This week, The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells reviews the East Village’s three-month old Thai restaurant Somtum Der, where he says the chef “can set your mouth on fire with the flavors of northeastern Thailand.”
“Wearing a T-shirt and a straw hat, he stands behind the bar, surrounded by glass candy-shop jars filled with shallots; heads of garlic; peanuts and cashews; granules of white sugar and little cakes of palm sugar; blistered sticks of fried pork skin; and, crucially, dried bird’s-eye chiles. When an order comes in, he grabs a wooden bat that would come in handy if he were caught in a riot and pounds it against the bottom of a deep wooden mortar. He looks as if he is churning butter. What he is doing is making tart, salty, crisp and exhilaratingly spicy papaya salad.”
At Somtum Der, papaya salad, which is called som tum in Thailand and of which the restaurant is named, is the star attraction and is made to order in eight variations, according to Wells, who describes some of them: “One has brined, boiled eggs, which are fluffy and creamy and soothe the burn of the chiles. Another is seasoned with slivers of grilled pork neck, sweet and pink. The one called som tum poo-plara is darker than the rest in color and in flavor because it’s mixed with intensely funky fermented fish sauce and rock-hard miniature crabs scooped up in Thai rice paddies. It was the most complexly rewarding on the roster; the least was the one with rice noodles and sweet chile sauce, which seems to lull the noodles into a shallow, sugary daze.”
Wells explains that Somtum Der is “a New York replica of a Bangkok restaurant that interprets that city’s street-food renditions of traditional Isan cooking,” and calls the food “vibrant, fresh and delicious.” This is a restaurant where you should order as many dishes as the table will hold, says Wells. “The food launches out of the kitchen quickly and relentlessly, and I felt lost in an avalanche until I learned to order about half of what I meant to eat, and then, when it was gone, put in a second order.”
But above all other dishes, Wells says, “you want papaya salad, absolutely, and you want it as spicy as you can stand.” And be aware that it will cause “five minutes during which you are incapable of doing anything but sweating, squirming, trying to blot your tongue with rice and gulping mouthfuls of Beer Lao,” he says. “Somtum Der measures heat on a chile-pepper scale, with four chiles denoting a psychotropic level of spice.”
For Wells' full review, click here.
10 Must-Try Isaan Dishes and Where to Find Them in Bangkok
From the popular som tum Thai papaya salad to the more adventurous dishes made with tadpoles, ant larvae and fresh blood, northeastern Thailand is definitely the place to be for dishes to jazz up your palates.
Known for its vibrant culture, northeastern Thailand or Isaan is also the region to savour some unique Thai dishes. Because it’s very hot and humid in the area, the cuisine relies heavily on the method of preservation and fermentation and the food is also characterised by local herbs, vegetables and spices.
Here are 10 dishes you can’t miss for a true taste of Isaan.
1. Som Tum
Also known as Thai papaya salad, there are many versions of this iconic dish, but the heart of this dish lies in the fresh, crisp green papaya slices that are mixed with the likes of local tomatoes, chilli, garlic and fish sauce. "The Isaan variation of som tum stands out with the use of tangy hog plum (makok) and crunchy white popinac seed (med kratin)," says Chef Kornthanut Thongnum, Executive Chef and Founder of Somtum Der (MICHELIN Plate).
While som tum pla ra is an acquired taste, som tum Thai is much more accessible and has become more popular, especially in central Thailand. In contrast to the salty, spicy and pungent som tum pla ra, som tum Thai has a more sweet and sour taste, with the use of palm sugar and lime, balanced with the saltiness from the fish sauce and dried shrimps. Instead of the green seeds from white popinac, you’ll get to enjoy the crunch from roasted peanuts. Other variations of som tum include tum sua (mixed with rice noodles), tum kao pode (with corn instead of green papaya), tum tang (with cucumber instead of green papaya), tum ponlamai (with fruits), and many more. Som tum is usually enjoyed with steamed sticky rice or rice noodles on the side.
Another typical Isaan dish, larb is made with minced meat, cooked or uncooked, mixed with ground toasted rice, shallots, spring onions, mint leaves and seasoned with chilli, lime juice and either fish sauce or pla ra. The preferred meat used in the dish usually includes pork, duck, beef or chicken. In some areas, you can also find larb luead, where fresh blood is mixed in and other variation of meats depending on local finds. Like most Isaan dishes, larb is usually eaten with steamed sticky rice. Some places also offer a contemporary version of larb tord with similar ingredients as larb but shaped into meatballs and deep-fried.
Koi is the Isaan region’s answer to tartare, and is basically raw meat salad, minced or cut into small pieces. It is typically made with red meat such as beef, water buffalo, venison, fish, shrimp and ant larvae, with similar ingredients as larb. Enjoy this dish with warm steamed sticky rice to complete the Isaan experience.
