When the Thai temple's neighbors chased away the Sunday food vendors we mourned, we really did.
Well, as it turns out, Petaling Jaya's loss is our gain, because Thai grocery owner K.O. Tan has relocated his truck to the front of his newish Pandan Indah shop. There's more goodies than ever, and now, thanks to tables and stools, no need to take away (though you still can), squat on the ground with a plastic bag to your mouth, or eat standing up.
This is true Thai food, prepared by Thais for Thais. On both of our visits clientele consisted exclusively of Thais and non-Thais married to Thais. (And us.) This is a good sign (the Thai clientele, not us) - unless, that is, you prefer your aahaan Thai (Thai food) insipidly spiced and on the sweet side.
Much of the cooking is done by Tan's wife, who hails from Chiang Rai. As such, there's always kao niaow (sticky rice), as well as a few usually-hard-to-find northern dishes available. Ask for laab khua (lahb KOO-ah). We fell in love with this robust mixture of chopped pork and pork parts (liver, stomach, heart, perhaps an ear or two), seasoned with fresh herbs and ground dried spices like prickly ash, cumin, and coriander, a couple of years ago in Chiang Mai. It's not always available (though laab thamadaa - 'regular' laab, with lime juice and mint leaves, is), so cross your fingers and toes on the way to lunch.
If you doubt the deliciousness of anything featuring such an array of innards, know that I - an innard avoider until fairly recently - have been driven, by my northern Thailand-stoked cravings for this dish, to boil many a pig heart in my own kitchen (a food handling and preparation watershed pour moi).
Kanom jeen, skinny noodles of fermented rice, are enjoyed all over Thailand, but it's in the north that they're served with nam ngiaw, a soupy meat (pork here, beef for northern Thailand's Muslims) and tomato 'curry'. Mrs. Tan's nam ngiaw is superb, redolent of roasted dried chilies but nicely balanced by the slight tartness of the tomatoes. It's authentically enriched with cubes of pork blood and meant to be bulked up with accompanying veggies: bean sprouts, shredded cabbage, and salty pickled mustard.
Belacan lovers must try the nam prik gapi, a stinky, spicy 'dip' that boasts copious amounts of Thai shrimp paste (the 'gapi'), chilies, shallots, and garlic. Eat it with long beans, cabbage, raw eggplant, cucumbers, and, if the chilies light your fire, handfuls of sticky rice.
We were thrilled to find sup nawmai (a.k.a. preserved bamboo shoot 'salad') among the dishes on dispaly. I'll be honest here. Much as I love this dish it can, at times - depending on how fermented the shoots are - taste a bit too ... funky. Happily, Mrs. Tan's bamboo shoots have soaked just long enough, entering the bounds of 'preserved' without straying beyond into 'way too cheesy' territory. She tosses them with spoonfuls of nubbly ground toasted rice and chilies, seasons the lot with a bit of lime juice and fish sauce, and tops it all with plenty of mint leaves.
What else? Too much to list. Imagine an otak-otak of flaked fish so silky and moist it's almost custard-like. Thai Market's version is a fist-sized portion steamed in a banana leaf. Chopped lemongrass, shredded lime leaf, galangal, and chile figure prominently. The smart diner will eat one here and take a few home to tuck in the fridge.
There's also kanom jeen with other, non-nam ngiaw toppers, including a wonderful, mildish nam yaa bplaa (fish and coconut milk 'curry') and a personal favorite: gaeng tai bplaa (fish innard curry - opening photo). Lovers of heat and strong fishy flavors will adore this yellow-green concoction, with its chunks of bamboo shoot, globe eggplant, and bitter little pea eggplants.
Somtam (green papaya salad) is made to order. Phet-priaow (hot and sour) for me, please, but if you're seeking relief from other, spicier dishes just apprise the Mrs. before she sets to your order. She pounds her somtam with pickled paddy crabs by default, so if it's the version with dried shrimp and sans crab that you seek, ask for 'somtam tai'.
There's loads of dishes that we have yet to try. Choices vary week by week, so peruse the pots and bowls perched on the truck and make your meal a point-and-shoot affair.
Mr. Tan will be leasing the space above his shop come August and plans a full-fledged restaurant, to be open sometime in September. This is good news for those who prefer air-conditioned comfort and don't want their true Thai grazing to be restricted to Sunday afternoons. We'll certainly visit the restaurant but we do enjoy the casual atmosphere of the current set-up.
It's the closest we'll ever come to a true Thai street food experience in KL.
Thai Market Font, 43G, Jalan Pandan Indah 4/6B, Pandan Indah. Tel. 03-4296-6775. Food is served out front on Sundays only, from mid-morning till late in the afternoon, or until supplies run out. During the week a very limited selection of vittles is served in the back of the shop. If you're cooking Thai at home, find everything ingredient and utensil here, from Thai sticky rice to ceramic mortars and wooden pestles. A sizeable refrigerated case holds imported Thai produce (deliveries every Friday) such as cha-om and pak damleung, a sweet, vining green with maple-shaped leaves.