Shophouse is an architectural style often seen in South East Asian cities and towns in which the business is at the street level and the family quarters are in the back or upstairs. Business and family are only separated by thin cement walls and inevitably the two realms mix creating a unique retail experience. The retail experience that we are interested in is the dining and eating experience. To us, Thai cuisine is all about eating among the cacophony of family, friends, strangers and whoever happens to be nearby.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Spanking The Fish

nostalgia markets=fair food

It has been over six weeks since we launched our Monday night Shophouse: food off the path dinners at Licorous restaurant. The menu has been evolving and changing. However, one dish has remained a constant on our menu - ทอดมันปลา, "tord mun pla" or curried fish cakes. The popularity of the fish cakes is a testament to keeping things simple, keeping things real and not messing with traditions.

Tord mun is a Thai food classic and is always served with a relish of sorts containing cucumber, vinegar, chilli and sugar. Our version is a bit of a nod to the country fair by making the cakes into bite sized portions and placing them into a bowl with fried basil leaves, the cucumber sauce drizzled over, and stabbed with a few bamboo skewers. One can see this version of the fish cakes at the provincial markets geared toward the nostalgia starved Thai middle class. Little bowls of banana leaves are made and the fish cakes go in and one can wander through the markets stalls poking at the cakes and eating at your leisure. 
clunk clunk spank spank

Here in Seattle, we get in catfish and grind it a few times, then pound it in a mortar and pestle with an egg, PK's red curry paste, fish sauce, lime leaf and sliced green beans. The most important part is slapping and spanking the fish paste into a bowl in order to pulverize the proteins a bit, making a more poofy, and slightly rubbery cake.
makin' cakes
Fancy cakes at shophouse

Friday, October 22, 2010

where to get quality fermented mud fish around here?

ปลาร้า the blue cheese of Thai cuisine
I'm not sure if Seattle is ready for the more pungent side of Thai cooking, but they are ready for some depth in flavor.
Half the fun of doing this Shophouse project is locating ingredients that either maintain the flavors of the motherland or contribute to the story that we are telling.
kaffir limes
We've found a fish sauce that we like. It's called Tra Chang - let me reference a post from our previous blog 86 seattle. Fortunately we brought back several litres of this fish sauce from Rayong, Thailand to keep us going. You can also buy it at the Viet Wah down on MLK.
We also have been lucky to find ingredients from the local business that are subtly important to Thai cooking like fresh kaffir limes. Apparently they get the limes from someone down in California, as the US won't allow imported kaffir limes. There is only one harvest a year and we jumped on it. Kaffir limes add an important citrusy bitter kick to curry pastes. The limes were so fresh and fragrant that I got some weird kind of hangover headache from peeling and smashing the limes. Or maybe I was just hungover, I don't remember.
More locally, we have also found some great finds. Oxbow farm out in Carnation sells their amazing cilantro root. I have never seen cilantro root like Oxbow's. I got in several fat bunches that completely permeated the walk-in cooler. We pound the fragrant cilantro roots in a mortar and pestle with garlic and peppercorns to complete this important trinity of Thai marinades for grilled meats. I'm not sure why the roots are cut off of cilantro bunches when you buy them in the store. This is just one of the mysteries of the produce business, like Why do they put those little stickers on the apples.
white gold from Oxbow
We've also become big fans of Mad Hatcher chickens. These chickens from Ephreta are always succulent. Further, we can get various sizes to fit our application, like medium sized for ข้าวมันไก่ khao mun gai or smaller for ไก่ย่าง gai yang.
Ok, I'm done talking up ingredients and going Thomas Keller on you all.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sausage vortex

don't stare too long
I was really hoping to document the debut of our Monday night "food off the path" nights at Licorous with scores of pictures. However, time was tight with a multitude of catering events and many restaurant obligations. I had to put my head down and focus without a camera in my hand. I only got one picture; that being a photo of the sausage vortex. I think of it as an ode to the art of Walangkura Napananka. I don't know if she would appreciate it, but maybe an art collector would pay a few grand for it.
The good news is that the night got off to an excellent start with lots of glowing happy faces.
Sausage will be on the menu again for Monday, October 18th. The sausage is called ไส้อั่ว "sai ua" and is from the North. We use Thundering Hooves pork which is ground with handmade red curry paste, extra lemongrass, lime leaf, palm sugar and a touch of fish sauce. I crave this sausage because the aromatics are so refreshing, something that cannot be said for many sausages.
We enjoy eating this sausage when having a few beers or cocktails. It is often paired as a side to นํ้าพริก "nam prik" chilli dips, or served on its own with little piles of herbs, chillies, ginger and cabbage leaves. As with much of Thai cuisine, the dish is interactive. You can mix and match the amount of heat and herbaceousness to your liking and roll it up in the cabbage. Or use the cabbage as a cool down from the chillies. Or just eat the sausage. Whatever, it is up to you.
We will be posting our next Monday menu on Friday.

