Sticky situation: Thai food and festival in Chicago

June 5, 2013

Thai food generates heat unlike any other exotic cuisine in Chicago, literally and figuratively. In fact the current darling of local food fans is Rainbow Cuisine in Lincoln Square. The hidden in plain sight, one-year-old, 12-seat restaurant was first discovered by LTH Forum member Matt Zatkoff (aka laikom), and since covered by the Reader's Mike Sula, Tasting Table's Heather Sperling, and soon by the Hungry Hound himself, Steve Dolinksy.

Chicago's Thai Consul General, Songphol Sukchan, hosted an "authentic" Thai media dinner at trailblazing Sticky Rice restaurant in North Center last night to ostensibly promote the upcoming 11th annual Thai Festival. Starting two weeks from today, the three day event (June 19 to 21) takes over Federal Center Plaza downtown with not only food and fresh coconut juice, but traditional dance and music, Muay Thai kickboxing, and even Thai massage.

Sticky Rice will open a second location, Sticky Rice Chiang Mai, on Western Avenue in Bucktown soon after the Fourth of July. Sadly they stopped serving their infamous insect menu about a year ago, because they could no longer source insects.
Not that we missed them, nor pad thai for that matter. As I learned from the Consul General's wife, the charming Piyachanid Suthinont Sukchan, seated across from me at dinner, a proper pad thai is a complex dish that should only be prepared two servings at a time due to the ideal immediacy of the ingredients, Mrs. Sukchan said their official residence chef once served pad thai to only a dozen guests, taking nearly three hours. Chicago's own Thai food expert and SheSimmers food blogger, Leela Punyaratabandhu, once posted an epic five part pad thai recipe.
A few lessons on Thai dining etiquette:
  • Eat with spoon and fork, no knife, or right hand fingers only, but never chopsticks.
  • With rice dishes, use fork to push food on to spoon then eat, but spearing food like sausages is acceptable.
  • With sticky rice, use it as your only utensil.
  • Beware, the rice is hot, very hot. With fingertips only, quickly pull off a bite-sized piece, then rapidly roll into a ball, again fingertips only.
  • Mrs. Sukchan said Thai mothers roll tiny sticky rice balls for their children, lining them up along the edge of their plates.
The Consul General once called after landing at the airport asking for the one Thai dish he'd been craving most while away: Kai Jiaw, the classic Thai omelette comfort food. He and the Royal Thai ambassador in the UK had actually gone in to the kitchen at a pub in Scotland to show the chef how to make one, but they couldn't get it quite right. 
But sticky rice is also featured sweet, in the nearly mythical mango sticky rice, and lesser known but far more seductive durian sticky rice. The durian dessert is Dolinsky's favorite too. A Thai food aficionado, the Consul General consulted the Hound on last night's guest list.
 
Follow Louisa Chu @louisachu.