The chest cold that struck me like a wrecking ball earlier this week has been served - by a bowl of incendiary fragrant tom zap from Chao, brimming with chili, fish balls and all manner of herb-y things.
I often get tom zap with seafood from Sripraphai, but tonight is Wednesday, and well, sometimes the groove of yore is just not there these days.
Knowing there is nothing for a cold like a good Thai soup, my husband surprised me - he went to Chao and asked the cheerful younger guy for "tom zap talay, spicy" - there was a brief discussion with the kitchen in Thai, and they agreed to do something not on the menu, so I am not completely certain what I have.
But what it is, is brilliant. The fragrance was a knock-out, buzzing with lemongrass and basil and fresh seafood. The first spoonful actually caught in the back of my throat and made me choke for a second: oh yes, say goodbye to coach, you've been upgraded.
It's like the tom zap I used to get at Sri, except far better, spicier, more vital. Beautifully balanced hot, sour and fragrant broth that obliterated everything tired and dreary in its path.
I'd heard reports on these boards that Chao was not making things hot sometimes, and it's happened to me once (the older lady) - but the kind spirits of pet pet were on watch tonight, and the soup boasted no less than four types of chilies: toasted dried red long chillies, red and green short chillies, and - the deadliest, I think? many mashed up bits of orange chili.
The soup is full of mixed seafood and veg: squid, shrimp, mussels, toothsome fish dumplings, plenty of basil, onion slices - the surprise was how nicely the plump quartered button mushrooms - usually a sign, in my opinion, of Bad Thai Takeout - fit in.
I can only describe the aftermath as a peaceful glowing feeling, not unrelated to the realisation that the bottom of the take-out soup container was - completely - covered by chili seeds.
The one thing my husband didn't get? The name of this soup. But I fully intend to go back to Chao soon and get to the bottom of it. Ask for "tom zap talay, spicy" and accept no substitutes. Whoever is at the helm of Chao tonight knows how to use enough gun.
85-03 Whitney Ave, Queens, NY 11373
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