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IB Thai: not afraid to be rich, or hot

It is when my mussaman comes that we start approaching Nirvana.

Milly, daughter Lily, and the brunch they brought.
Milly, daughter Lily, and the brunch they brought.

Love surprises! Neighbor Kevin and I are coming out of the ocean after a lunchtime swim. Was it cold? You betcha, for the first minute. But once you’re body surfing, all you’re thinking about is catching the wave and avoiding the stingrays. Okay, so Kevin got two better waves than I did, but we both make it out unscathed.

Place

IB Thai Restaurant

1299 Imperial Beach Boulevard, San Diego

And it’s while we’re doing the “Yes, I’ve braved those waters” strut that we spot these two women sitting by the lifeguard tower. And they’re picnicking on — hey! — some kind of Asian food.

Put prasart Thai?” says Kevin. (“Do you speak Thai?”) He knows a little Thai. Has been there about three times.

Milly holds 1000-year-old egg. Slightly funky but ultimately delish.

Put dai, ka,” says the older girl.

Pretty soon they are chatting in Thaiglish. Milly and her daughter Lily say they decided to come down here for a picnic. “Would you like some?”

“Maybe after we dry up and put something warm on. The breeze,” says Kevin.

“OK. Come tomorrow. We will bring food for you,” says Milly. “What do you like?”

“Tom Yum,” I say, just so they know I’m not completely dumb when it comes to Thai food. “Tom Yum Kung!” Talking about the classic Thai shrimp soup, the one that’s gotta be pet — spicy hot — to bring out the sweat on your brow and the flavors in the soup.

Sokha, Hmong and happy.

Honestly, we don’t know if Milly and Lily will turn up next day, but they do, taking out plastic boxes from a big bag. And Lordy, what a collection! Milly lays out four paper plates and opens four plastic pots. Maybe the most interesting-looking is the stir fry (Thais borrowed stir-fry from Chinese cooking). It’s Pad Krapow Gai. Stir-fried holy basil chicken, and I see she has put in a 1000-year-old egg. Then, the Tom Yum Kung I requested. Next to that, a yellowish chicken curry, panang. And as light relief, Som Tum, the papaya salad from Laos, which is mainly strips of raw green papaya. From that to the 1000-year-old egg (which is preserved, but not for that long) it is all a luscious combo, as we talk and exchange lives, not far from the crunching waves and slow-mo pelican flight processions. Delicious afternoon! “That’s the thing about Thailand,” says Kevin, after. “They’re generous.”

Coconut shrimp: sweet start to the meal.

I’m thinking about that afternoon and especially the Tom Yum, a couple of days later when I’m east of IB around 13th street on Imperial Beach Boulevard. Night’s coming on, temps are plunging, and the idea of a nice hot soup gets me looking around. This is when I spot a row of shops. Party Supplies, Tommy’s Tobacco and oh yes: IB Thai.

Only problem: it’s take-out only. You can see maybe three women in the kitchen in back, cutting, stirring, dishing food into plastic pots and placing them in cardboard to-go boxes. But the place does have tables in the front. Right now, it is pretty empty. Kind of gray and white decor with tables scattered, some with high chairs, where people wait for their to-go orders. “Can I eat here?” I say to the one guy at the counter.

“Oh sure,” he says. He’s processing customers who are arriving after ordering online. His name’s Sokha. “I’m Hmong, from Battambang, Cambodia,” he says.

Mussaman curry, from southern Thailand.

Perfect! Someone interesting to talk to. Trouble is, he’s so busy running for orders, there’s not much time to talk. Besides, I’m supposed to be looking at the menu. It is standard Thai, with all those dishes Kevin and I had with Milly and Lily, and a ton of others. Me, I’m looking for more curry. Thai curries are da best, IMHO, a combo of Indian and Thai and Chinese influences, not afraid to be rich-tasting, not afraid to be hot. Except most times, restaurants under-spice their dishes, for fear of burning our gringo mouths.

