Follow Your Dreams

Siam Thai Restaurant

Several years ago I worked at a certain telecommunications company, that I shall not name, and during lunch my colleagues and I would often frequent a Thai restaurant in the suburb that abutted Chicago to the north. Unlike now where I will visit a restaurant with friends and we all order something different so that we can dine family style, my colleagues and I were addicted to a particular Thai soup that could relegate most bowls of soup to the equivalent of cat food. We had to have our own bowls of soup, and nothing else. Actually, it was every Friday that we would load up in cars and head into Park Ridge for our desired potions of kow soy koong (shrimp) or kow soy gai (chicken). I had waken from a dream where I was feverishly hunting for the restaurant and with me having a grumbling belly, there was no way that I was going to let that dream haunt me for the rest of the day. I had to do something about my thoughts being so vividly driven by bowls of scrumptuous kow soy koong, the panang gravy splashing about and landing on the table, my jeans, my sweater, and the waitress who was refilling my glass of water.

Baby Egg RollsMuch to my happiness, Siam Thai Restaurant was still at its location in Park Ridge, Illinois, at 104 Euclid Avenue. It is amazing how an appetite can guide you better than the North Star. The last time I was in Park Ridge, period, was in 1999. The new president at the unnamed telecommunications company had come in with grand ideas and shrinking the information technology department down was a part of his grand scheme. I fled before the ship hit the iceberg and rearranging the deck on a sinking ship became a moot choice. Today, it was early enough that the restaurant was rather empty and the welcoming airs from days long gone were still there — the suspicious look whenever an exotic of the darker persuasion enters and then the utter shock when said exotic lets a few words of Thai slip. Gasp.

Kow Soy KoongWith the heat in the restaurant was not functioning and Chicago temperatures are not forgiving because your heat is out-of-order, the waitress brought me so tea. It may have been chilly on the outside, but she was cognizant of a way to warm me up in the inside. Having spent most of my adult life in Chicago, I always dress accordingly per cold temperatures before I leave home. I had on a sweater, but my fingertips were icy, which is also the case during warmer temperatures. Clasping my hands around the warm cup of jasmine tea, I scanned the menu to see if they had the kow soy still. Yes! Yes! Yes! My trip to Park Ridge was not for nothing. My belly had been growling for the duration of me switching gears in my car and speeding around Sunday drivers, so I was going all out in celebratory fashion. I ordered baby egg rolls, which usually come as a count of four to six. At Siam Thai Restaurant, you get ten with a plum sauce and their version of a complimentary salad. They were so cute on the plate. They were so tasty on my tongue. My belly eventually got down to a whimper.

Thai CustardAnd then it was time for my reminiscing to be indulged. I ordered kow soy with shrimp and requested it to be hot-hot. The waitress asked me several times if I really did want it extra spicy and there came a few words in Thai from me, to which she realized that I was not unschooled in the ways of handling Thai cuisine the way it is served in Thailand. First sip and it was moderately spicy. Then again, my palate has become so accustomed to hot food — Indian vindaloo, for example — that it would probably take a spoonful of ancho chilli seeds to make me reach for a glass of water. The kow soy koong was so worthy of my return that I took my time handling the soup. To be real with eating it, I used chopsticks after I soaked the crunchy noodles in the gravy. The shrimp, with their tails still in shell, were substantial. And we are not talking just a few pieces of shrimp in the soup, but several swimming around the curry gravy before I gnashed on them and worked my chopsticks on the noodles, onions, cilantro, and red bell peppers. The Thai restaurants in Chicago all have one dish that they do better than anywhere else. Siam Thai Restaurant is perhaps the one Thai restaurant in America that prepares the best kow soy. If you walk away from a restaurant and say, “It was good,” that’s one thing. When you walk away and find you have succumbed to a kow soy addiction, you then understand the meaning of bliss dining. I wrapped up with a dessert of Thai custard. Not quite as creamy as I have had at other Thai restaurants, but the flavour was still there. The good thing about the Thai custard was that it was light enough that I did not have trouble finishing it or walking away from the restaurant after I was done.

I guess there are things that you will never forget — your first kiss, your favourite grade school teacher, a trip to a beautiful and exotic place, or telling a former supervisor to got to hell. Many of my dreams have a tendency to escape me. But when my dreams involve food that once brought about great spells of happiness, I awake with purpose and that I must live out those dreams. Despite the telecommunications company falling prey to a misguided president, my former colleagues and I would still put our worries aside and make lunch plans for whatever day we had in mind for going to Siam Thai Restaurant. And when upper management began its spiral out of control, and I had departed for a better opportunity, I had bottled up the memories before departing and kept them tucked away so that at some time in the future they would manifest themselves in my dreams. All I would have to do is remember and with directions in hand, getting to Siam Thai Restaurant would only be a small task. Precious memories don’t always have to be about happy days of your past.

