You can read all the issues of Saveur that you like. But a third hand experience is like eating with a knife and fork or making love through an interpreter. All five senses must be engaged to capture the essence of any escapade, or at least your original outlook of that escapade. I have no troubles or prejudices in eschewing the utensils in any restaurant. My fingers reach down and retrieve the food sensually or even barbarically. In the frenzy of the moment the two are often confused.
On a few occasions I have mentioned how significant travel is to the development of your taste. I will save the details of that essay for the pages of a book. This bit of summertime inspiration came from a trip to a Las Vegas strip mall. The Lotus of Siam is considered to be the best Thai restaurant in all of the United States. After a glass of proper Alsatian, all five of my senses leaped to attention and my salivary glands started to gush upon reading the inscribed Northern Thai appetizer, “Nam Prik Ong (Red Chile Pork Dip)”. This dish has all the pleasure of one of the lesser sins. Its spicy, sweet, tart, it has pork times 2 and you unapologetically use your hands. Of course my version gets a shot of southern refinement with shrimp and okra. As beautiful as the Las Vegas “Strip” may be, I never wander too far from home.
Nam Prik Ong: Red Chile Pork, Shrimp and Okra Dip
Serves 8 as a snack that preludes a few hours of wagering
3 shallots peeled
1/3c garlic cloves
10 Thai bird chilies
2c grape or cherry tomatoes
8oz fresh shrimp diced small
8oz ground pork
2c fresh okra cut into 2inch rounds
1/4c fish sauce
3T tamarind paste
local vegetables such as cucumber, endive, cauliflower, carrots all cut to be able to scoop some dip.
crispy pork skins
Start off by placing a skillet over medium high heat. Dry roast and brown the shallots and garlic in the vessel. Remove to your motor and pestle. Do the same with the chilies, and then the tomatoes. Make a paste with the firmness of your pestle and forearm. Add the shrimp and pork into your roasting skillet that is set on medium high flame and cook for a few minutes. Then accommodate your sense of smell by adding your aromatic chili paste, okra, fish sauce, tamarind, water, sugar and the zest of your lime. Let the mixture cook until it becomes a thick sauce and when your wooden spoon parts the sea of flavor the walls stand and hold true. Add a pinch or 2 of salt if needed and stir in the juice of the lime. Present the warm dip to your friends by draping some cilantro over its crown. Slice some vegetables and pile on the pork cracklins to tip the scale back in the favor of justice.