Boy did I miss a big fat plate of good ol’ fashioned food controversy when I was away. As mentioned previously, Australian chef David Thompson has opened a branch of his Thai restaurant nahm here in Bangkok. Not surprisingly, when one considers how dearly the Thais regard their cuisine, the opening has inspired a generous serving of heated discussion here in Bangkok. Some of this was spurred on by this piece in the New York Times. The article makes for entertaining reading (sample quote: “‘He is slapping the faces of Thai people!’ Mr. Suthon said in an interview.”), but is somewhat sensationalistic in tone and Thompson claims to have been quoted out of context. The controversy is also the topic of this BBC piece.
The local media also has its share of nahm/Thompson defenders and detractors. This rather clumsy restaurant review in The Nation seems to have been impressed with the restaurant, while this letter to the editor in the same paper is a dramatic and not entirely coherent damnation of nahm and its chef. The controversy has inspired a rather soul searching editorial in The Bangkok Post, “Which Way Thai Cuisine“, as well as editorials in the Thai-language media, including the influential paper Matichon. But perhaps the epitome of the media attention was this hilarious spoof in Not The Nation: “Army Overthrows David Thompson In Cuisine Coup” (you know you’re in the limelight when you’re being spoofed).
People have the right to voice their opinions about cuisine and authenticity. But I find it disappointing how rather quite racist and xenophobic some of the Thai reaction to nahm has been; how would the Thais react to vaguely racist French criticism of a Thai landing a high-level cheffing job at Pierre Gagnaire? When it comes down to it, it really depends on the food, and I thought the most resounding sound bite about all this came from a Thai friend, who unlike many of the people writing or talking about the restaurant, has actually eaten there: “All I know is that if Nahm was about a quarter the price it is I’d be a regular. Authentic or not.”
Am home in Oregon for a couple weeks. I’m particularly excited about this visit as my buddy Hock also happens to be in-state, doing a temporary cheffing stint in Portland, and via his numerous visits to Thailand, I’ve become good friends with Andy, chef/owner of Portland restaurants Pok Pok, Whiskey Soda Lounge and Ping.
One of my first meals in at home was at Podnah’s, a Texas-style barbecue joint in NE Portland where Hock was doing his stage:
I grew up in the US, but haven’t really been much of anywhere outside of the west coast, and my understanding of barbecue — like that of many Americans — began and ended at backyard-style grilled meats. Southern- and Texas-style barbecue is a different beast altogether, and involves smoking — not grilling — meats over a low temperature for several hours. It was this unique technique that Hock came to Oregon learn.
The kind folks at Podnah’s put together a something of a sampler platter spanning their best barbecue (pictured at the top of this post): pork ribs, pulled pork and beef brisket. Apparently the pork ribs are a highlight, but I preferred the slight fattiness of the beef brisket. The pulled pork, served on slices of white bread, was also very good, and like all the meats, had a flavour and texture more in common with smoked than grilled food. The meats were accompanied by some tasty in-house made sauces, ranging from a smokey/spicy chili-based sauce to a tart vinegar-based one that I really enjoyed.
I particularly enjoyed the sides, which included a crunchy potato salad, baked beans, excellent savoury cornbread and possibly my favourite dish of the meal, something called Frito chili pie:
a spicy, bean-free chili served over Fritos corn chips and topped with cheese and thin slices of onion.
It was all a bit meat overload for me, but I really enjoyed the meal, particularly the communal serving style, which I thought had much in common with Asian-style dining.
Podnah’s Pit Barbecue
1469 NE Prescott St, Portland, OR
Diners at Portland restaurant Ping can expect fresh chanterelles, picked from the damp forests of Zig Zig, Oregon by the man himself:
Am thinking they might go into yet another delicious laap het?