Walter Mencken 11:31 a.m., Feb. 1
Thai Island: Leaping shrimp!
Tom Yum Kung means yummy shrimp in a soup that should bristle with both kinds of heat
I’m always in search of the Perfect Tom Yum Kung.
Last I had of this spicy sour lemony soup was at Bahn Thai up on Park, near Adams. Pretty zippy and hot, that one.
Of course my favorite is the large size that comes in a charcoal fire-heated chimney bowl with the flame coming up through the middle. Man. As you drink and chew the soup down, and the li’l fire keeps evaporating away the liquids, the mix gets richer and richer.
At the same time, your whole body heats up from the spices till you’re kinda breathing fire yourself.
So this all comes to mind as I hustle past this little Thai place on 7th Avenue, Thai Island (at 1134 7th, between B and C, 619-232-7576) in deepest officeland downtown.
It’s just past six in the evening. I know that everything here is tuned for the office lunch crowd, so no surprise that things are a little sleepy around this cluster of eateries here right now.
I’m in a hurry. Gotta access my stretch limo at 6:30. But hmm. Just might squeeze in a tom yum, if they have soups at the ready.
I like the look of it. They have orangey tablecloths with beautiful blue and white plates and creamy linen napkins on top. Just as long as the prices aren’t as classy…
I go up to the counter. Lots of talk coming from the kitchen. I scan the walls. They’re interesting, kinda peach color, with Thai-style roof struts, sitting Buddhas, lying Buddhas, flying Buddhas, photos of food, and a gold-rimmed altar for offerings.
“Can you do a tom yum quick?” I ask the lady when she comes.
“Oh yes,” she says.
“Even Tom Yum Kung?”
“No problem. They’re $6.56.”
I sit at the nearest table, and settle into one of the wicker and ebony chairs, -and only have to wait five minutes or so. During that time I can’t resist ordering a Singha beer.
“Singha” means “lion.” The oldest beer made in Thailand, I think. “Since 1933,” it says. Hey! Exactly 80 years. Right about when they had their democratic revolution and established a constitutional monarchy. Cool. It was Germans who set up the brewery back then, created the pilsener type flavor. Hoppy? Not really, but I like it. Great hot weather beer. Costs $3.99.
The soup? Comes steaming not in the fire pot, but in a beautiful blue and white bowl, and is swimming with shrimp, plus broccoli, onions, and of course lots of sliced mushrooms.
Dang. The one thing I didn’t ask for was heat. Tom yum has to be a little brutal to give life to the flavors. And when you put dried chile in at the end, it never gets the same depth.
I sprinkle ’em in anyway, because time is flying. But it’s good. A very good, sophisticated soup with complex flavors. Filling too, with the $1 bowl of rice I asked for.
Can’t wait to come back with more time and the chance to ask for heat at the start.
More like this:
- Inn of the Sixth Happiness — March 11, 2014
- Witches’ brew in a hotpot — Aug. 28, 2013
- A gallery of 33 vintage posters from Hollywood's Golden Age of cartoons — June 12, 2013
- Thai Pepper: Into the Hot Pot — April 4, 2012
- Mother Kwan — April 13, 2011