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.
Much 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.
With 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.
And 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.