You can smell a great papaya salad even before it arrives at the table. It's the strong whiff of fish sauce, the tingle of chilli, and for full flavour seekers, the salty pungency of fermented crab.
Diving into this birds nest of papaya salad is guaranteed to awaken the palate. Crunching your way through a tangle of shredded papaya, crunchy snakebeans and bruised tomatoes will give you an adrenalin rush of chilli, cloaked in a heady garlic and fish sauce dressing that will linger on your breath for hours. The fermented crab – pounded down into shattered fragments – is the best part, the wall of salty intensity like being suddenly dumped by wave, then re-emerging into sunshine and salt spray again.
Today we're at Chilli Cha Cha, a bright and modern space with white plastic chairs and red padded banquettes along the wall. We can see straight into the kitchen from where we're sitting, watching the crew steadily working the woks, or pounding som tum in a traditional Thai mortar and pestle made from clay.
Suki Hang with chicken $9.90 lunch special includes Thai tea or soft drink
Vermicelli and vegetables stir-fried in spicy suki sauce
Lunchtime specials start at $9.90 during the week, served with your choice of soft drink or a Thai tea that's so sweet you can almost hear it ripping open a cavity in your tooth. The papaya salad is off the a la carte menu, fiery with chilli but perhaps not as briny from the fermented crab as I would have liked.
Where the Som Tum is crunchy and fresh, Suki Hang is soft and soupy, a thick huddle of vermicelli, Chinese cabbage and chicken drenched in a spicy and sweet gravy that is strangely cloying.
The Kanar Moo Krob had been my contribution to the order, chunks of crispy pork belly stir-fried with gai lan Chinese broccoli. Chilli is again used liberally in this dish, with sweetness provided by oyster sauce. The pork skin is soft on some pieces, but there are occasional precious finds of crunchy crackling.
A mound of white rice is perfect for mopping up the oyster sauce, and also provides some relief from the chilli.
Not quite a cha cha as we leave the restaurant, but I reckon there's a market out there for crackling krumping.
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3/04/2011 02:53:00 a.m.