So when I decide to go for this yellow curry, and Sokha asks what I want, spice-wise, from 1-10, I say, “Ten, and I mean ten.” I get the gang massaman neua, mussaman curry with beef: potato, carrots, onion, yellow curry, white rice, and beef (neua). Costs $10.95. But first I order an appetizer of coconut shrimp, six shrimp covered in shredded toasted coconut. Crispy, with a kind of coconut perfume aura surrounding them. And a sweet and sour dipping sauce. Good, indulgent. Also, hey, following a trend here, I get a tall 17.5 oz can of Chaokoh young coconut juice with pulp. Costs $2.50. That’s the thing about everything here: totally reasonable, cost-wise.

But it is when my mussaman comes, in a plastic to-go pot and with another pot filled with rice, that we start approaching Nirvana. The mussaman is hot and burny, but not too. Curry taste is sweet and savory at the same time. And there’s always the rice. Glad I asked for a “10,” because generally, mussaman is a mild curry. I love its taste combo of yellow curry, big chunks of potato, carrots, beef, onion, and inputs of galangal, lemon grass. The name “mussaman” comes from “Muslim.” The curry came to Thailand from Malaysia around the 1600s via Persian traders who wowed Thai royalty with the flavor. It’s a kind of easy-to-love hybrid soup you can get with chicken, shrimp, beef — but not pork, not with this curry’s background.

The beef is fine, and I’m gonna take half home. Right now I’m soaking in the heat and the flavors slowly, to warm me up for the cold outside.

Good talk with Sokha, but I want to find out more about his Hmong hilltribe people. Like, what do they eat in the mountains back there? Whatever, it’s been quite a Thai week. A lot to — as they say — digest.

  • The Place: IB Thai Restaurant, 1299 Imperial Beach Boulevard, 619.207.0788
  • Hours: 10:30am-9pm (From 11am, Saturday, Sunday) (Carry-out till 8:45pm)
  • Prices: Chicken satay (4), $6.50; 4 fresh California rolls, $6.50; spicy fried rice, $9.99; Tom Kah (coconut soup), $9.50; crab fried rice, $9.99; pad Thai lunch, $8.50; drunken noodles lunch, $8.50; red curry lunch $8.50; eggplant lunch, $8.50; mussaman beef curry, $10.95; mango curry, $9.99; panang, $9.99
  • Buses: 901, 933, 934
  • Nearest Bus Stops: Imperial Beach Boulevard at 13th Street
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Milly, daughter Lily, and the brunch they brought.
Milly, daughter Lily, and the brunch they brought.

Love surprises! Neighbor Kevin and I are coming out of the ocean after a lunchtime swim. Was it cold? You betcha, for the first minute. But once you’re body surfing, all you’re thinking about is catching the wave and avoiding the stingrays. Okay, so Kevin got two better waves than I did, but we both make it out unscathed.

Place

IB Thai Restaurant

1299 Imperial Beach Boulevard, San Diego

And it’s while we’re doing the “Yes, I’ve braved those waters” strut that we spot these two women sitting by the lifeguard tower. And they’re picnicking on — hey! — some kind of Asian food.

Put prasart Thai?” says Kevin. (“Do you speak Thai?”) He knows a little Thai. Has been there about three times.

Milly holds 1000-year-old egg. Slightly funky but ultimately delish.

Put dai, ka,” says the older girl.

Pretty soon they are chatting in Thaiglish. Milly and her daughter Lily say they decided to come down here for a picnic. “Would you like some?”

“Maybe after we dry up and put something warm on. The breeze,” says Kevin.

“OK. Come tomorrow. We will bring food for you,” says Milly. “What do you like?”

“Tom Yum,” I say, just so they know I’m not completely dumb when it comes to Thai food. “Tom Yum Kung!” Talking about the classic Thai shrimp soup, the one that’s gotta be pet — spicy hot — to bring out the sweat on your brow and the flavors in the soup.

Sokha, Hmong and happy.

Honestly, we don’t know if Milly and Lily will turn up next day, but they do, taking out plastic boxes from a big bag. And Lordy, what a collection! Milly lays out four paper plates and opens four plastic pots. Maybe the most interesting-looking is the stir fry (Thais borrowed stir-fry from Chinese cooking). It’s Pad Krapow Gai. Stir-fried holy basil chicken, and I see she has put in a 1000-year-old egg. Then, the Tom Yum Kung I requested. Next to that, a yellowish chicken curry, panang. And as light relief, Som Tum, the papaya salad from Laos, which is mainly strips of raw green papaya. From that to the 1000-year-old egg (which is preserved, but not for that long) it is all a luscious combo, as we talk and exchange lives, not far from the crunching waves and slow-mo pelican flight processions. Delicious afternoon! “That’s the thing about Thailand,” says Kevin, after. “They’re generous.”

