Andy Ricker, the driving force behind the Pok Pok empire.
Whenever I ball up sticky rice and dip it into the liquid pooled in the bottom of my papaya salad, the waitress usually asks whether I’ve been to Thailand. My response: “No, just Queens.” Unlike me Andy Ricker, the Portland-based chef behind the Pok Pok empire has been to both. He first got into Thai food by traveling Thailand in the 1980s. His Pok Pok Ny is one of the few reasons that I will trek to Brooklyn. He was kind enough to answer Seven Questions.
How often do you eat Thai food? Every day when I am at work, every day when I am in Thailand and seldom otherwise.
Have you ever eaten Thai silkworms? I found them to be terrible, mealy and musty! Yeah, I have tasted most of the grubs and insects that Thais eat. Those things are subsistence foods that some people have gotten used to and developed a taste for, but are not and should not be taken for a dish found commonly on the Thai table. Red ant eggs and bee larvae are a different story though: delicious!
We’re in agreement on those red ant eggs. I’ll have to add bee larvae to the list. Tell me, where’d you learn to use chopsticks? I learned to eat with chopsticks at a very young age. My mom and stepdad used to take me to Chinese restaurants, and they showed me how. (more…)
Playground’s red ant egg salad. Photo: Dan Kim/Gastronauts
Dear C+M, Lately I have been hearing a lot about eating insects. Everything from how they’re packed with protein and B vitamins to how the Nordic Alchemists at Noma are turning them into gourmet delights. I’d like to give bugs a try, but I am just a little bit squeamish. Can you reccomend an entry level insect eating experience in Queens? — N. Tomofage, Bayside
N., I’m so glad you asked! I’ve been waiting to tell the world about Playground Thai Bistro in Woodside. They have some truly lovely insect dishes on the menu, plus they’ve got karaoke. (Frankly I prefer eating bugs to singing karaoke.) At a recent Gastronauts dinner I tried a lovely red ant egg salad. The ant eggs themselves pop, sort of like a thinner, antier salmon roe. They’re dressed with roasted rice, lime juice, and chili powder, among other things. Delightful! The fried grasshoppers with black pepper sauce are quite nice too. For God’s sake whatever you do don’t get the silkworms if you see them on the menu. They taste like a musty attic and are most decidedly not an an entry level insect eating experience!