Fermentation is gastronomic alchemy. It can turn grains into intoxicating elixirs and cabbage into kimchi. And squid guts into something so foul it should be weaponized. Japanese home-style squid guts are not my cup of sake. Thai fermented fish, pla som, on the other hand, is one of my favorite things.
It’s made by taking a fish, salting it, and packing it with rice and garlic and leaving it unrefrigerated for three days to let nature take its course. I do not intend to undertake what’s probably a very simple process in my home kitchen. So in Queens I like to eat pla som at Zabb Elee, the wonderful Northeastern Thai spot. A fried piece of tilapia pla som runs $9. It’s crunchy sour, slightly funky and absolutely wonderful with the accompanying fried shallots, galangal, and chilies.
Until I get to Thailand Zabb will likely remain my go-to spot for this dish. Lucky for me they’re open quite late and are only a short subway ride from my place. One can never tell when that late-night fried fermented fish craving’s gonna hit.
Zabb Elee, 71-28 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights, 718-426-7992