It is Saturday, 1 January 2011, and I am sitting here asking myself why I felt that it was so necessary to dash out of my condo to go get something to eat. Considering the frigid temperatures — -8.33° Celsius — and the fact that I have enough in my refrigerator and cupboards, going outside for any reason except to escape a burning building should have been the last thing on my mind. But I have an addiction, a food addiction, a constant wanton want of getting stuffed. It is better to have a food addiction — and a high metabolism — than to fall prey to some rather angry pining. And fortunately for me, I never make New Year’s Resolutions to curb my appetite. Truth be told, 99% of people who make that resolution abide by it for perhaps the first week of the New Year. Then all bets of off.
When I was in graduate school, there was a certain Thai restaurant not far from where I live that I visited often. There I would study and get my fill of something completely worthy from the menu. And with the owner and me being the same age, we chatted quite a bit about our childhood, higher education, cultural diversity, global competitiveness, and what next I should try when I returned. So when my hunger began, Siam Country at 4637 N. Damen Avenue came to mind. I knew that one way for me to deal with the Ice King and the Frigid Queen blowing cold temperatures through the three layers of clothing that I had on, some Thai spices would be exactly what my appetite — I mean that I — would need.
Months had passed since my last visit to Siam Rice. It was great seeing the owner, his wife, his mother in-law, and another family member. Family-owned. Family-operated. Family-oriented. You could look into the kitchen and see all the action involved in preparation of some of the tastiest Thai food in Chicago. After an exchange of pleasantries, inquiries of how things have been since we last saw each other, and well wishes for the New Year, I took a seat and prepared for some culinary action.
I started with a tom yum koong. How would I describe tom yum koong? This hot and sour soup is made of stock and fresh ingredients such as lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce, and crushed chili pepper. Remembering that it was frosty outside, I ordered the soup particularly spicy. I drank a generous amount of water with it to quiet the growing ring of fire around my lips. It was a blast. As I waited for the entrée I had ordered, I had hot tea Thai style. Sweetened naturally, certainly far from syrupy, this black tea included orange blossom water, star anise, and crushed tamarind seeds. Splendid. Superb. Stupendous. This was great for warmth on the inside. When the entrée came, I already knew that I was in for a treat. Siam Country has been authentic with the preparation of all dishes that I have had in the past and their curries rank high on my list, as they are hearty and generous with the spices. I ordered a panang gari gai. This curry chicken dish had dried chili peppers, galangal, lemon grass, coriander root, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and garlic in it. And I ordered it Thai spicy, which meant that while eating it I had a pitcher of water handy. With each bite I could feel the heat rising from my scalp. That is what I call good Thai spicy food. The garnish on the end of the meal was Thai custard. This is a staple in Thai desserts. Think of a flan but with a custard consistency — topped with toasted coconut — versus the smooth egg consistency. Served warm, this was a heavenly highlight to wrap up a perfect meal.
When I got the tab, I was shocked because for all I had ordered, the bill was low. In the past, I had ordered one dish, at most an appetizer and an entrée. For the pot of tea, tom yum koong, panang gari gai, and custard, I was pleasantly surprised. And not wanting to go out into the cold evening, I stayed and talked with the family — and had more tea — before braving the wind that whipped us pedestrians as we scurried to our destinations. One thing I can say for Siam Country is that I have had satisfaction, bliss, and wanton happiness after pushing many an empty plate aside. I honestly do not believe they have any concept of messing up food. Just ask my appetite, the one that had me racing out of my condo into frozen temperatures in search of something to quiet the hankering.