I went to the local library and borrowed a couple of Thai cookbooks. I was used to reading Japanese cookbooks with lots of pictures, so I searched for similar ones. Thai Curry, Papaya Salad, Shrimp Salad and Ginger Chicken, most of the things I wanted to make were in the book. It was fun and exciting to look at those pictures and recipes because I could just think of the way to cook. When I read the recipes for Japanese dish, I could imagine how to cook by looking at the ingredients. However, reading Thai cookbook was different. I had no idea how to cook them. Upon looking at the recipes, I immediately came across many ingredients I had never heard of: galanga, kafir lime leaves, Thai basil, fish sauce, cane sugar, lemongrass, sweet soy sauce and Thai eggplant. “What the hell is coconut sugar?” I said to myself. I had never heard of it and no idea such thing existed. Where could I get all these ingredients? For a moment, I felt at a loss. Then suddenly, I remembered something: Thailand Plaza. I remembered my friend Eiji told me about this place, a Thai Grocery Store in Hollywood. He told me about the restaurant and famous Thai Elvis, and that was what I remembered. Thai Elvis. I knew that was the place I could get everything I needed to make Thai Food in the book. Now, all I had to do was go there before I start my shift at Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi.
Thailand Plaza was in East end of Hollywood Blvd. all the way passed from Chinese Theater and end of Walk of Fame. The area was known as Thai Town, six-blocks between Normandie and Western Avenue with apsonsi (a mythical half human, half lion angel) by the entrance. A Thai-American friend of mine once introduced me to a small restaurant called Yai, which was just at the corner of Western Avenue on Hollywood Blvd., right next to 7 Eleven. One of my favorites was Thai Ginger Chicken over rice for mere $4.75, and it was the best Ginger Chicken I ever had. I also loved their Sweet and sour shrimp. The restaurant was nothing fancy, or precisely, you could say it was a hole in the wall, but boy, was their food fantastic!
I was fortunate to have my Thai friend took me there because he ordered many things I would have never ordered: not Pad Thai, not Tom Yum Kung, no fried rice. He ordered Nam Sod, spicy Thai pork salad, Lad Na, wide flat noodle, and Shrimp cake. Everything I had was as close as what I had in Thailand. They even had various Thai dessert, sweet coconut rice, mango with sticky rice and most of which, I had no idea what they were. After my first visit, I was hooked to Yai restaurant. Because there was no “authentic” Thai restaurant on West side of LA, I used to drive all the way from Santa Monica to Hollywood just go visit Yai for their awesome food. Forty-five-minute drive was not a problem at all.
I left home two hours early to go to Thailand Plaza so that I had enough time to shop. In front of the store was a big tall neon sign in faded red and purple that shaped like Thai Temple. Silom Supermarket was on the first floor. Upon entering, I was amazed by how much and what they carried – it looked just like a grocery store in Bangkok. The store was the twice or three times the size of a regular convenience store. Just like a Chinese grocery store, it had a distinctive smell of spices and sauces, which reminded me of my trip to Thailand. I strolled around looking at my list of ingredients, searching for what I need for the evening: Green Thai Curry. Curry paste and coconut milk were easy to find. Fish sauce and coconut sugar were somewhat challenging. I walked around their aisle, carefully looking at the shelf and each product to see what they were. Because I was unfamiliar with most of the products, I was unsure which brand of fish sauce to choose from, which soy sauce was the right “sweet” soy sauce, and so on. Of course, I was unable to read Thai, so most of the items remained mysterious because I never saw them before in my life. Some had English words written on their package, so I could tell (also from their appearance) that, they were curry paste. It was fun to walk around the store, searching for ingredients and learning new products.