Tuesday, November 4, 2014

DIY Thai Tom oh-so-yum

On my first visit to Cairo three years ago, I ate little more than greasy late night shawarma, stale falafels, laughing cow cheese cubes and Turkish coffee.  Whether it was due to only frequenting cheap-o backpacker friendly cafes in the downtown, being too out-of-my-mind excited to even eat properly at all -or just that I had no clue of really where to go- I am happy to say that my diet this time around living in Cairo, has been a vast improvement.

Living in the somewhat out-of-touch expat populated suburb of Maadi has its advantages; within a 3 blocks radius of my house I can find a Greek cafe, two Italian restaurants, two Lebanese (one casual and cheap, the other a really classy delicious space perfect for special occasions), several as-yet-to-be-visited Chinese shops, a Sushi joint (haven't taken that plunge just yet - the thought of raw sashimi in a city where I have to sterilize my parsley with vinegar keeps me skeptical), an upmarket American place appropriately called "Craves" (for when the spoiled expat craves nachos, grilled cheese sammiches and maybe a good burger for his poor homesick stomach), a great cheap Egyptian kitchen, a biker-frequented bagel shop, many coffee shops -and more. Of course this doesnt include all the food that is available by phone - a quick trip to elmenus.com and one can order nearly anything and everything to be delivered to ones home, from delicious Mexican burritos to boxes of Syrian shawarma platters bursting with enough grease and garlic sauce to satiate even the most stoned or hungover lazy munch-a-holic.

The one thing then, that is missing from this whole situation, has been my beloved Vietnamese Pho - Cairo's Vietnamese population is apparently next to nil, though there are rumours of a supposed "Chinatown" lurking somewhere, which perhaps might lead me closer to the ellusive phantom steaming bowl. Second to Pho might be a good bowl of Thai Tom Yum - that intoxicating spicy dish fragrant with lemongrass, ginger, garlic, cilantro and other shrimpy soupy goodness (also the perfect antidote to Cairos smog and general related chronic nasal congestion).

Yet my attempts to find a decent Thai restaurant in Cairo have left me feeling like a dead Pharaoh without his funerary mask - incomplete and lacking. The first Thai discovery came via the aforementioned takeout, whereupon on our soup was delivered like a goldfish in a plastic bag. A few floating shrimps in a clear broth for exorbitant (by Cairo standards), prices. This past weekend another attempt at chasing the Thai dragon was made, by me, the flatmate and our hungry respective dates. After a long and arduous taxi ride to the Nile island of Zamalek, (and approximately 30 more minutes of walking like lost hunters through a chaotic and forbidding Thai-less land), we found the place - only to be served another sad bowl of clear salty liquid with nothing whatsoever "Thai" about it, and a main course than is best remembered for the fact that the rice portion was shaped cleverly like dear old Cheop's resting place.

See? Cute and all but WHERE is my Tom Yum???

After all this Thai teasing - and the lack of anything satisfying- I thought it perhaps best to just take the bull by the horns, search out the ingredients and in the DIY spirit that has always (and always will) guide my life, just make it myself. If I can find the stuff here to make it in Cairo, you have no excuse!!

Enjoy.

DIY Thai Tom Oh-so-yum

1 Onion
2 cloves garlic
1 stalk lemongrass
1 handful cilantro
chunk of ginger chopped into peices
2 thai red chili peppers, seeds removed and chopped into large chunks (or more depending how suicidal you feel)
2 carrots thinly sliced into rounds 
2 scallions cut into longer slices like they do in Thai food
1 can mushrooms
1 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon green curry paste (they sell amazing Thai paste here for 2 bucks!)
1 teaspoon Sambal Olneok or whatever that hot chili stuff is called (stoked to find this here for cheap)
few squirts Shiracha hot sauce
A litre or so of water
1 cube soup stock
2 spoons fish sauce
spoonful soy sauce
package of Thai stick noodles
Shrimp if you have them (I couldn't find any for decent prices that didn't look like they might give me Gastro-Intestinal nightmares)

First , chop everything up - Get your flatmate to pour you a drink while you do this.Then saute the onions and garlic in a little oil until soft. Add the spice paste and mush it with the onions and garlic, add the ginger and lemongrass, then add the coconut milk, then basically everything else -except the noodles and shrimp. Let it cook for about 10 minutes while you boil water to cook the noodles (they will cook very fast, so watch it!). Add the shrimp near the end because shrimp are little (there's a reason they are called shrimp), and cook it a few minutes. Add the noodles and a bit more cilantro and then taste to make sure its spiccccy hot, (add more Sambal Chili bits if its not hot enough), then eat and drink and be merry with the fact that you probably are eating the best Thai Tom Yum soup in town.

thai things


Steaming pot of awesome

Bowls of happiness