For my third visit to Sri Siam Café, I invited my good friend Bob for lunch. This time I was determined to eat Thai food the way I’ve always eaten Thai food… very HOT and very SPICY. Not all food has to set my mouth on fire to be pleasurable. There’s just something about Thai food that doesn’t quite taste “authentic” without the extra heat. I think it’s because when I first tried it (twenty years ago) the dishes were always extra hot and spicy.
For lunch I suggested Bob and I start with the Nam (crispy rice salad), which has Thai sour sausage mixed with roasted peanuts, ginger, green onion and crispy rice. The unusual sour sausage almost tastes like it was soaked in lime juice, and the crispiness of the individual rice kernels are a surprising, savory crunch. The spicy Nam had been my favorite bite from lunch the week before, so I wanted to share it again with Bob, and he LOVED it.
When I asked for “very hot and spicy” on my first two visits, the waitress smiled and brought me what I thought was a medium heat, which is totally understandable since I was a new Sri Siam diner. She probably assumed I didn’t understand how hot and spicy Thai food could be, and didn’t want to throw out perfectly good food just because I ordered incorrectly.
On this visit I asked our server (a waiter this time) which dish was the “spiciest” on the menu. He pointed directly to “Poh Tak” (spicy seafood soup). It’s a hot pot filled with mussels, shrimps, crab, fish and squid in a sour spicy broth. I ordered the Poh Tak and made sure the waiter understood that I wanted it extra spicy. I made a point of saying that my food wasn’t spicy enough before and to please ask the chef to make the soup extra HOT and VERY SPICY. The waiter then raised an eyebrow and was probably about to ask me “are you sure?”, when I butted in and pleaded “I need my food to be very, very spicy PLEASE!”.
When my hot pot of spicy seafood soup arrived, I gave the waiter a look of “hmmm… this looks a little spicy, but we’ll see if you succeeded here”. He graciously scooped out the first little bowl of soup for me and then I went ahead and started in on the beautiful (and delicious) green mussels. Bob ordered the Panang Chicken lunch special, which came with steamed rice, soup and a vegetable egg roll. After I took a few sips of my soup, Bob asked me a question and it was the strangest thing… even though I was trying to answer him, my mouth wouldn’t work. Right then my eyes started blinking and I sat there with my mouth open, struggling as I mouthed “OH MY GAWD”. This was the hottest (and spiciest) thing I had ever tasted in my life, and it was truly a whole new level of fire in my mouth.
I know spice and heat are all relative, but I just want to note that I can easily handle blazing habanero chilies (even with the seeds intact). One of my favorite spicy treats I make at home, is a dessert I saw on tv a few years ago called “Fire and Ice”. It’s half of a habanero chili filled with lemon sorbet. The fire and ice gets under your tongue and it’s sort of paralyzing (in a good way) for a second.
Back in my 20′s I read (in some glossy, fashion magazine) that rubbing a slice of jalapeno on my lips would make them plump… a cheap alternative to lip injections. On the morning I decided to try this “natural” method, I was also scheduled to meet my new boss, who was flying in for the day to check on his photo gallery. Following the magazine instruction, I cut a dime-size piece of the jalapeno and pursed my lips while I rubbed the chili round and round. At first, nothing… then came the screaming and crying. NOTHING took the pain away and I ended up with a large, uneven, red outer ring that looked like “double” lips. If you can remember “Wax Lips” candies, then you get the picture.
Later in the day, when my new boss shot me a strange look, I just laughed and said my lips were overly chapped and did my best to hide in the office. I never admitted that I’d purposely rubbed jalapenos on my tender, perfectly fine, natural lips.
Currently, I have my fridge stocked with habanero stuffed olives that I order online from Primos Gourmet. The habaneros are perfect little, painful explosions that make me do the “happy eating dance” around the kitchen.
Just how hot are habaneros? Chili peppers are rated by Scoville units. As noted on Wikipedia: “The number of Scoville heat units (SHU) indicates the amount of capsaicin present. Capsaicin is a chemical compound which stimulates nerve endings in the skin”. For example, on the Scoville scale, a bell pepper would measure 0 (that’s zero, zilch, nothing). Jalapeno peppers would measure from 2,500-8,000.
The hottest chili pepper I’ve ever eaten is the habanero, and it would measure approximately 100,000-350,000 on the Scoville chart. Culinary Masochism? Well, if that means I’m getting intense pleasure (go endorphins!) from intense pain (gastronomically speaking), then fine, I admit it…. I need a little C&M in my life.
Sri Siam’s spicy seafood ”Poh Tak” soup felt like it was OFF the Scoville chart, and at first I thought it was way too fiery for me. After the initial shock wore off in my mouth I absolutely LOVED the broth, and from then on it was a heavenly seafood feast of squid, crab, shrimp and those delicious green mussels. Poor Bob had to watch me wipe the sweat off my brow, and he laughed as I dashed to the restroom several times to deal with a heat-induced runny nose. This meal was the perfect Thai experience I’d been after.
When we finished lunch, I went back to the kitchen and thanked the chef. He gave me a little smile and looked a little baffled, so I wasn’t sure if he understood what I said to him. I can’t imagine it, but maybe it was the first time he’d ever heard, “Thank you, thank you… thank you for making me hurt so good“.
A few photos in the Sri Siam Kitchen, and the wonderful crew.
Sri Siam Café Website
12843 Vanowen Street (at Coldwater)
North Hollywood 91605
818 982- 6262
Dining Date: 1/16/09