Friday, August 26, 2016

Sap’s in Late July and GRILLED PORK!

I have been pretty slammed lately and haven’t posted much, but wanted to relate my report of a recent Thai food fix at Sap’s Fine Thai Cuisine South, on Westgate. Art and I were having a planning meeting, and we hadn’t had Thai in a while, so off we went.

Sap's Moo Ping

The first dish we ordered was Moo Ping (S-A8), as an appetizer. Moo ping (moo means pork, and ping means grilled) is a common street vendor dish cooked all over the country. Usually the vendor will have a simple large pot or one burner stove (known as a tao), with a bed of glowing mangrove charcoal on the bottom, and a metal grate across the top. Or, for more volume, they will have the classic skewer grill, where supports hold the meaty skewers suspended over the coals. They will have a tub of thin strips of skewered pork sirloin marinating in a dark sauce made up of cilantro roots, garlic, white peppercorns, palm sugar, fish sauce (or plaa raa, fermented fish sauce, if it is in Isaan), soy, and dark soy or oyster sauce. As the skewers cook they are dabbed with coconut milk to form a dark, sinfully rich caramelized glaze on the exterior. Traditionally they are served with a wad of steamed sticky rice and a dark, funky, spicy, dried chile dipping sauce called nahm jim jaew. My favorite place for moo ping in Bangkok is a vendor named Moo Ping Bangkok Bazaar.

A moo ping skewer cooking at Moo Ping Haeowen, from their Facebook page

It sits near the intersection of Ploenchit and Soi Luang Suan, at the corner of the BKK Bazaar and behind the TOT Phone Building. Owners Decha and Yupa Soonthonthanamukol only operate between 3 and 7pm, Monday through Friday, but manage to serve about 1,000 a day in 4 hours. It’s very popular and very delicious. Their version of the dipping sauce tinges decidedly towards the Northeast-Isaan area, because it tastes stronger and funkier than the standard fish sauce dipping sauce version. The last time I was there the skewers were 3 baht apiece, so ten skewers, a ball of sticky rice, and a bag of sauce costs about $1.25 U.S. I’m sure it costs more these days, but still, an economical meal. A fantastic deal and exceptionally delish. Another really good version is served at Moo Ping Heaowen, a famous cart at the SW corner of Silom and Convent, in front of the 7-11. They serve from 10pm until they run out in the early morning.

Sap’s version of Moo Ping comes as slices of grilled pork instead of skewers, which is actually easier to eat. It has that smoky, caramelized flavor that instantly transports me back to that corner in Bangkok, standing in line at Decha and Yupa’s place. You dip each tender bite into the dark, spicy sauce, and then pinch off a nibble of sticky rice. If you haven’t had Sap’s moo ping before, I strongly recommend it. See the bottom of the page for my recipe, to cook at home in case Sap’s is closed. 

Thai Sweet and Sour with Shrimp and Squid

Art has never tasted Thai sweet and sour, so I ordered S-P28, with shrimp and squid. It is more sour than the classic Chinese-American version, a lot more complex in flavor, and perfectly balanced. The sauce is not gloppy and over-thickened like the typical sweet and sour normally is. Onion, green beans, eggplant, garlic, ginger, cloud ears, chunks of pineapple, and tomato share the bowl with plump shrimp and exceedingly tender squid. It is a very nice version of the classic Thai-Chinese dish. Art was pleasantly surprised. 

Chicken Phat Thai

I haven’t eaten Phat Thai (S-F1) in a coon’s age. When I think of the pantheon of Thai noodle dishes, there are so many others that take precedence with me. Frankly, I resent phat Thai as being a pedestrian dish ordered by folks with no sense of adventure. It’s like going to a Sichuan place and ordering fried rice, or won tons stuffed with fake crab and cream cheese. Well, not that bad. But, I figured, what the hell, it’s been years. Sap does a really nice phat Thai, which we ordered with chicken. He uses tamarind instead of the typical ketchup base that so many Thai joints in America use. I liked it. A lot.

Nuer Ob

The last dish we got was Nuer Ob, S-P46, a bowl of chunks of fall-apart tender beef swimming in a sinfully rich sauce made from slowly braised onion, garlic, tomatoes, fish sauce, and palm sugar. It comes with a side dish of a searingly hot, fresh Thai chile-garlic sauce, which balances the dish perfectly. Highly, highly recommended.

Sap’s Fine Thai Cuisine
4514 Westgate Blvd., Austin; (512) 899-8525
5800 Burnet Rd, Austin; (512) 419-7244  


Mick’s Moo Ping
2 # pork shoulder, cut across the grain into ⅓ inch thick slices, 1 ½ inches wide
2 Tablespoons minced cilantro stems
6 large cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoons ground white pepper
2 ¼ ounces grated palm sugar
2 Tablespoons fish sauce, Tra Chang or Red Boat
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoons dark mushroom soy sauce
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon peanut oil
1 ½ Tablespoons cornstarch
¼ cup thick coconut milk (taken from the top portion of an unshaken can)

Nahm Jim Jaew · Dried Chile Dipping Sauce
2 Tablespoons minced shallots
1 Tablespoon minced scallion
¼ cup minced cilantro stems and leaves
⅓ cup fish sauce, Tra Chang or Red Boat
1 Tablespoon lime juice
1 Tablespoon tamarind pulp or concentrate
2 to 3 teaspoons grated palm sugar, to taste
1 Tablespoon toasted glutinous rice, finely powdered
1 Tablespoon lightly toasted and ground dried red chiles (Thai or tien tsin Chinese)

Wood or metal skewers
Sticky rice for service

1. Pound or blend the cilantro, garlic, white pepper, palm sugar, fish sauce, soy, mushroom soy, oyster sauce, and oil together to form a thick marinade. Place the pork into a resealable plastic bag, add the marinade, and massage to make sure that the marinade contacts all of the meat. Marinate for at least 4 hours, up to 8 hours, refrigerated.

2. Make the dipping sauce. Mix the sauce ingredients together in a bowl and balance the lime and sugar, leaving the sauce salty and a little on the sour side. Reserve for service.

3. Soak wood skewers in warm water for at least 30 minutes prior to skewering, or use metal skewers. Build a charcoal fire and let it cook down to a layer of hot, gray coals.

4. Place the meat in a colander or sieve to drain, and let come almost to room temperature, catching any marinade in a bowl below. Toss the meat with the cornstarch.  Skewer the pork slices tightly onto the skewers, being careful to evenly distribute pieces with fat. Combine the collected marinade with the coconut milk and reserve for brushing the skewers as they grill.

5. Grill the skewers until cooked medium and caramelized, frequently rotating and brushing with the marinade-coconut mixture. Serve with warm sticky rice and nahm jim jaew dipping sauce.

mick vann ©


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