What: Som tam
How much: $7.95
Where: Thai House Cuisine, 1408 Hardimont Road, Raleigh, 878-3379, www.thaihouse-cuisine.com
I don't care what the groundhog saw. I've had enough of winter. And I'm not referring to the weather, which has admittedly been milder than usual this year. I'm talking about the food. I've had my fill of hearty soups and stews and other rib-sticking fare. I'm craving salad.
Not just any salad, either, but the Thai green papaya salad called som tam, a dish that I know will fill me with tropical warmth and put me in a sunny mood regardless of what the calendar says. And not just any som tam, but the version served at Thai House Cuisine in North Raleigh. It's hands-down the best around.
That's because owner Jeerawan Bessinger insists on making som tam to order with impeccably fresh ingredients. She and her kitchen staff don't shred the papaya or squeeze the limes until someone orders the dish. These are then tossed with bright, crunchy green beans, chopped fresh tomatoes, ground roasted peanuts, fish sauce and Thai chiles, which Bessinger grows herself. She'll customize the dish according to your preference, including adjusting the heat level from mild to what the menu calls "make you cry -- Thai hot" (and you'd better believe it). She doesn't include the customary dried shrimp in the dish unless you ask for it, because she has found that most Americans don't like it. Instead, she garnishes the salad with a steamed shrimp. Your server will advise you that som tam takes 15 minutes or so to make, but rest assured it's worth the wait.
I'll get mine with the dried shrimp, Thai hot. I'll also order a bowl of sticky rice, the soothingly chewy, nutty-sweet traditional companion to som tam, and no doubt a Singha beer or two. For an entree, I'll probably go for the green curry shrimp or the crispy basil duck.
Or maybe I'll just order another round of som tam and sticky rice. It depends on whether or not I see my shadow.