You’ve got to admire the simplicity of a food cart that serves one dish. Or the outright brazenness perhaps – this, this is exactly what you want to eat.
Nong’s Khao Man Gai is a cart that does exactly that. There’s something pretty zen about a cart that makes the same meal over and over again day in and day out. Their dish is pretty simple: boiled chicken, sauce, rice, and broth, but there’s more to it than it sounds.
I haven’t been to Thailand, but from I’ve read, khao man gai is a common street food dish in Thailand. The recipe on one website is prefaced by the description of the dish as a ” ‘high end’ street vendor dish because it’s more complicated to make, and requires a fairly sophisticated cart and tools.”
The cart owner is originally from Thailand, but she spent some time working in one of Portland’s most highly rated Thai restaurants, Pok Pok, before venturing out on her own.
Here’s the cart:
So, there are a few options – the regular khao man gai ($6) which is a butcher-paper wrapped pile of sticky rice cooked in chicken broth, topped with slices of boiled-till-tender chicken, cilantro, cucumber slices, and a little container of sauce. This package is presented to you like an origami present all folded up, a rubber band holding it together, and then slipped on top, there is another little container of broth and a spoon/napkin.
You can also add extra chicken, chicken livers, extra sauce, or supersize your khao man gai (piset).
One of the highlights of the drink menu is the Vietnamese coffee (made with Portland’s Stumptown Coffee!) which I prefer to the often overly-sweet Thai iced tea. The rich, strongly brewed coffee is complimented by sweetened condensed milk.
So, as described above, one of the key parts of the khao man gai is the sauce. I mean, otherwise it’d be kind of dull – chicken + rice? The sauce is zippy, a little spicy but not much, and definitely garlic-filled. It’s very fresh tasting, definitely not from a bottle, and it has that magic that a good Thai dish has – a balance of tangy and sweet and spicy, all at once.
I forgot to take a picture of the cute wrapping job or the even cuter food cart lady herself (her and her crew are usually jamming out to some good beats while chopping chicken furiously). There’s usually a long line for this dish, and I hear she frequently sells out for the day.
The broth is very simple – it usually has a wisp of greens or some bitter melon, not much else. Somehow – add all together this becomes a special dish that is both exotic and comforting at the same time. It’s a bit like a deconstructed chicken noodle soup with a little extra zing. I must admit this week’s serving of chicken wasn’t my favorite – a few “bits” were left that were a bit ugly, but that’s the risk of eating meat, I suppose (this is one of my rare meat-excursions). That won’t stop me, I’ll be back again for this magic combo.
Essential Details:Nong’s Khao Man Gai website
Corner of SW 10th & Alder, Portland 971.255.3480 Open M-F, 10am until sold out!