The crispy rice salad at Bangkok Golden is, in the words of a colleague, “everything”
Moving is never easy, but I have to say that the sharp edges have softened over the course of eight moves I’ve endured with the hubby in the seven years I’ve known him. I still cry every time we pull our car away from the empty home we’re leaving, and I still have these random pangs every so often when reminiscing about places we’ve lived. But we’ve both been around the block enough now to know what to look for in our new place that brightens our outlook on our new place. The hubby finds sparks in everything. The commute is shorter! This house is way more awesome! Our neighbors are SO nice! There’s a Costco just over there!
For me, just imagine me pulling up a chair to the proverbial feeding trough provided by my new city, linen napkin tucked under my chin, a fork and knife in hand. “Well, well, well,” I might say. “What have we here?!”
It’s pretty daunting arriving in a new city this way. I feel like I’m just starting a footrace that everyone else has been running since 1985. Where to begin? What do I eat? Who do I ask? Luckily, a good friend pointed me to Bangkok Golden, an institution in Falls Church known for its Laotian and Thai cuisine. “The crispy rice salad is amazing,” he wrote in an e-mail to me just before we arrived.
Within days of our arrival, the hubby and I had trekked over to the Golden for this very salad. “Bring me the crispy rice salad!” I yelled with a flourish while handing the menu back to our server, sight unseen. “I will require nothing else!”
Left: lemongrass grilled chicken wings, Laotian style; right: fried sweet potato leaf salad
The hubby pulled me aside, gently reminding me that 1) a salad alone does not a meal make; and 2) there didn’t seem to be a crispy rice salad on the menu. The server nodded, but then added, “We can bring you the crispy rice salad,” she said. “But maybe you should also try our fried sweet potato leaf salad? It’s a special tonight, and it comes with shrimp in a tamarind sauce.”
“Fine. Bring me those things. But the CRISPY RICE SALAD FIRST.”
The hubby sighed. “Give us a minute,” he said to the server, exchanging one of those please-pity-me-look-at-what-I-have-to-deal-with looks. This happens a lot to us. The hubby prodded me toward more choices. Grilled lemongrass chicken wings. A Laotian curry (orm). Sticky rice.
I enjoyed everything we ordered, but as it turns out, my friend was so incredibly right about the crispy rice salad (nam khao) to the point where I felt two competing emotions. First, because I demanded the crispy rice salad first, the dishes that came later in our lineup felt a little underwhelming. Secondly, I could not get enough of the crispy rice salad. I just could not. Everything in it had a reason to be there: crunchy peanuts wrapped around crisp broken rice pods with a jumble of lime juice, cilantro, red onion, shredded young fresh coconut, and ham. The sweet potato leaf salad, lightly flash fried with tamarind drizzled atop in a dish eerily similar to an Indian chaat, was also delightfully, mysteriously tasty. What was in it? I don’t know. It was special. How are these dishes made? Again, I don’t know, and to be quite honest, I don’t want to know. Some things are better left to the experts, to the people who can make minds melt with flavor. Chef Seng and her army are concocting dishes like these salads in the kitchen night after night at Bangkok Golden using some sort of culinary wizardry, and I just want her to keep waving her magical taste wand so that I can continue to bask in the glory.
Just — just go. Seriously. I’m already upset I’m not eating those salads right now.
Bangkok Golden | 6395 Seven Corners Center | Falls Church, VA