Monday, October 4, 2010

spicy soap opera

toasting shrimps
What do Korean soap operas, Thai housewives, chilli shrimp paste and sliced white bread have in common? They all come together daily at around 6:30 PM to create a scene that proves that the world is getting smaller. Imagine curling up in front of the TV with a stack of white bread and a little jar of your favorite chilli paste and watching the drama of feudal gender bending Korea unfold. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?
not too spicy but guaranteed to make you cry with pleasure
I am not here to talk about the Korean Wave, or whether it is corrupting the children or enriching the culture, but to talk about making and eating nam prik pao, or what I call toasted shrimp and chilli paste. It is pretty simple to make but the flavors created are complex. Fry garlic, shallots, dried shrimp and dried red chillies. Smash it all. Cook it down with tamarind, salt and palm sugar. Put it in a jar and save it for your favorite TV drama. Ten minutes before your show comes on, toast some white bread and get comfy. Spoon the paste onto the toast and let the emotions flow.
serious drama
Another option is to come down to Licorous on Monday nights starting October 11th from 5PM till close where one of the items I will be serving is toasted shrimp and chilli paste on toast. There isn't a TV at Licorous, but you can watch my friends and I bust our buns and create some serious emotions with our food and drink.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Burnt Rubber and Smashing Garlic

burning rubber Photo by Paula Bronstein

One of my colleagues once complained that the aroma emanating from the Thai restaurant next to his apartment smelled like "burnt rubber." Granted, he was a snooty Francophile that believed any garlic cooked past the shade of a Twinkie was considered burnt. However, frying garlic is integral to Thai cooking, as a condiment, in some nam prik, or just to get some sauteed veggies going. The most important part is using your mortar and pestle to smash the garlic. This method smashes it all flat so it will cook evenly, get crispy and not burn.
Yes, people still use the mortar and pestle. You hear it everyday in Anytown, Thailand for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The clunk, clunk, ponk, ponk goes on somewhere. It is an incessant sound that becomes white noise after awhile, like the sound of the motorbike ripping around. You hear it when your are lost in the alleyways or lost in the forest.
The cost of a decent granite mortar and pestle is comparable to a blender, but the mortar and pestle gives you a texture and taste that is incomparable. Come find out why at our Monday dinners at Licorous.
One final thing to add - be sure to follow the superstitious rules about the mortar and pestle concerning the female and male anatomy that state: don't store the pestle in the mortar, don't bang the pestle in an empty or dry mortar and wash it right away. Seriously.
not burnt rubber

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I think the word "authenticity" is a good subject to start with, and will probably be touched on again and again. Authenticity is a sticky word and when the contentious word involves food and cuisine then it can divide families and can turn the greatest chef into a Gumby caricature.
I am all or nothing when it comes to authenticity. Either everything is authentic or none of it is. It brings me back to a conversation I once had with my former chef who stated that my mother's Pacific Northwest Vashon Island chili is just as authentic (or inauthentic) as his mother's Houston chili- a bold and open minded statement for a Texan.
authentic experience?
As the foodie revolution takes hold of the dining public, the media instills a belief that it is a badge of honor to eat only the "authentic." Tacos only from vans. Ethiopian with your hands. Pate on a zinc bar. The problem is if they try too hard to be authentic, then it becomes akin to Disneyland.
If your definition for authentic is, "exactly the same as where it comes from," then you will be set up for disappointment. No matter how hard a chef may try, ingredients are never the same as they were in the motherland. The galangal makes the curry paste too wet. The egg noodles smell like ammonia. Sure, you could fly it in, or make it, or grow it yourself, but will the customer want to pay for that? OK, maybe they will pay for house made egg noodles, but not prik kii noo chillies flown in on a plane.
grandma and greatgranddaughter -same same but different
So where does that leave Shophouse and I? I will avoid the word "authentic" and consider the soul and traditions of Thai cuisine. I call it "roots" food. I will not lie and say it is exactly the way it tastes back in the motherland, but rest assured it is delicious. It is delicious because I listened to my teachers who figured out how to cook before me, taught me traditional techniques and taught me about quality ingredients. Garlic and chillies smashed with a mortar and pestle. Chickens and pork that were happy in their former life. Freshly pressed coconut milk. Meats, chillies and eggplants cooked over charcoal. This is not food channeled through the Food Network or the Lonely Planet. This is food channeled through grandma.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What is this?

This blog is a continuation of the 86 Seattle blog that we created last year in which we described our experience living in Thailand for a year. We met our goals of learning about food, culture and the family. We are now back in Seattle and ready to put what we learned into action. We are not 86 Seattle anymore, but Shophouse.

What is Shophouse? At this point Shophouse is a conceptual idea in which I can promote traditional Thai cuisine. Shophouse will hopefully turn from concept into a brick and mortar restaurant at some point in the future, but that leap requires cash and commitment - I only have one of these things at this point.

Why Shophouse? Shophouse is an architectural style often seen in South East Asian cities and towns in which the business is at the street level and the family quarters are in the back or upstairs. Business and family are only separated by thin cement walls and inevitably the two realms mix creating a unique retail experience. The retail experience that I am interested in is the dining and eating experience. To me Thai cuisine is all about eating among the cacophony of family, friends, strangers and whoever happens to be nearby. The food is served family style, the drinks keep coming and the music induces the appetite.

How is Shophouse? In this conceptual form, Shophouse is on the internet as this blog you are reading, the website, on facebook and twitter. All this media is used to promote roots Thai cooking and to promote our events in the real world.
In the real world Shophouse will be cooking Mondays starting October 11th at Licorous restaurant from 5-close. Shophouse will also perform specialized Thai street level catering for anyone interested.

Where is Shophouse? Shophouse is located in Seattle, USA.

Who is Shophouse? Shophouse is Poncharee Kounpungchart, photographer and Wiley Frank, chef.