Elspeth Velten falls in love with Zabb Elee – an authentic Isaan Thai restaurant in the East Village of New York City.
By Elspeth Velten
Zabb Elee is an authentic Isaan Thai restaurant in the East Village of New York City. The Isaan region of Thailand is in the northeast and borders Laos, and although I did not visit this region while traveling Thailand, I am familiar with some of the flavors from my time in Laos. Almost everything at Zabb Elee is super spicy, and you won’t find your typical pad thai or curries on the menu.
We wanted to start with som tum (above,) which I had read was one of the best dishes here. We went with the Som Tum Muazuar. The shredded papaya salad was supplemented with rice noodles, pork, shrimp, tomatoes, pork rinds, and garlic and drowned in lime and fish sauce. It was sweet and refreshing and lip-numbingly spicy. So good. The portion was huge and we kept returning to it throughout our meal for a sweet break from even more heat that was to come.
A friend ordered the Pad Ped Moo Korb — Crispy pork, thai eggplant, pepper, basil, wild ginger and spicy curry. He ordered it with medium heat and it was like bliss on a plate. The fatty pork had a thin crispy layer lining the sweet and juicy meat. The eggplants were sliced thinly and cooked only briefly to retain a raw consistency. The dish was sweet and salty and even hotter than the papaya salad. All of the veg seemed very fresh and there were little stalks of green peppercorns strewn throughout.
We shared one Tub Hua Jai Kuen skewer of chicken heart, liver and gizzard. The small heart was plump and juicy and the liver tender and soft. This was my first gizzard experience and I didn’t really love the fatty consistency.