Coconut shrimp: sweet start to the meal.

I’m thinking about that afternoon and especially the Tom Yum, a couple of days later when I’m east of IB around 13th street on Imperial Beach Boulevard. Night’s coming on, temps are plunging, and the idea of a nice hot soup gets me looking around. This is when I spot a row of shops. Party Supplies, Tommy’s Tobacco and oh yes: IB Thai.

Only problem: it’s take-out only. You can see maybe three women in the kitchen in back, cutting, stirring, dishing food into plastic pots and placing them in cardboard to-go boxes. But the place does have tables in the front. Right now, it is pretty empty. Kind of gray and white decor with tables scattered, some with high chairs, where people wait for their to-go orders. “Can I eat here?” I say to the one guy at the counter.

“Oh sure,” he says. He’s processing customers who are arriving after ordering online. His name’s Sokha. “I’m Hmong, from Battambang, Cambodia,” he says.

Mussaman curry, from southern Thailand.

Perfect! Someone interesting to talk to. Trouble is, he’s so busy running for orders, there’s not much time to talk. Besides, I’m supposed to be looking at the menu. It is standard Thai, with all those dishes Kevin and I had with Milly and Lily, and a ton of others. Me, I’m looking for more curry. Thai curries are da best, IMHO, a combo of Indian and Thai and Chinese influences, not afraid to be rich-tasting, not afraid to be hot. Except most times, restaurants under-spice their dishes, for fear of burning our gringo mouths.

So when I decide to go for this yellow curry, and Sokha asks what I want, spice-wise, from 1-10, I say, “Ten, and I mean ten.” I get the gang massaman neua, mussaman curry with beef: potato, carrots, onion, yellow curry, white rice, and beef (neua). Costs $10.95. But first I order an appetizer of coconut shrimp, six shrimp covered in shredded toasted coconut. Crispy, with a kind of coconut perfume aura surrounding them. And a sweet and sour dipping sauce. Good, indulgent. Also, hey, following a trend here, I get a tall 17.5 oz can of Chaokoh young coconut juice with pulp. Costs $2.50. That’s the thing about everything here: totally reasonable, cost-wise.

But it is when my mussaman comes, in a plastic to-go pot and with another pot filled with rice, that we start approaching Nirvana. The mussaman is hot and burny, but not too. Curry taste is sweet and savory at the same time. And there’s always the rice. Glad I asked for a “10,” because generally, mussaman is a mild curry. I love its taste combo of yellow curry, big chunks of potato, carrots, beef, onion, and inputs of galangal, lemon grass. The name “mussaman” comes from “Muslim.” The curry came to Thailand from Malaysia around the 1600s via Persian traders who wowed Thai royalty with the flavor. It’s a kind of easy-to-love hybrid soup you can get with chicken, shrimp, beef — but not pork, not with this curry’s background.

The beef is fine, and I’m gonna take half home. Right now I’m soaking in the heat and the flavors slowly, to warm me up for the cold outside.

Good talk with Sokha, but I want to find out more about his Hmong hilltribe people. Like, what do they eat in the mountains back there? Whatever, it’s been quite a Thai week. A lot to — as they say — digest.

  • The Place: IB Thai Restaurant, 1299 Imperial Beach Boulevard, 619.207.0788
  • Hours: 10:30am-9pm (From 11am, Saturday, Sunday) (Carry-out till 8:45pm)
  • Prices: Chicken satay (4), $6.50; 4 fresh California rolls, $6.50; spicy fried rice, $9.99; Tom Kah (coconut soup), $9.50; crab fried rice, $9.99; pad Thai lunch, $8.50; drunken noodles lunch, $8.50; red curry lunch $8.50; eggplant lunch, $8.50; mussaman beef curry, $10.95; mango curry, $9.99; panang, $9.99
  • Buses: 901, 933, 934
  • Nearest Bus Stops: Imperial Beach Boulevard at 13th Street
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