When at home, Poncharee Kounpungchart missed the rice cakes, the smell of it on the streets of Thailand, where an old man would sell it from his cart. She used to bring her aunt’s famous curry paste back to the states. But when Kounpungchart and her husband Wiley Frank decided to open Thai pop up restaurant Little Uncle (formerly operating as Shophouse at Columbia City Farmers Market), Kounpungchart asked her aunt to teach her the secret behind her special curry.
I had the curry a couple of weeks ago at La Bête, where this pop up has taken place every Monday, but next week may be its last. The pop up will soon be replaced by its new grab-and-go space on 1509 East Madison, which, like the pop-up, will feature street food eats, like their mini curried cat fish cakes, that’ll have you missing Thailand (even if you’ve never been).
“The great thing about Thai cuisine is that it incorporates a lot of cultures that have been in the region, like Chinese and other influences,” said Frank. “We try to shy away from using the word, ‘authentic’.”
Frank, a former sous chef at Lark Restaurant, and Kounpungchart spent a year in Thailand and when they left, they shipped special mortars to grind the curry, ice shavers, and other tools to bring the cuisine to Seattle. Kounpungchart brought her the secret of her aunt’s curry.
“I used to work at a Thai restaurant and the family meals that we had after work were delicious. But they would be too scared to serve it to the customers, saying that it was too stinky or too pungent,” said Kounpungchart.
Little Uncle offers these flavors without fear, even when doing so proved difficult. After some difficulty, they found a supplier for the integral kaffir limes which add an ethereal fragrance to their curry. They acquired fresh tofu from local tofu factory, Northwest Tofu. Kounpungchart’s mother shipped bottles of their preferred shrimp paste from Thailand. These complex and well-crafted flavors then are paired with local produce and seafood, but the dishes presented tasted of a different place. If Wylie Frank permits me, I may even say the food at Little Uncle is as authentic as they come.