Jungle Curry at ShriPraPhai

The long curve of the Himalayas reaches into northern Thailand, where it tapers into the Thai highlands, an area whose hills and valleys have long sheltered diverse ethnic groups from the outside world. The area is home to immigrants from Myanmar, China, and Laos, and to many ancient tribes. The kingdom of Lanna ruled here for centuries, and today roughly six million people in the region speak the Lanna language. People also talk about a Lanna cuisine. It probably draws on traditions of the many tribes and ethnicities of the highlands, but it boasts dishes known not just across northern Thailand, but around the world.

One of the more famous of these is kaeng pa, or “jungle curry” as it is usually called in the West. Thai cooking in general relies heavily on pastes made from spices and herbs; Lanna cooking relies especially on pastes made with lots of chilies—remarkable amounts of chilies. Kaeng pa combines such a paste with water, meat, and vegetables—as well as fresh chilies. The result is amazing. The dominant flavor is a refreshingly sweet herbal flavor paradoxically joining forces with a nearly overpowering spiciness.

I had kaeng pa at ShriPraPhai tonight, and however enjoyable it might have been, it required some endurance of me. The spice made me sweat; it made me cry; I went through several tissues blowing my nose. When the spice had engulfed my senses and more or less blocked out other thoughts, I decided I had got my money’s worth. But really, it is a bit hard on the stomach. It was almost as difficult as eating a plate of fried long chilies at Ema Datsi.

ShriPraPhai is an old restaurant, dating back to the 1990s. It may be the oldest Thai restaurant in Woodside or Jackson Heights. In any case, it is an institution—for many people, the Thai restaurant in New York. And it has grown to fill the part. The restaurant has several dining rooms with dozens of tables, including a large back-yard patio. More importantly, it has a book-sized menu with an admirable selection of dishes (although you will still need to visit some of the areas other Thai restaurants to try some Thai dishes, such as blood soup).

For an appetizer, I had chicken-shrimp dumplings. These had a delicate wrapping, and were sprinkled in crushed peanuts—a southern dish, no doubt. The shrimp inside provided most of the flavor, along with a vinegar-soy sauce mixture on the side. These are difficult not to devour.

Finally, I had tapioca and black beans in sweet coconut milk for dessert. I doubt this can be pinpointed to any region, closely resembling desserts from other parts of Southeast Asia. In any case, it is good—ever so good.

64-13 39th Avenue
Woodside, NY 11377
(718) 899-9599
Thurs-Tues, 11:30 am – 9:30pm
Closed Wednesday

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