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Saturday, July 07, 2007

I-San City, Sydney

Yum Pla Duk Foo $13.50
Catfish spicy salad

EDIT 10 Sep 2009: I-San City, Sydney has now closed.
EDIT 28 January 2010: Check out the new tenants Thanon Khao San.

It's the spicy soup that does it.

Up until then, I'd been managing just fine, hoeing into a banquet of Thai dishes with gusto, secretly pleased I was coping with the fire of chillis scattered generously through every meal.

The tom sap kra dook moo spicy pork ribs soup is a different story. A deep bowl of clear broth--filled with pork, red onion and green tendrils of coriander--has a carpet of chilli seeds across its surface.

The meat tastes okay. I scoff that without much problem, although the cartilage-laden piece of pork belly takes some effort to crunch down into little pieces. Enboldened, I take a few generous gulps of the richly fragrant soup, and that's when that bewildering state of tongue-on-fire panic takes hold of my senses.

Tom Sap Kra Dook Moo $8.00
Spare ribs spicy soup

Apart from this isolated incident, the rest of our dishes at I-San City are a delight, resplendent in a typical Thai harmony of sweet, sour, salty and hot. This unassuming eatery on the south end of Pitt Street is where we're dining tonight. I'd eaten here once before, choosing a couple of dishes from the laden but far-from-grand bain-marie out the front. Tonight we're dining a la carte.

The yum pla duk foo catfish spicy salad [top photo] is a particular crowd favourite. A jumble of raw crunchy vegetables--carrot, green mango, red onion and green shallots--is muddled with a fiery fish sauce dressing, tossed with tomato wedges and roasted peanuts, then topped with a golden brown fluff that is deep-fried catfish. The catfish gives a salty fried crunch that contrasts with the potent salad and the raw cabbage leaves served on the side.

Som Tom $8.00
Fresh green papaya salad in Laos style

Som tom green papaya salad is served Laos style which means a darker fishier dressing that is more spicy and sour than the usual Thai style. Isan refers to the north east region of Thailand, and its borders with Laos and Cambodia have spilled over to influences in food and language.

I'm intrigued, too, to see that tiny black crabs accompany our som tom. These baby crabs are cleaved into small pieces, their saltiness adding to the gutsy flavours of this dish. I try nibbling on one of the little crabs. It's incredibly salty. I learn later that these salt-preserved crabs are usually served with Laos som tom; the Thai version will use dried shrimps instead and is usually milder and sweeter overall.

Sai Oaw $8.00
Thai spicy sausage

Our Thai spicy sausages are chopped into thick hearty diagonal slices. These are packed with fresh lemongrass and lashings of white pepper, creating a lemony spicy mouthful that is crisp on the outside, soft and juicy within. It's not a chilli hot as I would've expected, but there are extra chillis on the plate, and I love the scattering of roasted peanuts, slivers of red onion and usual side accompaniment of raw white cabbage.

Pad Thai Goong $13.50
Fried noodle Thai style with prawns

Pad thai goong is another crowd favourite. The chewy white rice noodles are sticky with a coating of sweet sauce and dressed generously with crushed peanuts and chopped green shallots. A handful of raw bean sprouts on the side provide some palate cleansing crunch.

Iced coffee with milk $2.20

The best thing for tastebuds on fire is milk. My iced coffee with milk goes down a treat.

Thai custard

We conclude with a serve of traditional Thai custard, made with duck eggs, palm sugar and coconut milk. The rectangle of highlighter yellow is firmer than I expect, and to my surprise the golden shards strewn over the coconut milk topping are deep-fried red onion shallots. The idea of eating fried onions with dessert rattles my tastebuds somewhat but it all gets eaten anyway.

It's a rich dessert, despite its appearances. A bit like I-San, I think. There's a lot more here than you'd first expect.

I-San City Thai Restaurant (CLOSED)
Replaced with  Thanon Khao San
413 Pitt Street Sydney
(in-between Goulburn and Campbell Streets)
Tel: +61 (02) 9211 4150

Open 7 days 11.00am-10.30am

Related GrabYourFork posts:
Thai--Satang Thai
Thai--Spice I Am
Thai--Thainatown (Mar07)
Thai--Thainatown (Jan07)
Thai--Uni Thai
8 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 7/07/2007 11:56:00 pm


  • At 7/08/2007 8:38 am, Blogger yewenyi said…

    it is a good place to eat. the Yum Pla Duk Foo is particularly tasty.

  • At 7/08/2007 8:22 pm, Blogger MissK said…

    This looks like a great place to go during cold weather,need the spices to south the soul in winter.

  • At 7/08/2007 8:56 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi helen, do they do a laab/larp?

    I am always on the lookout for a great larp so any hints appreciated

  • At 7/09/2007 12:33 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The Tom Sap Kra Dook Moo looks scarily spicy. Have you been to Sap Thai in Pitt st, a few doors after IBIS? According to my Thai friend, Sap Thai and Spice I am are the most authentic Thai restaurants in Sydney. The food tastes exactly as good as in Thailand. I don't really like Sap Thai because I found the food too strong in flavours.

    If you plan to visit Bangkok at Capitol, you must try the Clear Soup Pork Leg Tom Yum. It is the best, especially for winter =)

  • At 7/09/2007 12:21 pm, Blogger thanh7580 said…

    The food looks great, I love Thai food as well, the hotter the better.

    My mum used to marinate those tiny black crabs in salt water and then we would eat them with congee. You sort of suck the juices out of them rather than really eat them.

  • At 7/09/2007 3:25 pm, Blogger susan said…

    it's good to see a Thai restaurant doing some spicy food. I always think that most places don't make it as spicy as they do in Thailand.

  • At 7/11/2007 9:28 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Yewenyi - Yep the catfish was my favourite :)

    Hi MissK - It's always a good time for chilli in my book!

    Hi mr_gimlet - They do have laab but I haven't tried it. I'm a larb fan too :)

    Hi Lin - The Tom Sap Kra Dook Moo was very hot, especially drinking it! I had lunch at Spice I Am only the other day, and I'm planning on visiting Saap Thai very soon too!

    Hi thanh7580 - Crab congee sounds fantastic. Yeah my crab was a little sandy. I'll know the juice trick for next time :)

    Hi Susan - I think most resturants in Sydney do cater for a milder Western palate. Having said that, I have seen Thai friends go into restaurants and declare a no-holds-barred on the chilli factor. The kitchen is usually happy to do so!

  • At 7/19/2007 11:40 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Looks lovely Do they make house calls.. ? In Ohio? :O)


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