Om is an Isaan curry made with freshly-pounded paste and without coconut cream. Seasonal vegetables lie at the heart of this soupy dish, with several options of meat like chicken, frog, pork, catfish and pond snail. The base chilli paste is made with shallots, lemongrass and chilli, but the distinct aroma and flavours come from local herbs like culantro and lemon basil. In some recipes, the selection of herbs and vegetables may differ for each meat used in the dish.
5. Bamboo Shoot soup with yanang leaves
Called gaeng nor mai bai yanang (Tiliacora triandra) in Isaan, this dish is a distinctive northeastern dish. Like om, it doesn’t contain coconut cream and is simply made from freshly-pounded paste. Fresh bamboo shoots—the main component of the dish—need to be boiled beforehand to reduce its bitterness, while the dark green broth comes from yanang leaves. Besides chilli, the soup is seasoned with pla ra fermented fish and thickened with khao buer or pounded soaked and sticky rice. Additional flavours come from seasonal vegetables in the dish.
6. Khao Gee
In Isaan, khao gee (pronounced kao jee) refers to a morsel of cooked sticky rice that is then shaped into elliptical balls or thin circles and then double grilled with a coating of salt and egg. Traditionally, the Isaan locals make khao gee during the winter as a way to keep the body warm.
7. Isaan sausage
Isaan people make their sausages with a short fermentation period that’s enough to give them a slight tang. Locally known as sai krog Isaan, the sausage is made from pork meat and pork fat. Cooked rice is added to the mixture to kickstart the fermentation process which normally only lasts two to three days. Isaan sausages are already seasoned with garlic and salt, making it a handy snack to be enjoyed with fresh chilli, ginger and cabbages.
8. Pla Som
Pla means fish and som means sour in the Isaan dialect so you can be sure that pla som involves fish with a hint of sourness from the fermentation process that is part of its preparation. Pla som can be either whole fish, fillets or slices that are seasoned with salt and garlic, wrapped with seasoned cooked rice and left for a few days. Freshwater fish like java barb (pla tapien) is the most commonly used fish for pla som, and when ready, it is usually deep-fried or grilled.
Mok refers to a cooking method that involves mixing meat or vegetables with curry paste, wrapping it in banana leaf and steaming or grilling it. While similar to central Thailand’s hor mok, the Isaan version does not contain coconut cream and has lemon basil as the star herb. The main component in mok can vary from several kinds of fish to tadpoles, ant larvae and fish roe, to vegetables like bamboo shoots, banana blossoms and mushrooms.
If you’re familiar with Thai relish “nam-prik” culture, jaew is its Isaan counterpart. Jaew is made as a dip to be eaten with the likes of steamed vegetables, fish and sticky rice. Lying at the heart of jaew is pla ra and chilli, garlic, shallots and a tangy ingredient like lime or local tomato.
Here are the 5 best restaurants of Bangkok specialized in Isaan cuisine (or influenced by northeastern Thailand) and what our inspectors said about them.
Lay Lao (Bib Gourmand)
This Ari restaurant specialises in som tom salads that harmoniously blend the freshest seafood from Hua Hin with a pungent, North Eastern style kick. Featured dishes include fried squid, mussels with green papaya, deep-fried shrimp with garlic, and spicy som tom with raw mantis salad. Many dishes are the owner's own creations she hails from Hua Hin and sources prime cuts of beef from a special farm.
Somtum Khun Kan (MICHELIN Plate)
Starting from a small shop in Mueang Thong Thani, and then winning a Som Tum (spicy papaya salad) competition in 1999, Khun Kan has earned his reputation through high quality dishes and great flavours. As well as its famous Som Tum, the menu offers a wide variety of authentic Thai and Thai-Isan cuisine. We recommend the grilled pork shoulder with honey and herbs, roasted chicken with crispy skin and the deep-fried minced shrimp with mango salad.
Somtum Der (MICHELIN Plate)
While other regional Thai cuisines are represented, Isan dishes from north-eastern Thailand dominate the menu at this cosy eatery in the busy Si Lom neighbourhood. The homemade grilled sausage and spicy herbal soup are standouts, but the big draw is Som Tum, the famous Thai papaya salad, served ten different ways. The team of Thai owners has other branches in New York City, Ho Chi Minh City, Tokyo and the most recent opening in Thong Lo, Bangkok.
100 Mahaseth (Bib Gourmand)
Specialising in 'nose to tail' dishes inspired by Indochina flavours, the ingredients here are sourced directly from the farm. Our favourites include the creamy and complex bone marrow with flavoursome Thai-style sauce, as well as the robustly spiced northern hotdog, which has a real kick. Interiors are rustic and industrial with a hint of Thai countryside, while the dry-ageing meat cabinet adds a sleek, modern element.
