Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Nong's Khao Man Gai

Nong's Khao Man Gai is a food cart that can be found at the food pod of SW 10th Ave. and SW Alder St. in Portland, Oregon. Nong Poonsukwattana has been running this cart in Portland for a few years and has gained a lot of loyal customers. It's not uncommon for Nong to sell all her Khao Man Gai on a given day.

A nice description of what "Khao Man Gai" (chicken and rice) is
Here, Nong's only serves one main item: their chicken and rice dish called "Khao Man Gai." It's basically rice topped with poached seasoned chicken, cilantro, and cucumber slices. The rice is flavored by being cooked in chicken broth, ginger, garlic, shallots, and galangal (which looks like ginger, but tastes citrusy and earthy). A side of chicken broth is included, along with a side of sauce (fermented soybeans, garlic, ginger, and Thai chiles). If you want the sauce spicier, just tell Nong, and they will throw more Thai chile in there for you!

The regular portion is $6, coming with 8 oz of rice and either one whole chicken breast or a quarter leg of a chicken. The rice itself gets a coating of chicken fat to prevent sticking to the butcher paper wrapping.

The "Piset" ($10) is basically a larger portion of the Khao Man Gai. "Piset" translates to "special" and will include chicken livers. But if you're not feeling up to eating those organs, they will give you extra chicken instead.

Nong has won several awards for her Khao Man Gai, so I was very eager to try it.

Awards/mentions they post on their food cart

I beg to differ that it's among the 10 Best Street Eats in America.
Who wrote that damn article?
Khao Man Gai
Yeah, that's the picture of my food when I asked for it to go. The chicken, rice, cilantro, and cucumber were all wrapped up in butcher paper, the container of sauce nestled on the chicken, all held together with a red rubber band. The broth was in its own small container.

Aside from the lovely petite wrapping of the chicken and rice, I wasn't really blown away by the presentation. But Nong wraps her food in wax paper for two reasons: (1) it's environmentally friendly; and (2) that's how it used to be done in Thailand (before the advent of plastic or styrofoam containers).

The poached chicken was very mild in flavor. I did catch a bit of the garlic and ginger in the chicken and the rice, but there was no pop there for me to enjoy. I guess I'm used to Thai food that bursts with flavor and/or singes my mouth. Same with the broth...just not much flavor at all. If anything, it's a fairly healthy meal, compared to other food carts that will fry items or douse the food with tons of salt.

Then I got to the sauce. Oh, we have a winner! The sauce basically zapped 90 percent of the flavors from the other components of the dish and loaded it all into a teeny container. When waiting for my order, a few guys ordering asked for extra sauce. Now I know why. It's good stuff.

A Vietnamese coffee ($2.50) is the perfect accompaniment to the Khao Man Gai. Or maybe you're feeling adventurous? You can go ahead and add some chicken livers.

I'll be honest: I likely won't come back too often, as I tend to seek out food that will either kill my taste buds or KO me with amazing flavor. But for whatever reason, if I'm downtown and craving some Thai comfort food, Nong's is a good place to go! 6.5/10

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