Sunday, June 13, 2010

Thai Me Up and Feed Me Jackfruit!

I'm food-cart loco. That's all there is to it. To a foodie like me, the explosion in gourmet street food is the most exciting thing to come along since sliced bread. It's not only the logical response to feeding hungry diners in a struggling economy. Eating at food carts is also fun, fast, and connects us more intimately with the person who prepares our food. And now I can indulge in my weakness for Thai food with delicious meals that cost half of what they would in local area restaurants! Welcome to Eugene, Drumrongthai!

This vibrantly colorful food cart is parked at one of the best spots in town. Situated on a pie-shaped piece of property along one of Eugene's busiest East-West thoroughfares at 6th and Blair, it's pretty hard to miss!

Drumrongthai is owned and operated by two of the most charming people you'll ever meet. Chef A, and his sister O, (yes, these are their names!) serve up delicious Thai cuisine in a spirit and atmosphere of pure joy. Their friendly, smiling faces immediately make you feel very much at home in their little corner of the world.

Smack dab in the middle of this very busy street, Drumrongthai succeeds in creating its own unique ambiance with intoxicating sounds of classical Indian music playing and the romance of hanging flower planters, and water bowls filled with leaves and fallen flower petals placed on tables and fence posts.

There are sixteen items currently on the menu, which is quite a wide variety for a little food cart. Chef A was careful to guide me to those dishes that can be prepared vegan. He thoughtfully explained how many Thai restaurants use chili sauce that contains shrimp paste in their curry dishes, passing them off as vegan, even though they are clearly not. He said that he plans to soon make his own chili sauce free of shrimp paste, so that he can offer a vegan option on most, if not all of his dishes. He also plans to expand the current menu to include tempeh dishes and a variety of curry specials.

O offered me a Thai iced tea made with coconut milk, instead of dairy. It had just the right amount of sugar, and was brewed to perfection. (Sometimes Thai iced tea can be too strong or overly-sweet.) So now, I was really excited to taste the food.

I thought I'd start with the most basic dish possible—Pad Thai, but without the egg, of course. I also asked A to leave out the crushed peanut, as for some reason, it never seems to heighten my enjoyment of this dish. Knowing that there are as many ways to prepare Pad Thai as there are Thai chefs, I couldn't wait to taste Chef A's take on Pad Thai. In my own home, I have prepared several versions of this Thai classic. You'll find one of my recipes here. Chef A's Pad Thai was delicious! Packed neatly in this to-go box, it's hard to tell, but the noodles were bathed in a tasty "tamarindy" sauce and laced with tiny slices of delicately fried tofu. I was pretty impressed with the portion size, too. It was nice to feel satisfied for $6.50.

I couldn't wait to return and try something else. This time I ordered the Sweet and Sour with tofu, and was treated to a dish that was as vibrantly colorful as the cart itself, and as tasty as any Sweet and Sour I've eaten anywhere.

I look forward to trying many other dishes at Drumrongthai, including the Thom Ka coconut soup, Vegetable Delight, and Cashew Stir Fry, as well as all of the new dishes Chef A will create. Now that the weather finally seems to be getting nice here in Eugene, it will be wonderful to enjoy this delectable food outdoors. Drumrongthai is open daily from 11 AM to 8 PM, and closed on Sundays. If you love Thai food, you'll definitely want to check out Drumrongthai.

Earlier in the day, I had stopped at Sunrise Asian Market to pick up a few staple items and eyed this enormous fifteen-pound jackfruit sitting proudly on a shelf. I never knew a jackfruit was that big! This baby was about eighteen inches across from end to end. At $1.99 per pound, it would have set me back close to thirty bucks.

Since I'd never tasted jackfruit before, I decided to be conservative and paid the $2.49 per pound pre-cut price for a much smaller, but still impressive slice that set me back a little over eight dollars. (Crazy expensive? Yes! But it still doesn't beat the little $13.00 dragonfruit I once spied at a local natural foods store, but couldn't bring myself to purchase.) I really wanted to add jackfruit to my small, but growing list of exotic tropical and sub-tropical fruits that I've enjoyed—cherimoya, zapote, durian, and rambutan.