1. Kisses From The Pear
Our first featured cocktail is a creation from Robert's BarKultur @roberts_barkultur of Berlin, Germany. His regular offerings of recipes via his Instagram and Facebook page have made him one of the reputable sources of cocktail inspiration.
“ Kisses From The Pear ” is a marvelous creation that centers on the sweet and juicy nuances of pear combined with the peppery flavor of rye whiskey and ginger syrup. On top of that is the citrusy splash of lime and orange bitters , resulting in a rather perfect mix to serve along with appetizers after a luscious meal.
- 1.2 oz. Rye whiskey
- 1 oz. Pear liqueur
- 1 oz. Fresh lime juice
- 0.5 oz. Ginger syrup
- 1 dash Aquavit
- 1 dash Orange bitters
Steps to Make
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker .
- Fill the shaker with ice cubes and shake for about 10 seconds.
- Strain cocktail through a Hawthorne strainer or a slotted spoon into a tumbler glass.
Though the Greek Kale Salad at Jack's Wife Freda may appear mundane, its really not. The culmination of the typical greek salad mixes with a modern spin. The use of kale, as well as the chunky slab of feta that melts in your mouth with each bite, makes this salad an absolute delight.
The Papaya Salad with salted egg is Somtum Der's delicacy. The sourness of the dressing, the crunchiness of the peanut and the simplicity of the shredded papaya gives this salad a unique taste. Not only that, but the traditional vibe of the restaurant makes this place a must visit.
NOTICE REGARDING RESTAURANT OPERATIONS
Update: Our Great Neck location is now open for dine-in service. Please call the restaurant to make a reservation.
Update: Our Brooklyn location is now open for heated outdoor dining, and indoor dining rooms will reopen on Sunday, February 14th. Online reservations are now available. Please pay close attention to the "indoor" and "outdoor" indicators when making a reservation.
We will continue to make limited menu and butcher shop items available for pickup and delivery from both our Brooklyn and Great Neck locations. We will also be serving a limited selection from our wine list to customers over the age of 21.
To place an order for pickup or delivery from our Brooklyn restaurant, please follow the link below. To order pickup from our Great Neck restaurant, please give us a call at (516) 487-8800 or follow the link below.
Pickup and delivery from our Brooklyn and Great Neck locations will be available from 11:45AM - 8:45PM daily, based on limited availability.
NYC Michelin Star Results 2016
The Big Apple might be most famously associated with hot dogs, bagels and big slices of pizza, but the city’s fine dining scene has grown into one of the most impressive in the world. The Michelin inspectors eat their way through thousands of New York’s hottest spots throughout the year, and a total of seventy-four restaurants currently hold a Michelin star – incredibly impressive for just one (albeit sprawling) city.
2016 saw one new two-star and ten one-star restaurants make the list. The Modern, owned by legendary chef Danny Meyer, gained its second star to much fanfare, while notable new entries on the one star list include Semilla, a restaurant where the vegetables take centre stage and fish or meat is in a supporting role. The six three-starred restaurants continue to keep their coveted crown, with Eleven Madison Park and Per Se still attracting diners from all over the world.
Where to Find Great Thai Food from Coast to Coast
From zesty papaya salad to comforting coconut curry, here’s where to find great regional Thai cuisine across the country.
Photo By: Candace West ©Copyrighted© 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved
Photo By: Moris Moreno ©2015 Moris Moreno
Photo By: Kitti TOM PENPARKkul tompenpark.com
Beyond Pad Thai
Night + Market Song — Los Angeles
Little Serow — Washington, D.C.
Panya Thai Restaurant — North Miami
South Florida’s serious Thai food aficionados head to this North Miami restaurant for its diverse regional specialties, including noodles, curries and satays. Everything offered is done well and layered with plenty of spice. If you can’t take the heat, order the mild — even the medium is scorching. While all the old reliables are present, the real treasures of Panya are more enigmatic: rich soups infused with offal, like liver, kidneys and blood. Filled with tofu and wide rice noodles, guay jab soup features pig intestine, flavored with oyster sauce, star anise, cinnamon and garlic. Boat noodle soup is also on the menu, with options for tamer proteins like pork or beef meatballs. There’s also yen ta fo, pink noodle soup made from preserved red bean curd, filled to the brim with noodles, shrimp, squid, white fungus and fried wonton, presenting plenty of flavor, with no meat.
