Solid Thai food for those who prefer to be stirred rather than shaken.
A couple of years back I was fortunate enough to see a musician friend play Tokyo’s famous Blue Note Jazz Club. It was a great show, and afterwards we sat down to talk about how the gig went. As we ran through the set and talked about the players, I made some off-handed remark about how much I loved the opening piece – a wild, cacophonous explosion of sound, the likes of which is rarely heard at a Japanese club. “Yeah, the chaos,” he replied “it’s the one thing we’ll play like that in Japan. Back in the States, most of our set is like that. But after years of playing here, we learned that Japanese audiences don’t go in for chaos. Now we dial it down when we play Tokyo.”
Anyone who’s explored Tokyo’s so-called ‘ethnic’ food scene will spot the similarity to what happens when a Thai, Indian or even Vietnamese restaurant opens. Strong flavors, be they spices like chili or cumin, or herbs such as cilantro (coriander) are quickly brought down to a level more acceptable to the majority of Japanese customers.
Prior to visiting Old Thailand, we were assured that despite being part of a restaurant chain, their dishes were pretty authentic, and certainly the familiar ‘chili scale’ illustration (one chili meaning not particularly hot, three meaning pretty darn hot) suggested that we’d be swabbing our faces with oshibori in no time.
The lunch menu offers all the Thai standards, and then some. Khao man gai (boiled Thai-style chicken with steamed rice), kaeng khiao wan (green curry), and tom yam-flavored noodles head up the menu. Elsewhere, a ‘new lunch menu’ offers a green curry with shrimp and avocado, as well as a personal favorite – khao soi (noodles in a soupy chicken curry).
We ordered khao soi and pad ga prao kai (minced chicken cooked in basil) and were impressed when both dishes arrived in a matter of minutes. The khao soi was a pretty good approximation of what one would find on the streets of Chiang Mai, albeit somewhat oilier and containing the kind of thin ramen noodles which tend to clump together. Still, pretty good for a dish that many Japanese are yet to discover.
But it was the ga prao that dominated conversation. It was surprisingly bland, with none of the flavor we were expecting. Where was the promised ‘three chili’ spiciness? Clearly, this was a case of a Thai classic being modified to suit local tastes. Now, this isn’t always a bad thing (the Japanese have reworked countless foreign dishes to great effect) but here the result was mildly disappointing.
Old Thailand delivers plenty of ambiance, and the long lines suggest this is a popular destination for Iidabashi’s office workers come lunchtime. But if, like me, you like your Thai liberally seasoned with chaos, I suggest you ask ahead.
Directions: Turn left from Exit B2A of Iidabashi station. It’s 3 minutes walk across the bridge and on the second street to your left.
2-3-8 Fujimi, Chiyoda-ku,
Hours: 11.30 – 15:00 (L.O. 14.30) and 17.30 – 23.00 (L.O. 22.00)
Again with the nampla!
This week, a variation on the classic Thai glass-noodle salad (yum woon sen). This dish works well as a kind of otsumami (small dish to accompany alcohol) – the zest of the lemon juice and the spice of the peppers loose nothing after a few glasses of beer or shochu.
This particular recipe uses ingredients which are readily available in Japan. For a more authentic Thai flavor, exchange limes for lemons and add extra peppers. Also, in Thailand the coriander root is used to give the sauce even greater flavor. If you want to try this, use a mortar and pestle to crush a coriander root together with the chopped red pepper, then add fish sauce, sugar and lemon/lime juice.
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 50 g cellophane noodles (bean threads)
- 100 – 120 g cabbage
- 60 – 70 g celery (including leaves)
- 50 g red onion
- 100 g shrimp
- 100 g ground pork
- 10 – 15 g coriander
- 3 table spoons of Thai fish sauce
- 1 and 1/2 tea spoons of sugar
- 3 – 4 tablespoons of lemon juice (1/2 a lemon)
- 1 – 2 red peppers
Cut the cabbage into thin strips and the red onion into thin slices. Next, slice the celery stems diagonally and the leaves into large pieces.
Chop the coriander stems finely and cut the leaves into large pieces.
Place all of the vegetables into a large salad bowl, roughly 25 cm in diameter.
Wash the shrimp carefully and boil them. When cooked, drain and cool so that the shells can be removed.
Pour 2 cups of water into a small pan and bring it to the boil. Next, put the ground pork into the pan and cook for about 4 – 5 minutes, stirring so as to break it up.
Before cooking the cellophane noodles, prepare the salad dressing. Remove the stalk and seeds from the red pepper and cut into 5 mm pieces. Place these in a small bowl.
Add fish sauce, sugar and mix together with the peppers. Finally, add lemon juice and mix together roughly.
Place a pan with 4 -5 cups of water onto a high heat. Once it has come to the boil, place the cellophane noodles into the pan and cook for about 3 minutes. Once cooked, drain the noodles and cut them into lengths of about 10 cm. Place in the salad bowl.
While the cellophane noodles are still warm, pour the dressing over the ingredients and mix together by hand. Serve with a garnish of coriander leaves.