Half a lifetime ago Zak Pelaccio taught me to ball up khao neuw or Thai sticky rice and dredge it through the bracing liquour that sat at the bottom of a platter of papaya salad. We were gathered around the table at what was then the best Thai restaurant in Queens, Zabb Elee. Zabb is gone and Zak decamped for Hudson, New York, a while back. As for me I’m still in Queens, and have watched the Thai restaurant scene in the environs of Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Woodside blossom.
Whenever I’m at a Thai table there’s always sticky rice. Sometimes it acts a foil for savory dishes. Sometimes it’s the centerpiece of a dessert as with the pandan-scented sticky rice that acts as the foundation for Sugar Club’s over-the-top mango sticky rice.
And then there are those magical times when khao neuw straddles the line between sweet and savory. For this farang such flavor combinations are revelations, highly craveable revelations. Take the khao neuw nah pla I tried at Sugar Club the other day. The small container consists of coconut scented sticky rice topped with a mixture of fried shallots and sugar, red coconut imbued with a fishy funk, and what can best be described as Thai flan. Eaten room temperature it’s quite pleasant—sweet and salty and funky—with the rice tying it all together.
For a real treat, I like to nuke it for about half a minute. It’s a perfect nosh for a midsummer monsoon.
Sugar Club, 81-18 Broadway, Elmhurst, 718-565-9018