While Thong Lor is home to some of the city's most chic eats, Thailand's spicy northeastern fare, known as Isan food, is sadly under-respresented. That has all changed with the opening of Somtum Der, an authentic northeastern eatery that has already garnered plenty of acclaim. Run by one of Bangkok's top restaurateurs, Thanaruek Laoraowirodge, Somtum Der serves up popular Isan street treats like larb tawt (spicy minced pork salad), kor moo yang (grilled marinated pork), somtum pla tu khao mun (shredded unripe papaya with grilled mackerel and coconut rice), and tum suo sakhonnakorn, a somtum with Thai vermicelli and white popinac seeds (an ingredient which cannot be found in Bangkok).
Michelin Bangkok has given the restaurant a Plate award, and one of the original branches of Somtum Der, started by Laoraowirodge in Manhattan, received a Michelin star. Laoraowirodge's other culinary endeavor, Supanniga Eating Room, also has a branch in Thong Lor, and features hard to find recipes from his grandmother's native Trat on Thailand's Eastern seaboard. All of his restaurants focus on authentic and unpretentious real Thai cuisine at affordable prices, and Somtum Der is no exception to the trend.
Chiang Mai Embraces Isaan Cuisine with Somtum Der Opening
Isaan food entrepreneur Thanaruek Laoraowirodge aims high, opening Somtum Der up in Thailand’s north.
Amongst connoisseurs of Thai food in Bangkok, the name Thanareuk Laoraowirodge will always sound familiar. For it was he, a young culinary visionary dedicated to honouring the memory of his grandmother and a passion for design and creation, who first put Thailand’s Isaan (northeastern Thai) cuisine on the map when Somtum Der in New York won its first Michelin star.
Born and raised in Khon Kaen Province in northeastern Thailand, Thanaruek “Eh” Laoraowirodge began his culinary and hospitality journey 15 years ago with a small boutique hotel called Supanniga Home in Khon Kaen, one of the early luxury boutique hotels to have cropped up in the region.
“I don’t come from a culinary and hospitality background,” Eh explains. “My parents actually ran a financial company specialising in motorbike finance.”
He obtained his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Economics from Chulalongkorn University and New York University respectively and after graduation, due to the downturn in his parents’ business, Eh spent five years helping his parents with the closure of their business.
“Once the company closed, my mother spent most of her time creating a splendid garden where she had many Supanniga (yellow silk cotton) trees that have vibrant yellow flowers when in full bloom. These flowers inspired the emblem for my restaurants,” Eh recalls. “She is extremely resourceful. I think I inherited my enthusiasm for artistic creations from her.”
Eh’s early life was also heavily influenced by his grandmother who took care of the household as he was growing up. When she passed away, Eh and his family opened Krua Supanniga by Khun Yai (Krua Supanniga by Grandma) at their boutique hotel to honour her memory, and to continue producing her signature dishes that diners in Khon Kaen love.
Eh first dived into the restaurant business in Bangkok with a group of friends he met in New York with Minibar Royale, a New York-inspired breakfast and brunch café. Soon after, he ventured on to carve out his own entrepreneurial path with a restaurant of his own. “I wanted a place where Bangkokians can enjoy simple comfort food that I grew up with in Isaan,” he says. With the help of Chef Kornthanut Thongnum who hails from Sakhon Nakon, Somtum Der (Michelin Plate) opened its doors on Soi Saladaeng.
“Chef Korn created the menu while I worked on the design of the restaurant. I wanted to create a dining environment that derives from the roots of Isaan culture, so there are elements in Somtum Der that strongly reflect the lifestyle of the province,” Eh enthuses.
After the successful opening of Somtum Der, Eh’s friend and business partner, Tatchai Nakapan, suggested that the time was ripe to bring Krua Supanniga by Khun Yai (Supanniga Kitchen by Grandma) to Bangkok. Since the first Supanniga Eating House (Michelin Plate) opened on Thonglor eight years ago, Eh has since added a branch on Sathorn, and Supanniga Tha Tien (Michelin Plate) opened two years ago opposite the majestic Wat Arun Temple. Supanniga also runs two river cruises a day, one of which is a dinner cruise.
2019 is another exciting year for Eh as Somtum Der spreads its wings up north with a branch that opened earlier this month on One Nimman in Chiang Mai. It will be Somtum Der’s sixth branch since Eh and his partners opened branches in New York (1 Michelin star in 2016), Ho Chi Minh, and Tokyo.
“There are slight variants on the menus at each branch. The chefs follow my grandmother’s original recipes. I help them to explore the accuracy of the tastes and presentations,” Eh says. “Most importantly, I ensure our dishes stay true to their identity which is traditional Eastern Thai cuisine that are reminiscent of dishes from my grandmother’s kitchen.”
An additional branch of Supanniga Eating House is due to open in May this year in Bangkok on Soi 38 Charoenkrung Road.
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