Pok Pok – Hosford-Abernethy, Portland
Posted Tuesday 20 March 2012on:
I spent twelve hours in Portland last Friday. I had visited Vancouver three times in the past year but had not travelled south to Oregon. Crossing the Columbia River Bridge was a spectacular entrance into the state and city. Of Portlandia and tax-free shopping fame, Portlanders were friendly and I adored their boutiques. A stoic posy of daffodils defied the cool temperatures, sheltered by a flowering camellia tree.
A curious structure of wooden beams, corrugated roofing and bamboo walls, the aesthetics were of Southeast Asian hawker stalls.
Festive lights twinkled and the heater glowed. Water was steeped in pandan leaves which tasted of toasted rice.
The dense menu detailed ingredients and cooking methods for each dish.
Although tempted by a Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, I was already buzzing from two caffeinated beverages. I selected a glass of cha manao instead, a Thai iced tea with fresh lime juice. It was refreshing and its delicate sweetness tempered the bold flavours.
Three of us shared four main courses and one dessert. The Pok Pok special was a plate of game hen (kai yaang) and papaya salad. Roasted on a rotisserie over charcoal, the portions of chicken were smoky and tender. The spicy sweet and sour, and tamarind dipping sauces were appetizing, so much so that I emptied the remainder onto coconut rice and sticky rice. Julienne green papaya, halved cherry tomatoes, batons of snake beans and crunchy peanuts were mixed with Thai chilli, lime juice, tamarind, fish sauce, garlic and palm sugar.
Next was gulf prawns grilled over charcoal (kung phao). The charred shell peeled easily and the succulent crustacean was swirled in the shallow bowl of lime, garlic, coriander root and chilli sauce.
Ike’s Vietnamese fish sauce wings are a Pok Pok signature. Marinated in fish sauce and palm sugar, deep fried, and tossed in caramelised Phú Quốc fish sauce (nước mắm) and garlic, the poultry was served with pickles, lettuce and slices of cucumber. The chicken wings were an ominous crimson and each bite numbed our mouths. Our lips tingled and our fingers sticky, they were a fiery highlight.
A classic Thai stir-fried rice noodles, the phat si ew was silky and peppery. A dark soy tan, and flecked with Carlton Farms pork, Chinese broccoli and egg, I would have been happy eating only this as my meal.
We ignored the durian dessert and ordered the coconut ice cream sandwich. Wedged in a brioche bun on a bed of sticky rice were four scoops of coconut jackfruit ice cream sprinkled with peanuts and drizzled with condensed milk. We requested no chocolate syrup and also abandoned the bread. Coconut, sticky rice, peanuts and condensed milk were a pleasing combination.
Pok Pok readied us for an afternoon of shopping!