Naret Sihavong thinks positive. It's the guiding notion that took him into a bank at age 28 to ask for several thousand dollars to open a restaurant.
Thai tapioca a
pearl of a sweet
The bank said yes and with that loan in hand, Sihavong opened Phuket Thai Restaurant in the McCully Shopping Center.
Three years later, Sihavong has a new house, new car and a thriving restaurant.
"I just took a chance," he says. "You gotta be positive, right?"
Work hard, aim high. Another guiding notion that he says is typical of many young immigrants. Chief example: his own mother, who snuck out of Laos with her six children in 1978, when he was 9.
A few years later, his mother opened Rama Thai -- and that's where Sihavong got his introduction to the restaurant business. She sold it last year when she retired to Laos.
It was always his goal to have his own restaurant, to be his own boss, Sihavong says. "That's the best way to be successful. It's a risk a lot of people don't want to take."
Phuket Thai specializes in authentic dishes, with nothing toned down in the way of flavors or spicy heat. Thai food is very close to his native Lao cuisine, Sihavong says, but more familiar to island eaters, which explains the large number of Thai restaurants with Lao chefs.
In a side-by-side comparison, Thai/Lao dishes are the same except for some variations in vegetables and flavorings, he says. A Lao papaya salad, for example, differs in its use of shrimp paste and ongchoi -- and its lack of peanuts.
Sihavong offers that Lao-style salad here, as well as a recipe for Thai tapioca dessert, requested by Sandra Tanoe, Genie Kauhane and Louis Pang.
Tapioca -- made from the cassava root -- is a bit of a mystery to many home cooks, but Sihavong says it's simple to use. He suggests Cock Brand Bille de Tapioca, or pearl tapioca, small size (it balloons up to the size of large fish eggs). It's available at Asian Grocery on Beretania Street, as well as other Asian markets.
THAI TAPIOCA PUDDING1 cup small Thai tapioca pearls (see note)
8 cups cool water, divided use
3 cups coconut milk (Mae Ploy brand recommended)
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Rinse tapioca in cool tap water. Drain.
Place in saucepan with 6 cups water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Drain and rinse.
Combine coconut milk and 2 cups water in a clean saucepan. Add tapioca to milk mixture and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Add sugar and salt, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat.
Taste and add more sugar or salt as needed. Let mixture sit in saucepan for 30 minutes. Pour into dessert glasses and serve warm. Serves 8.
Variation: Serve chilled with 1/4 cup diced honeydew melon added to each serving.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 330 calories, 18 g total fat, 16 g saturated fat, no cholesterol, 150 mg sodium.*
LAO-STYLE PAPAYA SALAD1 medium garlic clove
2 medium fresh Thai chiles
2 cups shredded green papaya (Thai papaya recommended)
1-1/2 tablespoon fish sauce (nam pla)
1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 cherry tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
Using a mortar and pestle, pound garlic and chiles until broken into small pieces. Add remaining ingredients. Use a spoon to scrape the sides of the mortar and turn the ingredients. Pound the papaya until it is limp and soft. Taste and adjust the seasonings to a balance of sour, hot, salt and sweet. Garnish with fresh ongchoi, in 4-inch pieces. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 45 calories, 0.5 g total fat, no saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 600 mg sodium.*
Food Stuffs: Morsels
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