Pity the poor cilantro hater. Genetically disposed to loathe the pungent herb ubiquitous to Latin and Asian cooking, they find themselves the object of disbelief, mockery, and repeated attempts to recruit them to the legions of cilantro lovers. There are online support groups via Facebook,
communities such as I Hate Cilantro (“The most offensive food known to man”), blog posts (“I just thought somebody had emptied a bottle of Old Spice on my pizza”), and haikus (“Evil leaf from hell/ go back to where you came from/ you are not wanted”). Julia Child claimed she would pick cilantro out of any dish and throw it on the floor.
Femme de Joie has to admit that her first encounter with cilantro was not a pleasant one. Inspired as a teenager by Elena Zelayeta’s cookbook “Elena’s Secrets of Mexican Cooking,” she optimistically planted some and was horrified at the stinky, nasty herb that resulted; she had thought it would be more like parsley. A few years later at the dearly departed Sam Wo’s Restaurant in San Francisco, she encountered some cilantro in a bowl of won ton soup and had to pick it out carefully (she had already encountered the legendary Edsel Ford Fung and did not wish to draw any more attention to herself).
M. de Joie can’t remember when she eventually succumbed to the charms of this lovely herb, but she thinks it must have been a gradual adjustment similar to what Dr. Jay Gottfried of Northwestern University suggests. A life without cilantro would certainly limit one’s ability to enjoy certain cuisines. And that brings us to Thai Hut in Redding. It surely would be hell on earth for someone who hates cilantro but a tiny slice of heaven for everyone else. Situated in the old Wall Street Pizza building, there are perhaps eight tables inside and half a dozen outside in front. Cheerful and helpful waitresses do their best to keep up with the lunchtime crowd – and it does get crowded.
Nam Koaw, fried crispy rice salad, $8.49
This dish goes by half a dozen other names and spellings.Similar to the minced duck lettuce wraps served in Chinese restaurants, this version is so much more complex. A fine mince of crispy rice, preserved pork, coconut flakes, green onions, cilantro, and peanuts, you scoop it onto a lettuce leaf, wrap it up as best you can, and attempt to pop it into your mouth without spilling any; if that fails, just use a fork. This was wildly delicious. Listed as an appetizer, it was enough for lunch.
Lunch specials all come with a salad with a sweet mustardy dressing, light and refreshing.
Curry of your day, $7.99 as lunch special
During an extremely busy lunch hour M. de Joie ordered pork in yellow curry and got chicken instead. Since it had taken 50 minutes to get that, she didn’t feel up to returning it. However, it was not a disappointment: chicken breast strips with assorted strips of vegetables in medium heat yellow curry were all cooked perfectly. The savory sauce was good enough to lick the bowl clean. She was less crazy about the sweet and sour sauce that accompanied the egg roll, as it was overwhelmingly vinegary.
Bean sprouts, Jalapenos, cilantro, basil
Small beef pho, $6.75
It wasn’t that many years ago that pho was an unknown in Redding’s Asian restaurants; fortunately it’s now served in at least half a dozen places. Thai Hut’s version used a lighter beef broth than M. de Joie has tasted elsewhere, and there didn’t seem to be as much beef in the bowl in other places, which is probably a reflection of the bargain price. Plenty of noodles, though, and a generous plate of the standard fresh add-ons helped make up for that.
Chicken wings, $7.49
These were by far the best chicken wings Femme de Joie has ever had in a restaurant: very flavorful, crisp, non-greasy, and a generous serving. They were wonderful eaten as is, though she mixed some incendiary chili-garlic paste into the sweet and sour sauce to pour over, and that was delightful too.
M. de Joie likes Thai Hut very much and will definitely return. The prices are low ($7.99 lunch specials) and the generous servings of well-prepared food have produced a loyal fan base. It can be agonizingly slow at lunchtime, so try to schedule a visit outside of peak hours. Be advised: cilantro is served.
Thai Hut, 1165 Hartnell Avenue, Redding CA 96002. 530-222-8405. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM, Sunday 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Closed Monday. Cash and cards; no checks. Beer and wine. Small parking lot. Vegan and vegetarian options.
Femme de Joie’s first culinary masterpiece was at age 4, when she made the perfect fried bologna sandwich on white bread. Since then she has dined on horse Bourguignon in France, stir-fried eel in London, and mystery meat in her college cafeteria, but firmly draws the line at eating rattlesnake, peppermint and Hamburger Helper. She lives in Shasta County at her country estate, Butterscotch Acres West. She is nearly always hungry. Visit MenuPlease for more or send her an email at email@example.com.
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