Som Tam

I read about Som Tam in an article about great local Thai restaurants, and the review promised Northern Thai cuisine, an underrepresented and absolutely delicious sub-genre I’ve fallen in love with the last few years. Their menu, at least online, is pretty small, but it had enough variety for the two of us.

The first of our three dishes was the [gasp!] green papaya salad. Honestly, I tried to NOT order this but my options for salads were green papaya or green papaya with eggplant, and I knew my husband would not be a fan of that. It had good heat and was definitely large enough to serve two, with a intense, strong fish sauce we always find at Thip Khao. I added shrimp to it and they were tasty, if a little sparse. Even with this modification, my husband had the incredible gall to say, “You really like green papaya and it is not actually that good.” So he can expect to receive divorce papers soon.

Next up was a true star: the Thai sausage. The herbal flavor packed inside was unique and absolutely delicious. The size of the dish was also great. My only question is if there was some way of eating this that I missed? The container was filled with raw Thai chilis, peanuts, cilantro sprigs, sliced ginger, and a single napa cabbage leaf along with the sausage itself. Were we supposed to chase the sausage with the chilis like some kind of unholy tequila shot? I just ate the peanuts. Maybe I’m doing it wrong?

This brings us to the main event: the khao soi. I somehow didn’t realize when I ordered this, but it’s the exact dish that I learned to cook in a Northern Thai cooking class I took in the before times, to the point that I frantically searched to see if maybe the chef is the same (Note: though I went home with a recipe to replicate the dish, including making the curry paste from scratch, my version has never and will never taste the same as the real deal).

The pros: the coconutty broth was so rich and packed a good but not overpowering heat. The noodles were cooked well and the soup was packaged with the broth separate to preserve the integrity of the ingredients. It was topped with plenty of pickled mustard greens, a super underrated addition that contributed a necessary acidity.

Cons: Chicken on the bone. When I took that class, the teacher recommended bone-in thighs because “eating off the bone is fun.” No. It’s really, really not. Especially when you need to dig your nasty fingers into a bowl of hot, oily liquid. It also drastically inflates the quantity of chicken the cooks think they’re giving you. Once we pulled it off the bone, we were left with maybe an ounce of meat to split between us. Shameless plug: when my husband and I open our restaurant, No Bones About It (TM), I promise to offer only food that you don’t have to eat like a goddamn caveman.

Price: $20 per person, well-spent.

Bottom line: Som Tam is a gem and I hope their Union Market stall sticks around and expands. I’d love to see more on their menu, but it’s definitely not a deal-breaker because their food more than makes up for it.

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