I soon learned that figuring out how to eat a jackfruit was an experience all on its own. I'm told that when a jackfruit is very ripe, the fruit literally just falls away from the fibrous tendrils that hold it in place. But since it's impossible to find a fresh, fully ripened jackfruit in the U.S., I had to dig my hand in and tear the firm fruit away. Inside the bits of fruit there are large seeds, which can be cooked and eaten.

The fruit tasted like a cross between a pineapple, a mango, and a banana. Not as sweet as any of them, but perhaps that's because it wasn't fully ripened. Nonetheless, it was a yummy ending to a delectable Thai meal.


Anonymous said...

You are amazing, woman! Your photos and descriptions make me feel like I can almost taste the food. I'm visiting Eugene in a few weeks, and I look forward to eating at Drumrongthai. The owners look so sweet, and the food looks incredible.

Katie said...

I picked up lunch from Drumrongthai on Friday, and it was really good! Such a great deal, too. I've been telling all my friends about it, so I'm happy to see your blog. Now I want to try jackfruit. I think I'll pick up a small piece at Sunrise today. Thanks for sharing!

VeganMarr said...

Yes, love the colorful truck AND the colorfulness of the FOOD! Both dishes look yummy...and I'll take YOUR peanut topping! ;-) Thought the concern w/Pad Thai was potential fish sauce in the sauce, not egg? And shrimp paste in curry? Oh dear! That's worriesome. So nice A & O are being clear & honest about it. I hope they'll do really well!!!

Jennifer said...

I want that Sweet and Sour Tofu dish, and I want it now! What a tease you are to post this on Sunday!

Helen said...

Jackfruit is delicious! I once had a jackfruit biryani dish when I was visiting friends in India. I'd love to find the recipe. It was very tasty.

I wish I lived in Eugene. This Thai food cart sounds wonderful! Guess I'll have to plan a food trip there soon.

Patti said...

Looks like a feast for the taste buds AND the eyes! Beautiful flowers!

Mike said...

Great review of Drumrongthai! Their red curry is pretty spectacular. I've been telling all my friends to eat there. They have the best Thai food in Eugene at any price.

Angel said...

Ooh, I'm salivating!

Jacklyn said...

Is durian good? I heard that the smell is strong..never had any myself..just wondering..

Vegiegail said...

Hi Marr! Yes, they typically use fish sauce in Pad Thai, but it can be made without it. In this case, it's made with soy sauce, instead of fish sauce. Good point, though. It's better to ask the right questions when ordering at Thai restaurants. Ask: "Is it made with fish sauce or shrimp paste?" or "does the chili paste have shrimp?" instead of "is it vegan?" And then it's better to say "I'm allergic to seafood" rather than "I'm vegan," as most restaurants are more concerned about potentially making you sick than your ethics.

Hi Helen! Hope you can make a food road trip here soon!

Hi Jacklyn! Durian is a "love it or hate it" thing. If you can get past the powerful smell, which is often described as something between sulphur and dirty socks, you're more than halfway to loving it. Its distinctive taste is more difficult to describe. It's sticky, sweet and custardy, but difficult to compare to anything else. One of the best descriptions I've ever read of the experience of eating durian comes from Chef Anthony Bourdain, who happens to love them. He said, "Its taste can only be described as—indescribable, something you will either love or despise. Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother."

Not much I can say about it after that. I hope you get a chance to try it one day. BTW, the cat in your avatar is adorable! Is he yours?

Anonymous said...

Everything looks so beautiful and delicious!

The Vegan said...

The Drumrongthai food cart is beautiful! I love the picture of the chef and his sister. They both look so nice. :-)

I am glad they told you about the fish sauce. I found out about that about 20 years ago. I was pretty disturbed when I did because I had been eating what I thought was vegan Thai food. Thai food can be quite a gamble for vegans. Many places have pre-made sauces and don't let you know about the fish sauce. It's great that Chef A is going to create a vegan sauce for the curries and Pad Thai.

Anyway, the dishes look delicious. And the more vegan business they get, the more vegan dishes they will want to add to the menu. Based especially on the openness and full disclosure, not to mention the yummy looking food, I would love to eat at Drumrongthai.
Thanks for the excellent post and, as usual, beautiful pictures!

Aimee said...

My boyfriend and I picked up to-go here last night because I read about Drumronthai here. You're right. The food was excellent and the people are really nice. This is the best bang for the buck in Eugene! Thanks for letting us know.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Wonderful!

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to eat here! Thanks for the heads up!