything that's cooked in a wok is. Its, if you look close, Nevada has probably got if, you need a walk to make it it's a Chinese influence dish, a lot, of the dishes that that are kind, of our very very tie, or very northern the the. Original cooking techniques would have been boiling. Grilling. Steaming. That. Kind of that kind of cooking so a lot like Curry's don't you don't need a wok to make a curry you, don't need a wok to make a llamar salad, you, don't need a wok to make grilled, foods. You. Can get away with with, just using kind of a nice aluminum pan that's shaped like a wok for for a lot of stuff we're just a regular pot, so. That'd, be my answer wait. Till you go home to your parents house and burn. Up their place. Um. So, I have some in-laws that are sticky, rice farmers in a village outside of Chiang Rai hmm, and whenever I eat with them the food is delicious, but, so spicy. That I'm literally sobbing uh-huh, by the second bite so. He's wondering what is your experience with adjusting, or not adjusting, dishes, to, better. Suit American, palates and how does that relate to your refusal to use terms like authenticity and, tradition okay, so um, so. Your your I, there's, one of two things that I'm gonna guess about about your situation.
Number One is your that your family really loves spicy food and, number two maybe you don't have a strong tolerance, for spicy food. Maybe the former yeah so, you. Know heat. Is a relative, term and the to, me in the north the vast majority, of people, up there don't eat things super spicy a, lot. Of the dishes that you have and you, know you could argue well your white guy so when they see you coming they tone it down for you but the problem the thing is about that is that there's. Ways around that, you, go to the restaurant that's that where the. Food is pre-made, and you just order what everybody else is having and you. Can get it really a good sense, of what it is that they're that they're making there you, can and the other thing to remember about food. And Thailand it and going and eating there is that. If the food isn't pre-made, Thai, people have a lot of say in how their food turns out they, can tell the vendor make it spicy and tell them exactly how spicy to make it, or not spicy or they, avoid the place that spicy or they avoid the place that's not spicy, whereas. Here. Culturally. We expect, the food to arrive at, the table exactly, the way that we expect it to arrive there and a. Lot of times unless we have familiarity, with the food we lack the vocabulary. To say how we like it so this. Whole thing with five stars that has no meaning right that's that's literally a no meaning thing at all that means that there's more chili, powder goes in and, there's, no standard, across if you ask 10. Restaurateurs. What does five star mean they're gonna have a different answer. For what they do to make it five star chili hot right so. How do we how do how, do I determine. The. Spice level of, the. Food that we serve I don't. Make any kind of. I. Don't, tone, it down per se but. I might not make a dish at the restaurant that's just ballistically, spicy, or I won't have all the dishes on the menu B so I'll have a dish that's appropriate. To be really, really spicy and that's, just the way it is right like. Our muqaam, Wan or boar collar that spicy, as fuck and that's the way it is and I'm sorry if you don't like it you shouldn't have the dish that's. It you know just, eat lots of sticky, rice with it. So. You. Know it but but there's other things like. Say, gang Hong Lei right the northern Thai Burmese a pork, belly.
Curry That's, not a spicy dish it just isn't its it is not a spicy dish so when, it arrives at the table and it's not spicy in people like I need this to be spicy it's like well sure, here, have some chilli powder I don't really know what to give you to make it spicy because that's, not a dish that's spicy. Kausalya, same story it costs away and that's a mild dish it's not spicy it really isn't you. Have to add chilli paste to it to make it spicy. Cool. Clean like the southern Thai minced, meat. Curry. That has lots and lots of that that's ballistically. Hot and I don't it. Wouldn't taste right unless it was ballistically, hot so. I that's. So that's a lot of words to kind of not give you an answer. Well. Done, I. Think we are finished we're out of time so thanks everyone for coming, thank, you so much for being here, yeah pleasure, thank you guys I think. We got some books. You.