POK POK The Drinking Food of Thailand delves into the country’s extensive bar snacks and late night munchies with Andy Ricker.
Bangkok’s Lam Sing Pla Tong is part bar, part music hall, and part cabaret. It’s on a busy strip that comprises a sort of entertainment district for people from Isaan (Northeast Thailand), who make up a good portion of the working class in the city. All of the city’s cab drivers, primarily men from Isaan, seem to know the place. The crowd is a mix of construction workers, also primarily men from Isaan; women; and kathoey, men who dress flamboyantly like women.
A couple of friends, two longtime expats and enthusiastic explorers, put me onto this place, which they stumbled into while on the prowl for duck laap. As soon as I got to Bangkok—or at least, after a few plates of laap and some deep-fried duck bills at a restaurant next door—I went to experience Lam Sing Pla Tong for myself. The night before I flew back to the States, I went again. I came for the fun. I came back for the cashews.
To sustain us that first night, my entourage and I ordered a few dishes from the menu, a typical booze-friendly collection of fried stuff and salads but with an Isaan bent. What got me was a plate of fried cashews, aggressively salted and tossed with roughly chopped green onions and fresh red chiles in chunks big enough to inspire alarm. I spent the rest of the night shoveling down this salty, spicy, crunchy snack between slugs of beer. Since then, I’ve ordered the dish every time I’ve spotted it. Sometimes what I receive is a variation that’s closer to yam (or so-called Thai salads), complete with fish sauce, lime juice, raw shallots, and ground pork. The version at Lam Sing Pla Tong reflects the dish at its simplest. And it’s the one I like best.
- Pour the oil to a depth of ½ inch into small saucepan, set over medium heat, and heat to 165°C. Use the thermometer to test the temperature, measuring the oil at the center of the vessel and carefully stirring the oil occasionally to ensure a consistent temperature. Line a bowl with paper towels or newspaper and put it near the stove.
- Carefully add the cashews to the hot oil and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Keep in mind that the cashews will get a shade or two darker once they leave the oil. Using the spider or a slotted spoon, transfer the cashews to the prepared bowl to drain. Immediately season the cashews with the salt, tossing them as you season.
- Transfer the nuts to a plate and sprinkle on the green onions and chiles. Serve warm.
Reprinted with permission from POK POK The Drinking Food of Thailand, copyright © 2017 by Andy Ricker, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.