Back in January, I had the good fortune to meet a couple of fellow food hounds who happened to be passing through Chiang Mai as I was there. Chef and cookbook author Susan Loomis, on a research trip for her latest tasty project, introduced me to Andy Ricker, owner of Portland’s Pok Pok. We chatted over bowls of spicy noodles, and thus a connection was born.
As was an idea. Andy and I got to talking about the difficulties (and delights) of shopping for a Southeast Asian street food restaurant in the not-so-sweltering Northwest. How did Ricker win votes for Portland’s restaurant of the year? How does he maintain that authentic street flavor? I was curious.
So several weeks later, we went shopping on his turf.
I spent the better portion of a day following Andy around Portland’s east side as he dug into crates of new mangoes and sniffed his way through bins of chives and Chinese celery. It’s no easy task, trying to duplicate dishes from half a world away. But Ricker has a highly refined nose for precisely the right flavorsâ€”a characteristic that has evolved through many years of Thailand travels.
The Pok Pok Special: roasted game hen, green papaya salad, sticky rice, dipping sauce
Andy Ricker eating Pok Pok’s Yunnan-style Lamb Noodle Soup
Khao Niaw Dam Sankyaha: coconut-palm sugar custard scented with pandanus, served over black sticky rice with coconut cream
Flower in the Pok Pok window
Buddha in the truck
Andy Ricker, down the aisle