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Mar 29, 2002 05:29 PM

Thai food advice

  • m

Hi all Chowhounds -- Being a transplanted Minnesotan, and still pretty new to the Bay Area, I am just beginnning to enjoy more ethnic foods. I've long been a devotee of Italian, French, and Greek food, and since Mr. Smith has very limited food tastes it's been hard to break out of this rut. I know how everyone raves about Thai food, but the few experiences I've had have been a bit frightening so far. I'd really like to get to know this cuisine, and would welcome recommendations. Anything you know about I'm happy to learn, but if you have any info that fits into these categories it would help a lot!

a) I'm quite a wimp when it comes to hot food (and Mr. Smith is even worse), so please recommend a dish or two which is on the milder (but I hope not blander!) side. I know that this is a hot cuisine!
b) Any standout Thai restaurants in the city -- in or near the Marina would be a plus!

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  1. Hi Mrs. Smith
    A great Thai place is Yukol Place.
    Located on Lombard st in between Scott and Pierce.
    I've gone for years and it's consistently good.
    I would recommend the Crispy Butter Cups for an appetizer or one of their special appetizer rolls which change daily.
    Their Pad Thai is great and if you do want to try something a little spicier try the Nuer Ob.

    Sweet people too.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Dana Beigel

      Thank you, Dana and Kim for the advice.I will go to Yukol Place and report back!

    2. Most Thai places will make dishes milder if you ask. Also, pay attention to the little notations in most menus as to whether the dish in question is hot. While many Thai dishes are hot, there are many that are not hot at all. Many of the not hot dishes are somewhat sweet. Pad Thai is not hot, and is "the national dish".
      Don't miss the sticky rice with mango for dessert.

      1. r
        Randy Salenfriend

        Although seemingly in a strange location (1450 Lombard @ Van Ness adjacent to a motel) try Malee, Thai & Vietnamese. We had a splendid meal there, ordering a selection from both menus, mild to spicy. The overriding opinion was that all dishes were consistently good with nary a clunker in the bunch.

        Bright, clean flavors and warm, friendly service. I am certain they would be pleased to adjust dishes based on your preferences.

        This way, you will be in a position where you can sample two fabulous cuisines under the same roof. Let me know what you think if you make your way there.


        1. m
          Marc Wallace

          Satay is also a tasty, mild food -- basically marinated and grilled meat with a peanut sauce. (and, as you may have read here, I prefer it at Sabuy Sabuy)

          Watch out for dishes that claim to have "peppers" -- it can be hard to tell if they're going to be bell peppers, hot peppers, or a mix.

          But most dishes can be made mild. Just look at the ingredients, and pick something with a few that you like...

          Thai ice tea (basically chai with milk) helps tremendously in drowning out spiciness, also.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Marc Wallace

            Hey Marc -- that chai ice tea tip fits in with what Millicent said about capiscum being fat-soluble. I will definitely pick up the Thai iced tea -- it sounds very delicious. Hearing Chowhounds speak arms me with so much information -- I can't wait to eat Thai now!

            1. re: Mrs. Smith
              Caitlin McGrath

              Thai iced tea and iced coffee are both quite rich and tasty. Not sure about the chai reference (not all I've had is spiced), but they are made with sweetened condensed milk. A Thai or Vietnamese iced coffee is almost like a shake to me (but with a major caffeine kick!). Both are good for counteracting spice (dairy is in general).

              While you're experimenting with Southeast Asian flavors, you might want to try Vietnamese too. Some of the flavors are quite similar to Thai cooking, but there are other nuances and some preparations are more Chinese-like in cooking style. Good places to start that aren't too spicy are: pho, the national dish, which is a beef noodle soup in an aromatic broth that comes with a plate of accompaniments (usually basil leaves, bean sprouts, lime wedges, and sliced chile peppers) that you add to your taste; bun, which is marinated grilled meats served over cold thin rice noodles with fresh herbs and sometimes fried shallots and the ubiquitous (not spicy) sauce nuoc cham; and summer or salad rolls, which are cellophane (bean thread) noodles, fresh vegetables and often seafood rolled in rice paper wrappers and served with dipping sauce.

              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                Could it be the "sweetened" component in the milk that puts out the fire? I had an Indian friend whose mother contended that sugar helped quell the heat...I've never tried that theory out, because it's never BEEN to spicy for me! And rest easy, Mrs.Smith, my taste-buds are still fully functional!

                1. re: galleygirl

                  So glad to hear it, Caitlin, that the tastebuds are not adversely affected by hot food. Until I can get up to Yukol Place and other Thai places, Mr. Smith and I bought a fresh jalapeno at the Marina Super and stood in the kitchen contemplating it somewhat nervously. Then we put it, very finely minced (I chopped it with gloves on, cause I've heard about the juices causing irritation), into our fish tacos. We made sweet rich iced coffee to go with it. We enjoyed it! We're doing fine so far with our slow ramp-up-the-spice program. Thanks for all the encouragement!

