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