Sometime in the 8th century, a new spice began appearing in markets around Europe, an aromatic root related to ginger. Valued both for its flavor and aroma and for its medicinal properties, it had been brought to Europe by Arab traders. It came to be known in Middle English as galingale, from the Arabic kalanjan. This in turn may have been a corruption of the Chinese gāoliánjīn (ginger from Guandong). Galingale must have been popular; it has been found on the shopping lists of monks for their trips to Cambrai.
Galangal, as it is known today, is probably native to Java, and is used most heavily in Indonesia and Thailand. Thailand has undergone several waves of immigration since monks first bought galangal in Cambrais, so it is likely that the uses of galangal there have varied over that time. It is used heavily in Thai cooking today, and it’s the ingredient that gives Thai curry its special aroma and taste—sweet and floral.
The galangal adds a wonderful note to the kang som sour curry at Ayada in Elmhurst. But the galangal is not as dominant in this dish though as it is in much of the Thai food that you can buy in the United States. Most Thai food in the US is relatively mild, which has the effect of showcasing the delicate spices like galangal. But Ayada’s kang som sour curry is fiery hot and bracingly sour, a storm of flavors that bewilders the tongue.
Wat Buddha Thai Thavornvanaram, a Thai Buddhist temple a few blocks from Ayada
Kang som sour curry is a soup. The major solid component is a broccoli omelet that has been cut into cubes and dunked in the broth. The soup also contains jumbo shrimp. It has a complex bouquet, consisting partly of galangal’s perfume and the Thai sweet and sour sauce, but also of something else—something funky. I began to suspect that lurking somewhere in this soup was some unadvertised shrimp paste.
Ayada is popular, and many of the diners when I went were young people having drinks and having animated conversations. The walls are decorated with old photographs, possibly of the Thai royal family, but they are treated as elements of the interior design, not attempts to recreate Thai culture. The TV by the door was tuned to America’s Top Chef.
To complement the food, I ordered a lychee sangria. This is quite a good summer drink.
7708 Woodside Ave
Elmhurst, NY 11373
11:30 am – 11:00 pm, every day