Siam Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Snacking on Saturday

Finally a Saturday that was not botched due to rain and thunderstorms. Granted it was piping hot outside, the last thing I wanted to do was turn on my stove for any unnecessary reason. So I decided that I would enjoy outdoors via a bike ride. And then a brilliant idea came to mind — Snacking on Saturday. It was off to some restaurant or a series of restaurants for some street food. A whole day of food discovery without being fancy in attire for a formal sit-down meal would work perfectly for my chronic appetite.

Plain Hummus

I rode to the subway station and carried my bicycle on the train with me for the first pass. I wanted to return to Oak Park, Illinois, for a quick breakfast. Instead of waffles, scrambled eggs, grits — which I would take being set on fire before eating, bacon, and all the traditional American fare, I arrived at Oak Park and biked to Jerusalem Cafe, located at 1010 Lake Street. I had been to Jerusalem Cafe for lunch and for dinner, so there was a comfort stepping outside of my breakfast comfort and going with something as zany — to most — as some hummus. Plain and served with pita, this was just the pick-me-up that I needed to get started for the day. Usually hummus is doctored up to the point where the spices can be rather overpowering rather than complementary. Hummus all by itself is a splendid kick to the taste buds. With it being hot, I opted to have iced tea prepared Mediterranean style — with a hint of cardamom. Satisfaction, I say.

Tandoori Chicken Sandwich

I biked back to the train and caught it back into Chicago proper. Back at my Logan Square stop, I biked north into the Irving Park neighbourhood. In keeping with something from the Mediterranean/North African part of the world, Zebda was my next destination. I had made the trek up to 4344 N. Elston Avenue several months ago and was satisfied thoroughly. I had even ordered delivery since because they never fail to prepare something that has my appetite screaming, Yes! Yes! Yes! Instead of having a large lunch, I ordered a tandoori chicken sandwich. Succulent chicken, salad, all topped with a mint yogurt sauce made for a tasty treat of delightfulness. I sat at one of the two tables and engaged the cafe staff and a few passing Algerians about other Algerian eateries in Chicago — and outside of Chicago for those who have familiars in other parts of the world.

Red Velvet Whoopee Pie

Nothing came to mind for my next stop, so I had a leisure bike ride with no destination in mind. With the heat bearing down on me, I did have a notion to get some water to hydrate myself. I stopped at a non-descriptive coffee house and had two bottles of water and a red velvet cake whoopee pie. Since red velvet cake and red velvet cupcakes are all the rage, there was no way that I was going to pass up on sampling the dessert that needed to be snatched from the dessert case and handled with care. I savoured that little bit of love and sat for a nice spell reading a novel on my Kindle while letting the water settle so that it would not feel like my belly had the ocean sloshing around in it.

Samosa with Spicy Chutney

By the time I had finished at the coffee house it was still relatively early. On my way home, I passed down a street with some Caribbean men and women working an inviting grill. True to my Caribbean roots, I pulled up and asked what they had. One item that was a winner was doubles — a sandwich of flatbread with curried chickpeas and topped with a tamarind chutney. As soon as the woman had said that they had doubles, I knew they were from Trinidad and Tobago. Common sense should have told me to go straight home without entertaining any more food, but they had doubles and I was doubled over on my bicycle for the rest of the ride home. I was a happy man, but filled to capacity.

Coconut Shrimp  with Spicy Plum Sauce

I spent a few hours at home relaxing as the temperatures seemed to drop slightly enough to eliminate the feeling of baking. Dinner was on my mind, but I wanted to keep in line with having street food versus the ubiquitous table meal. Two spots came to mind. One was a certain hole-in-the-wall called Rajun cajun. I had been there numerous times. 1459 E. 53rd Street in Hyde Park was a regular spot for me and the first leg of my eating pleasure this evening. Instead of biking, I rode the subway into the city and then transferred to the express bus to go into Hyde Park. At Rajun Cajun I ordered a half dozen samosas with spicy chutney. There was no need for me to stuff myself senselessly, so I had one samosa while catching up with the owner, his wife, and his brother in-law.

Thai Custard

Not to borrow trouble, I settled on one final restaurant for snacks after I left Rajun Cajun. Thai 55 at 1607 E. 57th Street was it. One of my great friends is the owner and we had not had the opportunity, as of late, to catch up and discuss culture, politics, religion, and path forwards. Considering he is the only person I can discuss the first three topics without arguments or debates, it was a must that I pay him a visit. Much to my surprise, his brother and his sister in-law were there instead, having come from Barberry Thai on the North Side. I had coconut shrimp with a spicy plum sauce and Thai custard. Love. Love. Love. I shall have to catch up with my friend before he returns to Thailand permanently. Then again, I am one to board a plane to any international destination with appeal.

Overall, my little excursion in having snack food only was rather fun and exciting. I need to figure out where I should set the threshold to tell myself stop because having a food addiction seems to override common sense and then I experience misery from over-indulgence. The pain is only temporary and I relish in it after all is said and done. And because I had so much enjoyment on this pass, I shall have to plan another Saturday of snacking. But I think I shall have to take the bus to a neighbourhood and go about a scavenger hunt for edible street food. I simply cannot entertain Biking-for-Bites every Saturday. Haha.

Thai 55th  Restaurant on Urbanspoon