Thai people live on street food cooked over little charcoal braziers on the sidewalk with the flames fanned with palm fronds. Cake Thai Kitchen opened recently on Biscayne Boulevard just north of 79th Street and serves up renditions of Bangkok street food in a small, take-out place with a few tables for those who want to eat there.
It is not fancy, just as Thai street carts are bare-bones, but the flavors are authentic, laced with the heady aromas of pungent fish sauce, lemongrass, palm sugar and coconut milk.
Phuket “Cake” Thongsodchareondee was nicknamed for his mother’s favorite craving while she was pregnant with him, although he is officially named after a resort island in southern Thailand. He was studying hospitality in Perth, Australia, when the tsunami hit Phuket, and he returned to find his mother, May Mazza, and they left Thailand and came to Miami in 2007.
Thongsodchareondee worked at various restaurants, including Makoto in Bal Harbour. One day he was walking along Biscayne Boulevard, and he saw a Chinese take-out place was for rent and decided to strike out on his own with the help of his mother, who runs the register and helps fill orders. She also makes desserts, like duck egg custard with sticky rice flavored with toasted peanuts and pandan leaf that adds a grassy butterscotch flavor, and Thai mochi made with mung beans, palm sugar and coconut milk.
Start with fragrant tom kha gai (coconut milk soup with chicken) laced with galangal (spicy ginger), lemongrass, mushrooms and lime. Be sure to add pickled green chiles and red chile flakes from the condiment containers.
There’s also mixed seafood soup with shrimp, squid, mussels and grouper seasoned with Thai basil, kaffir lime leaf and roasted chiles. Other dishes to try are crispy duck in red curry with coconut milk, bamboo, basil and pineapple chunks and tiger prawns in garlic sauce with black pepper and cilantro.
It is not on the menu but ask for hoi tod, a kind of plate-size rice flour and mussel pancake served with chile sauce and bean sprouts.
There’s also lavender Asian eggplant wok-fried with tofu puffs and bell peppers and lots of basil; Penang pork belly with peppers and lime leaf; and Southern-style fried beef with turmeric, pepper, lemongrass and lime. Vegetarians can try the cabbage, gai lan (Chinese broccoli) and daikon radish stew or crispy tofu in basil sauce with corn and mushrooms.
Be sure to get sides of sticky rice with green papaya salad dressed in fish sauce with sugar, lime juice, garlic, and tiny dried shrimp with cherry tomatoes, green bean bits and crushed peanuts, a perfect example of Thai sweet, sour and salty flavors all in one bite with a bit of crunch.
Linda Bladholm is a Miami-based food writer.