NOW OPEN AT HELLO PANDA FESTIVAL
Take A Delicious Survey of Thai Street
Food at iCook Thai Cook
BY JOE DISTEFANO
As the Culinary King of Queens, I’m so
very fortunate to live in the most diverse
and delicious destination in all of New
York City. Really I’m not royalty though,
I’m an ambassador, and a hungry
one at that. Today, a trip to Thailand
for a survey of regional street food
as presented at iCook Thai Cook, the
newest restaurant in the Little Bangkok
neighborhood of Elmhurst, Queens.
I’m as excited about iCook Thai Cook, the newest
entrant on the vibrant Thai dining scene in Elmhurst,
Queens, as I was when I first set foot in Woodside’s
storied Sripraphai 15 years ago. In case you’re wondering
the name comes from, it’s because Boonnum “Nam”
Thongngoen’s restaurant resides in a sliver of a space
inside iCook, a Chinese style hotpot restaurant.
Miniature tuktuks — the motorized rickshaws
common throughout Thailand — affixed to rainbow
colored slinkies dangle from the ceiling of the narrow
hallway leading into the dining room. Little swatches
of the type of gold foil one sees adorning the reclining
Buddha at the nearby Wat Buddha Thai Thavorn
Vanaram temple pepper the walls of the corridor.
Inside lies a temple to Thai street food, complete with
a brightly colored mural from local artist Nong Sarasin
depicting a rotund Thai style Buddha against a field of
orange and yellow flowers holding a platter. Behind the
counter is an altar with a more serious religious icon,
the Emerald Buddha.
Wow! Zaab Wing, a bowl of flappers festooned with
cilantro and dressed with a chili lime sauce, is a great
way to start your devotional to Thai street food. The
superb crunch comes from roasted rice powder and
double frying. The mussel pancake packed with shrimp
and mussels and served with sweet chili sauce is also
There’s no real way to translate yum, the class of Thai
dishes that feature various proteins in a zippy marinade,
into English, so the menu calls them Spicy Yummy
Salad. Among the 11 find liver, pork intestines, pressed
pork and egg yolk — all served with a shot glass of
Millionaire Sauce. Rather than flaunting gold flakes or
truffles, the latter features fish sauce, birdseye chili, kaffir
lime, and mint. The squidgy rounds of pork loaf and
rich bright yellow-orange duck yolks were quite lovely.
holds court while
Buddha looks on
from a mural.
It was pretty highly spiced already, but that didn’t deter
my dining companions and I from enriching it with the
Millionaire Sauce. Nam says the dish has its roots in a
snack she whipped up for her children after school.
Millionaire Sauce also accompanies a bowl of fish
maw and crab meat soup. It’s a Chinese style medicinal
potage with plenty of slippery fish maw, crab meat,
shredded chicken, shiitakes, bamboo shoots, quail eggs,
cubes of chicken blood, and goji berries. You’ll find it
on the menu under the heading Mom’s Specials.
Millionaire Sauce, Nam says, is a dig on her husband,
Pornthep Jarumpornsakul who lost money in restaurants
in Bangkok and New York City due to dishonest
business partners. “I am sarcastic,” she says, noting the
only thing he has to show for the failed restaurants is
Like most Thai spots in the Elmhurst-Woodside area,
iCook Thai Cook is not pulling any punches when it
comes to chilies. One of the spiciest dishes — clear sour
curry with fish, or kaeng chak som in Thai — can also
be found on the roster of Mom’s Specialties. Fillets of
pla sawai, or sutchi catfish, luxuriate in a bracingly sour
broth flavored vibrating with the flavors of lemongrass,
shrimp paste, tamarind, and fresh chilies. This specialty
of Pattaya is served with jasmine rice, which tempers
the heat somewhat.
“I wanted to do food from the north, from the south,
from the northeast, and the west mixed together,” says
Nam. So it makes sense that the logo for the restaurant
is a mortar and pestle emblazoned an outline of Thailand.
Representing the northeast is a signature papaya
salad, Tom Thai Cook Pla Ra. The heap of raw crab,
fermented fish, and other seafood, shot through with
slivers of green papaya, limes, and long beans is best
ordered medium spicy, which means plenty of red birdseye
chilies. Order some sticky rice to dredge through
the liquor pooled at the bottom of the plate.
One of the best dishes I tried — tom yum noodle
crepe —hails from Elmhurst. That’s because it is purely
Nam’s creation. Known as pak mor tom yum in Thai, it
consists of several delicate rice crepes filled with shrimp
buried under a mountain of pork crackling, ground
pork, and sliced pork belly all united by the flavors of
tom yum noodle soup: chili, roast peanut, lime, fish
sauce, and just a hint of sugar.
Cool your belly down with the traditional dessert
bua loi. It’s rainbow of chewy rice flour balls in comforting
sweet salty coconut milk topped with a poached
egg. The recipe comes not from Nam, but from one of
her cooks, dessert chef Daeng, who she met while cooking
at the annual Thai New Year’s festival at the temple.
In case you are wondering iCook Thai Cook does
serve what it calls “Superbowl Hot Pot.” Rather than
a broth used to cook meats, it’s a larger format soup
served in a Thai style caldron with a chimney rising out
of the middle. The nuer toon hot pot, beef stew and beef
tendon in a five spice broth, was perfect for a winter’s
Address: 81-17 Broadway,
Queens, NY 11373
Phone: (929) 522-0886
A yum of pressed pork and egg yolk has its roots
in an after-school snack.
The signature papaya salad has plenty of raw
Schneps Media January 9, 2020 17