Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft is a curious place. You enter through a small vestibule where you are greeted by an actual tuk tuk — a colorful auto rickshaw with headlights that glower at you like Darth Maul’s eyes. Then you take an elevator to the second floor where a vast, sleek, seductively lit dining room awakes. Only the witty displays of canned goods, dry crackers, colorful candies and even washing powder alert you this isn’t Thai as usual.
Tuk Tuk’s lovely young chef/owner, DeeDee Niyomkul, is the daughter of Charlie and Nan Niyomkul who have defined high-end Thai in this town at Tamarind Seed Thai Bistro and Nan Thai Fine Dining. This restaurant goes for something different. The menu lists a dozen or more small-plate versions of Thai street foods as well as a handful of Thai style salads and “Bangkok Street Noodles.”
Unique dishes include hoy tod, a crispy mussel pancake, and neau sawan, which are plugs of warm, sweet, appealingly chewy beef jerky with coriander.
However the one that most appealed to me was called mieng kum. These small spinach leaf bundles came piled with a zesty mixture of lime, ginger, onion, roasted peanuts and coconut shreds in a sticky wash of palm sugar caramel. You wrap them up, pop them in, and let all the little flavors explode in your mouth.
Not only do I remember eating varieties of this in Thailand many years ago, but I also like to make a bastardized version of it, called Thai Bar Mix, as an hors d’oeuvre to surprise my dinner guests.
The one I know consists of mini-wedges of skin-on lime, roasted peanuts, fresh ginger, hot pepper rings, green onions and tiny dried shrimp — each set out in a pile to be heaped on a leaf. That last ingredient throws people for a loop, but once they try them, they like them.
I asked Niyomkul if she would ever put dried shrimp in the mieng kum. She said not. Her restaurant tries to make Thai street food accessible to guests, not scare them off.
I can’t wait to try more food on the menu at Tuk Tuk, but I may sneak in my own dried shrimp.
By the way, check out Chloe’s great post in which she compares the food at Tuk Tuk to actual Thai street food.
Here’s my bastartized recipe, if you’re curious. It’s great with beer.
Thai Bar Mix
Makes 8 servings
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cut each of the peppers into about 8 thin rings. Using a small paring knife, carefully removed the seeds and pith from the center of each ring.
With your fingers, carefully separate the peanuts into halves.
Cut the smallest, most tender green shoots of the green onion into rings, about 1/4-inch thickness.
Wash and dry the limes. Cut them into thin rings, then cut each ring into 8 pieces, like a pie. Remove the center white core from each wedge.
Peel the ginger and cut it into small, even matchsticks.
Arrange each ingredient in a neat pile on a large plate. To eat: take a piece of each, combine in the leaf, and pop it all in at once.
Per serving: 66 calories (percent of calories from fat, 58), 3 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 5 grams fat, 7 milligrams cholesterol, 82 milligrams sodium.