The Prik King and I

Rambutan

It’s hairy, a little scary

My definition of a perfect Sunday afternoon: outdoors amidst a bustling public, lots of sunshine, someone singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” over a crackly PA system, feeling content with the slightest cold beer-buzz. Oh, and very sticky. My feet are sticking to my flip-flops. My flip-flops are sticking to the cement. My pen is sticky. My hands are sticky. My notebook is sticky– all from a frenzy of nibbling (and people spilling stuff) at LA’s Inaugural Thai Food Festival: BKK 2 LAX, happening at Paramount Pictures Studios yesterday.

Thai food being such a vibrant presence in Los Angeles, it seems impossible that this event was a first. Celeb chef Jet Tila partnered with the Thai Trade Center, the Royal Thai Consulate General, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Thailand Agricultural Office, Thai Airways and a half-dozen other stellar chefs including Thai-inspired  “Tamale” Susan Feniger, whose fritter gets my vote for the best bite of Bangkok: irresistibly crispy, creamy, crunchy, spicy, sticky and sweet, the epitome of craveable street food.

The vibe: family picnic, with some really well-dressed aunts meticulously carving melons and offering moist bites of formidable-looking Thai fruit — rambutan, jackfruit, mangosteen (which looks like a small, white brain once peeled), thorned dragonfruit and bumpy tamarind, courtesy of NTW Import & Export. Nary a stray drop on their long silk sleeves, the late-September sun dancing off their expanses of ornate traditional jewelry.

Artists, including Surachet Jingjit, painted exquisite Asian images– in Jingjit’s case, huge koi–on rice-paper parasols.

There were murmurs of apprehension as the crowd pressed toward the fruit stand: many people initially mistook the spiky jackfruit for notoriously stinky durian. Oh no, no, the silky and jeweled ladies smiled, sweetly waving away fear like Bodhisattvas.

There is a hairy side to Thai food– starting with the rambutan which looks like a furry, red lychee. But really, I’m talking about the entomophagy: platters of fried giant waterbugs, skewer’o’scorpions, crisped wasps as a garnish, and large, plump, wiggly caterpillars snipped from their cocoons. None of these arthropods were present at the food-stalls yesterday.

Instead, there was an intensely floral perfume in the air. Lemongrass and the water of young coconuts took center-stage, and everyone had orchids in their hair. Jet Tila’s offering rocked the house down: Chiang Mai Khao Soi, re-imagined braised beef and noodle curry. David LaFevre was true to his mantra, “fishing with dynamite” with a tender blue crab and corn curry under his MB Post logo.

Swag included bottles of sweet chili sauce and fish sauce (packed in a great re-usable orange nylon tote from Melissa’s organic produce), keychains and pens from the embassy, and refreshing Singha in plastic cups, along with padded Singha cold-keepers.

And Dear Sugar, was there sweetness, from Lucky Elephant deep-fried shrimp donuts to coconut and taro fritters paired with a giddy coconut gel drink from Bhan Kanom Thai. After a while, we were all sticking to each other as we dreamily grabbed for one last delicate or fiery clump of this or that from the nearest banana-leaf.

Photos by Andrew Thomas

 

Victoria Thomas

About Victoria Thomas

Brooklyn-born Victoria Thomas loves writing about flora and fauna, although she chooses to do so in an urban setting. If she had it all to do over again, she might have become a forensic entomologist. She lives in Los Angeles.
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