Bangkok Post reviews
For the love of larb
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: July 27, 2012 at 8:20 am
Good food, friendly service is what makes Yod Larbpet Udon so popular
Larb pet, the restaurant’s signature dish. Duck meat and offal are chopped fine and seasoned with lime, herbs and pounded dried chillies.
Once upon a time in Bangkok, som tum was referred to a sugary papaya salad served with coconut rice. In the misty past it was a lunchtime favourite among society women who used to munch it at Dachanee or on the porch of the old Sorn Daeng.
Authentic Isan food made its way into Bangkok consciousness slowly. Real Thai som tum with potent chillies and lime, could always be had, but finding authentic larb and other northeastern favourites was more of a challenge. There were small restaurants and stalls that offered it _ Ung-aang Talay recalls good places behind Wat Pathum and near the Rachadamnoen boxing stadium _ but it wasn't all that long ago that getting a plateful of the real thing could mean eating from a tin plate while squatting on a mat in front of a petrol station.
Today that has changed. Isan food is so popular in Bangkok that restaurants which do it well are often packed with customers until far into the evening.
Many of them also feature regional favourites from other parts of the country. There are quite a number of these places around town in different price ranges, but during recent months U-a T's curiosity had been aroused by the sight of crowds clustered around Yod Larbpet Udon off Rama IX Tad Mai Road in Suan Luang.
Pla kraphong thawt nam pla or deepfried seabass seasoned with fish sauce.
One evening earlier this week, U-a T and three friends decided to give the place a try and stopped in to find it busy, as usual. There were both roofed-over outdoor and air-conditioned indoor dining areas, and U-a T and friends chose a table in a corner of the indoor area, which was big, brightly lit and noisy with people having a good time.
The menu came immediately and although Isan dishes were prominent, cuisine from all over Thailand was well represented, too. U-a T dispatched the waiter for servings of the larb pet that gave the restaurant its name; phak waan baan phat nam man hoy (leafy herb stir-fried with garlic and oyster sauce); pla kraphong thawt nam pla (deep-fried seabass seasoned with fish sauce), and tam thua fak yao sai moo krawp (long bean salad with crispy pork).
The duck larb, the one thoroughbred Isan speciality, was good enough to justify its place as the restaurant's signature dish. The duck meat and offal were chopped fine and seasoned with lime, herbs and pounded dried chillies to bring out a nutty sweetness in the meat that was not overwhelmed by the heat of the chilli or sourness of the lime.
It was milder than many versions of duck larb that U-a T has been served in Isan and in Bangkok, but thoroughly Isan and not bland enough to be mistaken for the northern Thai variant of the dish.
Tasted straight from the serving plate it also seemed saltier than usual, but when eaten with sticky rice (served in small, individual, woven baskets) the saltiness was reduced, the balance of tastes was perfect, and U-a T could understand why plates of it could be seen on almost every table.
Tam thua fak yao sai moo krawp or pounded spicy long bean salad with crispy pork.
Those who prefer their fried vegetable dishes to be as oil-free as possible might have found the serving of pak waan baan phat nam man hoy a tad too heavy.
But U-a T prefers the dish cooked this way, especially when the savour of the oyster sauce is enhanced by the addition of plenty of Thai garlic. The restaurant used small, purple-skinned cloves of Thai garlic, some of the tiny ones with the skin still on, instead of the coarser, less fragrant Chinese variety.
The vegetable had been cooked long enough to tenderise it but not soften it too much, and can be recommended to those ready to forgive the oiliness.
The pla kraphong thawt nam pla was served steaming hot with the meat moist and flaky.
It isn't hard to find this dish done well in Bangkok, but here the sour-salty sauce, containing shreds of raw mango, peanuts, dried shrimp and chopped chillies was served separately in a small bowl instead of poured over the fish, so that the bass arrived at the table with its outside still crisp.
If the waiter had forgotten the tam thua fak yao, however, it would have been no great loss. The lightly pounded beans themselves were fresh and crisp and were mixed with peanuts and sprigs of pak boong vine, but these choice veggies were sabotaged by a sauce that was too sweet, at least by U-a T's tolerant standards. The sugar was probably added to complement the natural sweetness of the beans, but it overshot the mark.
The dish was not improved by the crispy pork, which had been fried to such an unyielding hardness even U-a T's shark-like incisors were confounded.
Overall, a good meal and the popularity of Yod Larbpet Udon is no mystery. Prices are reasonable but not cheap (the meal for four came to about 1,200 baht, without alcohol), but the service is very friendly and fast.