nán tòk neûa in Elmhurst

Dek Sen has a charmingly illustrated menu, a Web-friendly logo, and an interior reminiscent of a high-end gelato shop. Frosted glass globes hanging from the ceiling illuminate the room, and neatly rusticated, slate-colored walls give the room a cool tone. They are attentive to appearance. (Oddly, this fastidiousness has not led them to take down the yellow awning with faded Buddha eyes and the words “Himalaya Kitchen” from the front; perhaps it is too charming to dismantle.)

But a gelato shop it is not. An older couple speaking Thai and eating a complicated soup sat by the door when I went in. A TV hanging from the ceiling was tuned to Workpoint TV, a Thai channel—and a talent show featuring the Durian Mask, a singer in a costume that looked like it belonged in MoMA, was on at the time. You can see a little of an episode of this show below:

Dek Sen is known for its desserts, and I went there with an ice cream dish in mind. But before ice cream came a blood dish. Nám tòk in Central Thailand is soup prepared with raw blood from pigs or cows. It usually contains a variety of solid foods: noodles, dumplings, meat, and vegetables. I ordered nán tòk neûa. This is a spicy soup with, of course, blood broth, but also dumplings, bean sprouts, boiled beef, chilies, and noodles of your choice (I had flat, pulled noodles). It has some of the savory spiciness of many Indonesian dishes. The dumplings take up the flavor especially nicely; they are delicious. The broth is spicy and savory, but it is also a bit a little pungent.

After bringing me fully six different condiments to complement my soup (including various kinds of chilies and, of course, shrimp paste—Thailand being as enamored of the stuff as the Philippines and Indonesia are), my waitress patiently helped me approach a correct pronunciation of nán tòk neûa (a song of a name). Thai has a complicated tonal pattern, and the name of this soup sounds like a question, answer, and exclamation. About half of the customers at Dek Sen spoke Thai, with each other and with the staff, so I had ample opportunity to listen. It does not belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family, or to the Austronesian language family—Thai belongs to the Tai-Kadai language family which, at roughly 85 million speakers of all the languages combined, is much less prevalent than the Sino-Tibetan and Austronesian groups.

For dessert, I ordered fried banana ice cream. This was really fried bananas and ice cream, but I won’t complain. The fried bananas were very tasty—wrapped in some kind of crepe with honey drizzled over them. There were also fresh bananas with chocolate, and (I think) Thai tea ice cream. Very good.

I tried another phrase on the patient waitress before leaving: kòb kun, which I hoped meant thank you.

“Kòb kun krub,” she corrected me. “You are a man, so you have to add krub.”

Excellent food and a little language instruction besides.

Dek Sen
8608 Whitney Ave
Elmhurst, NY 11373
11am-11pm, every day

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