Earlier this summer, we decided to take advantage of the BC Day Long Weekend and do a little road trip. We planned a few days in Seattle and a few day in Portland too. In addition to the many food trucks I had wanted to try in PDX, there was also a place called Pok Pok that folks everywhere said was a "must-eat". So here we are, at the entrance of the original Pok Pok at SE Division St. There is also a Pok Pok Noi on NE Prescott. Though we were there at 2 on a Sunday afternoon, there was still a wait for tables. The hostess was a bit confusing, because when we were asked if we preferred outside or inside, we chose "first available", but other people kept getting seated before us. It wasn't until we went back to ask her that she seemed to remember about us, despite taking our name down in the first place. Oh well, glitches happen.
Once we were seated, we ordered some cocktails to start. On the right is the Southside, which was a gin based drink with fresh mint syrup, lemon juice and soda We also tried their Drinking Vinegar with is a puree of various fruits mixed with soda water. One was boozy, one was $4. Both were good and refreshing on a hot summer day.
Pok Pok has three Aahaan Phiseht (House Specialties) and we tried them all, and then some. This was the spiciest of all our dishes by far! This was the Papaya Pok Pok with Salted Black Crab. This was spicy and salty, with good flavours of roasted garlic and smashed lime leaves. The chilis and the beans were crunchy and fresh. You can also taste subtle hints of tamarind, fish sauce and dried shrimp paste. The cabbage at the end isn't dressed at all, but you need something bland to help ease the fiery dressing. The rest of the crab is tossed in with the salad, but they do place the body on top so you don't miss it or think it's absent.
The second specialty we tried was the Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings (we chose Spicy for this too). These wings are served whole, just the way I like them. The wings are marinated in a mixture of fish sauce and palm sugar, and then off they go into a deep fryer. Once cooked, they are then mixed with more fish sauce and garlic. Because of the second tossing, these wings aren't crispy, they are tasty, but the skin has more of a chew than a crunch. Good flavours and the pickled vegetable served the same purpose as the cabbage from the salad, they're like fire extinguishers!
Another Specialty of the house is the Kai Yaang - a charcoal game hen. It's been stuffed with lemongrass, garlic and cilantro. You can use either the sweet & sour sauce or the tamarind sauce that accompany the dish. I preferred to use neither, so that the skin stayed crispy. I could really taste the cilantro on the chicken, and liked the mix of dark and white meat too.
As indicated on the menu, the chicken is best paired with some Sticky Rice. This was the cutest little leaf cup I have ever seen. I have never had rice served in a bag, but here it is...at least it's sanitary! The rice itself was rather bland, though as promised, it was sticky. I had wanted to try the Coconut Rice, but the waiter recommended this one instead. I guess the sweetness of the coconut rice would have competed with the chicken.
To balance out all the heat, we decided to go with a one non-spicy dish, and that was the Phat Si Ew (Fried rice noodles with Carlton Farms pork. These aren't your traditional rice noodles, these are freshly made and quite haphazard in size, giving it a rustic, streetside feel. Loaded with gai lan (Chinese Broccoli) and some egg, this was a simple but tasty dish. You could really taste the "wok-heat" on this.
So, after trying all three of their House Specialties and one of their other dishes, I have to say that Pok Pok does live up to its reputation. In the same way Vancouver ha Phnom Penh, Pok Pok serves up a variety of Asian dishes in a truly authentic way.