A Northern Thai Birthday Celebration

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday, so we went out to dinner last night in celebration. She had mentioned to me after we had lunch at the place, kBird, a couple of months ago that she would like to return for a special dinner to celebrate her birthday. She had noticed a hand-written announcement of a weekly Khantoke (a northern Thai special dinner). Normally, kBird is open only for lunch, when they serve Thai food from central and southern Thailand, the stuff most Americans expect when eating at Thai restaurants. But these once-a-week Khantoke events depart from American “tradition” to explore foods that most of us never experience. According to one of the staff who spoke to us last night, kBird is the only restaurant in the USA that serves this style of northern Thai food.

I should describe kBird. It is a tiny spot, located inside an old, yellow house in a residential neighborhood a little bit north of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. I would guess the place could comfortably seat about fourteen to eighteen people, but at last night’s dinner, there were twelve of us and it would have been crowded with a few more. Much of the food prep work is done across the counter from the dining area. The cooking is done in what I assume is a kitchen right off the dining/prep area. The staff  last night consisted of four people, including a guy who I assume is either the owner or the lead among a group of owners.

At any rate, experience it we did. The cost for the dinner was $49 per person, taxes included (slightly higher if paying by credit card), plus tip. The place is BYOB (we didn’t, but the other two tables, one of six people and another of four, did). We were the only solo couple in the place. I think it would have been even more fun had we had another couple or two join us.  We could have accommodated two other people at our table, but it would have been extremely tight when they brought the food, which is served family-style.

For the price, we were treated to a 12-item menu, plus dessert, that included the following:

    • steamed sticky rice (picked up with one’s fingers and rolled into balls for dipping in sauces)
    • phak soht & nung (fresh and steamed Thai vegetables)
    • nam prik ong (chile-based sauce made with dried chiles, ground pork and tomatoes) ;
    • a meat plate that included:
      • pork rinds,
      • fried chicken with makwaen (I have no idea what makwaen is),
      • sai oud (an intriguing Thai pork sausage, typically eaten fermented but uncooked; ours, though, was cooked “to temperature” to comply with FDA regulations or some such requirement),
      • nam prik noom (roasted chile dip for the meats), and
      • haem (fermented pork);
    • yam makheva yao (smoked eggplant salad);
    • gaeng hanglae (Burmese-style pork curry with ginger and peanuts);
    • kanom jeen nam ngiew (pork & blood cube curry with red Cotton tree stamens);
    • aep bplaa duuk (catfish with herbs, steamed in banana leaves), and
    • a sweet rice-based dessert with sliced mangoes.

I could not get very good photos, so I’m not posting them. Suffice it to say there was a LOT of food on the table. It was all delivered to our tables before we began eating.

We learned from our host that northern Thailand is considerably cooler than the central and southern parts of the long, narrow country (more than 1,000 miles from south to north). The northern part of the country is more arid, too, so coconut palms do not grow there. As such, coconut milk (which is ubiquitous as an ingredient in many Thai foods with which I am familiar) is not found in Lanna Thai (northern Thai) food.

The meal provided more food than we could eat. We tried, but could not finish all the dishes. Most of it, I think, is not really suitable as “leftovers,” but one of the sauces, in particular, seemed like it might work, so my wife put it in a to-go container to take home. We’ll see, today, whether it weathered the trip home.

All in all, I’d say the evening was a delightful way to celebrate my wife’s birthday. We both left full and happy with the meal and the experience.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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