Thais measure out the year by the ever changing selection of fruits and vegetables available in the markets. And with new produce comes a new line up of culinary delights to tantalise our palates. Take ‘Nam Pla Wan’, a sweet and salty fish sauce in which the sweetness is derived from fresh tamarind. It is particular delicious when partnered with a dish called Sadao Pladuk – creating a holy trinity of young neem leaves (Sadao), catfish (Pladuk) and Nam Pla Wan. This is a classic seasonal dish because fresh tamarind is typically abundant in the cool season.
You’ll find a perfect example of this dish at an unassuming family restaurant called Kim Leng. It’s been run by the same family for three generations and you can tell they’re serious about cooking because they’ve devoted more space to their kitchen than to tables for their guests.
Nam Pla Wan is an exotic sauce whose main ingredients include freshly squeezed tamarind juice, palm sugar, fried onion and a dusting of chilli. It shouldn’t be too sweet or too sour; a balance Kim Leng achieves beautifully. Sadao (fresh neem leaves) can be a little more challenging. We eat the young flowers, which resemble unopened jasmine buds. Treated right they deliver a uniquely tangy blend of fresh-creamy–crunchiness. But beware, if your Sadao is too bitter it isn’t being handled right. Savvy cooks like those at Kim Leng douse their Sadao with hot water to even out the bitterness, leaving only a tender natural flavour.
The Pladuk component of this dish offsets its partners with a smoky scent and flavour. The flesh is soft and tastes a bit like butter cake to me. Combined with the neem leaves and teh piquant tamarind sauce, it goes perfectly with a mouthful of steaming, freshly-cooked, rice.
Kim Leng is on Tanao Rd. off Rachadamnoen Boulevard. If you come from town, go past Democracy Monument and at the next intersection turn left. You’ll find Kim Leng 30 metres in.
Mon-Sat from 10am-8pm.