When I first moved here about six months ago, I put up a post with modest praise for a Thai place in my new neighborhood Erawan Thai Cuisine at 123 S 23rd. I said that it was definitely Americanized Thai and didnt compare to my dearly missed Sripraphai (a chowhound-beloved real-Thai restaurant in Queens, NY), but the flavors were good and I got the sense that whoever was in the kitchen could really cook, even if what they were serving wasnt quite the genuine article. I got a bunch of replies back complaining that Americanized Thai isnt worth eating even when its tasty, and lamenting the fact that theres NO real Thai food in Philly.
So I went back to Erawan and I talked to the hostess. I found out that yes, the staff is actually Thai, and yes they make real Thai food for themselves when they eat dinner together before opening, but that theyd never considered offering such fare to their American customers because, as far as they knew, their customers werent interested in the spicy, aggressively flavored food they eat themselves. I left with a promise that if I came back with some special requests, theyd figure out what to charge me and Id be able to sample some real Thai cooking.
As it turned out, my downstairs neighbor occasionally writes about food for Citypaper, and has traveled (and eaten) extensively in Southeast Asia. When he heard about my Erawan plans he got very excited, with the happy result (a few months later) that he and I and our partners arranged and enjoyed an amazing meal at Erawan, which he described in an article you can read at the link (posted below).
Each dish in our six course meal was a wonderful treat, and the range of flavors and intensity of spice was a world away from the monotonous-if-pleasant salty-sweetness of just about everything you can get in most Ameri-thai places. It was thrilling from start to finish.
If ordering off the menu at Erawan were all it took to get the full range of Thai flavors, Id be set already. The owner knows me now, so if I ask her to make me something real she wont hold back on the spices. But theres a snag. Making a full meal like the one Trey and I enjoyed requires a load of unusual ingredients, only some of which are regularly in stock at Erawan (because many of them arent necessary for the more middle-of-the-road food that they make for most customers). So while I can always get something spicy and tasty and vastly more exciting than whats regularly available, I cant necessarily get the full off-the-menu menu, as it were.
So I have two ideas for you all:
First: I highly recommend that anyone craving serious Thai food should go to Erawan and lobby them to let you have the real thing. Kaysone Lam, the incredibly sweet owner, is still not totally convinced that theres a potential customer base out there for real Thai cooking she thinks my friends and I are just weirdos. So every one of us that goes and asks for the real thing, and gets it, and likes it, will be more incentive for her to start offering that kind of cooking on a regular basis. And if you really want something special, pop in a day or two in advance and arrange a meal, so shell have time to pick up some extra ingredients. The more of those special trips to the market she makes, the more shell feel its a worthwhile investment to stock those ingredients all the time.
Second: Back in New York I periodically read about area chowhounds getting together for special food adventures. I therefore propose that we put together a chowhound Thai banquet. If enough folks are interested (which I guess you would indicate by replying to this post), we could arrange a date, talk to Lam about a menu and a price, and then some night this spring a bunch of us could sit down to the kind of spicy, stimulating, exciting Thai meal that I presume at least some of you are craving.
Let me know if youre interested.
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