For years Portland, Oregon has been up and coming in the food world. It is a fantastic climate to grow a wide variety of produce and meats so we are known for our local, organic, sustainable and otherwise virtuous food. Chefs like to pair local specialties like salmon, hazelnuts, raspberries and lamb with our world renown wines. There are restaurants specializing in local foods at almost every price point ranging from Higgins and Wildwood at the top, The Farm Cafe and Laughing Planet in the middle all the way down to vendors at farmers markets and street carts like Addy's Sandwich Shop.
Today, though, I went for something a little different. A little more Asian. I spent a day last week reading through Food Carts Portland.com and found myself daydreaming about a Thai cart they reviewed downtown. If you throw a rock in the air in this town you will hit a decent Thai restaurant or food cart, and as you know I do love Thai food. This one, however, is a little different.
Nong's Khao Man Gai has only one dish on the menu... khao man gai. Just one dish, you ask. And this one dish is chicken and rice? This doesn't sound daydream worthy. But just wait until you taste it. First off, it's served wrapped up in white butcher paper with the fork and napkin tucked under a rubber band. Too adorable!
Then you open the package and smell the delicate, heady scent of the chicken and rice. Whatever seasoning Nong uses in her broth is absolutely fantastic! The cucumber and cilantro add a nice crisp, cool crunch to the warm soft chicken and rice and look beautiful against the mound of brown. Then you open the little sauce cup and the ginger soy chili smell momentarily takes over everything. But you are ready. You take a fork full of chicken and the flavor sensation begins. A little chicken, a little rice, some sauce. Or no rice, just chicken and sauce. Cucumber and rice and sauce. A sip of the winter melon soup served on the side. Yummmmm. Everything is subtle, and flavorful and absolutely delicious.
I don't often spend this much time waxing poetic over a single dish, but this stuff begs for it. It is the epitome of that Asian juxtaposition of simplicity and complexity. I know where I'm going to eat the next time I am feeling a little under the weather, or just in need of some interesting comfort food. Next time, I might try adding the chicken livers or fried chicken skin, or I might just try to make it at home. Khao man gai, my new favorite food!