                  1. re: Mrs. Smith

                    LOL..I love it!! The Chowhounds' 12 Step Spice Tolerance Program! God grant me the serenity to chow on the hottest peppers I can, and the courage to know my limits!

                    1. re: Mrs. Smith

                      Excellent! I'm so excited by the progress of the blossoming chowhound!

                      Chopping chiles with gloves is a good idea -- I'll never forget the day I spent the entire day stripping wallpaper, getting lots of little nicks and scratches on my hands, and then decided to make salsa: pepper oil, salt and lime juice in all those little wounds: ouch!

                      Most of the heat is in the seeds and the white pith and membranes, so you can control the heat by how much of the seeds/pith you include. Peppers also have a lot of natural variation even within a variety.

                      Finally, don't touch your face (or any other sensitive skin) until you've cleaned up thoroughly and don't clean peppers or cooking implements with a lot of pepper residue in hot water -- sometimes that aerosolizes the pepper oils and they get in your eyes, so rinse off most of the pepper residue first with cold water!

                      1. re: Mrs. Smith
                        Caitlin McGrath

                        Jalapenos are a good place to start because they have actually had a lot of their heat bred out of them in recent years, so they tend not to be as hot as their reputation suggests. But as Ruth notes, the heat levels can vary between chiles, so the best thing to do is to be brave and taste a tiny bit so you can decide how much to use in your food.

                        If you can find it, green (Jalapeno) Tabasco sauce has a good flavor and is not as hot as regular Tabasco; I sprinkle it on omelets and such. Easy to adjust how much heat you want. When cooking eggs, soups, etc., you could also try incorporating some of the chopped, canned green chiles (like Ortega), and you can start to appreciate the flavor of chiles without overdoing on the heat. If you're concerned about the heat level, just eat the flesh and avoid the seeds and membranes for now, as Ruth suggests.

                        And congratulations on your intrepidness!

                2. re: Marc Wallace

                  Mee krob is another popular mild dish. It's a crispy vermicelli dish with pork and shrimp and some other stuff. Very tasty, and never spicy. Any Thai restaurant will have it. It's really worthwhile to develop a taste for spicy food, though. It adds a whole new axis along which food can fall, and just in practical terms makes you much more prepared to deal with the world's food, since Indian, Mexican, Thai and Chinese food all make liberal use of chiles and peppers, and those are four of my favorite cuisines.

                3. Lots of good advice here, and I have $.02 to add as well... Spicy food is most effectively doused with bland, starchy things such as rice or bread. Water won't help, though instinct kicks in and we all reach for it. I've heard this is because capsaicin/capsicum/capwhatever is not water soluble but fat soluble, so water won't disperse it.

                  The other thing to keep in mind is that you can become more heat-tolerant with exposure, and there are real payoffs in spicy food!

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Millicent

                    Interesting stuff, Millicent, about capiscum (sp?) being fat soluble. I do know that the water doesn't help -- I wonder why beer does, though? :) Maybe I could order one small hot dish, and then a double order of rice or noodles (which is better with Thai?). I am slowly acclimating myself to hotter food. I think I am getting better, as I keep gradually pushing the envelope. My only worry is if I become inured to hot things, will my tastebuds become less sensitive to the subtler flavors? Please let me know your opinion on that. There is such a huge variety of foods available here in SF that I consider myself so lucky to live here -- and fully intend, gradually, to try as many as I can!

                    1. re: Mrs. Smith

                      My kids took me to a good Thai place in London (actually, I think it was Putney) where I accidentally chewed up a bird chilli. The waitperson, said "more beer!" and brought out a large glass for me, and another, and so on. The kids had to drag me home, as I hiccoughed, "Let that be a lesson to you." pat

                      1. re: Mrs. Smith

                        Ahh, not to worry--the more kinds of things you enjoy, the more fun there is! Seriously, I think taste is like other senses in that we are born with a certain range of variety that we notice, and then we can train ourselves to notice more distinctions. I used to be a (peon) restaurant cook, and the more senior cooks would give me tastes so I could learn to tell what had enough/too much/not enough salt/sweetness/acidity/etc. If you develop a taste for spicier foods, you'll expand the universe of what you enjoy.

                        Both rice and noodles are integral to Thai food, so you'll probably want to try both. In terms of counteracting too much spice, noodles are usually cooked along with the other ingredients, while rice is on the side and thus uncontaminated by chilies :)

                        1. re: Mrs. Smith

                          I believe capsaicin (I just looked it up to get the right term) is also alcohol soluable -- thus the beer. Tea seems to help, too (perhaps the warmth, perhaps the tannins).

                          Don't worry about burning out your palate and enjoy.

                          1. re: Mrs. Smith

                            I always try to eat the foods that are most spicy after I have eaten the foods with more delicate flavors. This way I am sure to enjoy both.