Lunch at Sap’s Westgate
I was on the way home from work a couple of weeks back and had worked up a serious hunger, so I stopped by Sap’s Fine Thai Cuisine, which, in my learned opinion, is the best Thai restaurant in Austin and Central Texas. The original location is on Westgate, just south of Ben White, but there is a newer, larger location in the HEB strip center on the southwest corner of Burnet and Koenig.
I saw a friend of mine was already eating there when I arrived, so while waiting on my order to arrive, he offered me some of his Pad Prik Gang (S-P47, $9.95), which is Sap’s spiced-up, 4-chile version of a standard Central red curry stir fry. Usually the dish is served as a dry stir-fry, meaning there is very little sauce, but Sap’s version is more substantial and Southern-Thai oriented. While most Thai curries tend to the soupy side, this is thick with red curry paste and extra spices, with ample heat from serrano chiles and young green peppercorns, and herbal qualities from Thai lime leaf and Thai basil; the liquid comes from coconut milk cream, which adds richness. He was having it with pork and Chinese broccoli, a stellar combination. If you can handle the heat, I highly recommend this dish.
S-P47, Pad Prik Gang
Before the Portuguese traders showed up in 1529 with chile peppers from the West, the original heat in Thai food came from peppercorns. Thailand grows a lot of peppercorns down south, vining up tall sturdy poles, which are situated in parallel rows. When you go to the market, you’ll see gorgeous bundles, packages, and baskets of processed black and white peppercorns, as well as clusters of young, fresh green peppercorns. Black peppercorns are simply ripe fruit that has been sun-dried, while the white peppercorns are ripe fruit that has had the exterior coating removed before drying; green peppercorns are immature fruit, and typically we only get them over here in cans or bottles, packed in brine. All types of peppercorns are still used in Thai cooking.
rows of tall peppercorn vines, just north of Chanthaburi, in SE Thailand
young green peppercorns, from the website of Leela Punyaratabandhu at shesimmers.com, a really good Thai cooking website. Leela's new cookbook is excellent and highly recommended.
black and white peppercorns, close-up and side-by-side, from wikipedia.com
white and black peppercorns for sale in the market at Chanthaburi
My order arrived, with the server first bringing the S-P8, Pad Ped Ga-Prao, $8.95, a simple Thai stir fry named after the ga-prao, or Thai holy basil, which is included in the stir fry. I ordered mine with pork and Chinese broccoli included, which combine nicely with the fish sauce, soy and oysters sauces, pinch of palm sugar, Thai chile peppers, mushrooms, cilantro, and Thai holy basil. It is a standard Thai street food dish, and Sap’s makes an excellent version, especially when you get it with brown jasmine rice. Thai holy basil has a unique ability to accentuate the spiciness of chiles, so although the dish isn’t heavy with the Thai chiles, the overall effect is spicy.
S-P8, Pad Ped Ga-Prao on the plate, with nuttty, brown jasmine rice
My other dish soon arrived, steaming all nuclear-hot in the bowl. Tom Kha Gai (S-P11, $8.75) is one of my favorite Thai soups, and Sap’s is the best in town. What makes it far better than the competitors is the assertiveness of the galangal in the broth (kha, as in tom kha, means “galangal” in Thai). The other main advantage of Sap’s version is the amount of coconut milk and coconut cream used in making each bowl. This version is creamy and rich from the coconut, and loaded with herbal flavors from the lemongrass, Thai lime leaf, and galangal, the Thai chiles, chicken breast, mushrooms, and lime juice just elevate it even higher. This soup is fantastic.
S-P11, Tom Kha Gai
I left satiated and armed with several to-go packages, and although I’d like to claim I repeated the feast the next day from those plastic bags, this stuff is so good, and my will power so weak from my memory of how good it tasted hours before, that the leftovers didn’t last through the night.
Mick Vann ©
Sap’s Fine Thai Cuisine
4514 W Gate Blvd, 512/ 899-8525
5800 Burnet Rd, 512/ 419-7244