Portland, ME: Boda's Miang Kum Som-oh, 'Leaf-wrapped Tidbits'
I eat a lot of Thai food, but usually it's the same few dishes on repeat from the same awesome dives near my apartment. That's partially because I'm a creature of habit, but mostly because, around here, the options are more or less the same from one restaurant to the next. The noodles. The curries. The "interesting pan-fried dishes." I love—and frequently crave—a lot of that stuff, but can't deny that a little variety to the menu would be great.
Enter Boda. This place isn't exactly my local Thai take-out joint*. It's two hours north of Boston in Portland, Maine—a city that's easily become one of the most serious food destinations in the country. It's also not a dive, which, if your stereotyped expectations are anything like mine, makes you question the quality of the food before you've even read the menu. But the menu is anything but stereotypical.
The most popular appetizer (and perhaps the most impressive dish on the menu) is Miang Kum Som-oh ($5). Translations vary, but they all suggest basically the same meaning: "leaf-wrapped tidbits," "food wrapped in leaves," "many things eaten in one bite," etc. From what I've read and been told, this is an iteration of a popular street food snack in Thailand and Laos, where various bold-flavored and -textured ingredients are chopped up, spooned into betel or spinach leaves, and lightly sauced with a palm sugar-based dressing. This particular version of miang is pretty classic: bite-size chunks of skin-on pumello (a southeast Asian citrus fruit), fresh ginger, shrimp, shallots, lime, and peanuts and shredded coconut—both toasted until very dark—mounded in betel leaves.
The idea, our server explained, is to suck down the whole thing at once, which I guess is why they serve each leaf cupped in a porcelain spoon; the wide, deep bowl helps harness all those contrasting flavors and textures into the same bite. She also explained—and I later read in famed Thai food expert David Thompson's book, Thai Food—that smooth, shiny betel leaves are a popular stimulant in Southeast Asia; in fact, they're commonly chewed and are known for staining teeth. Rest assured, though, this dish is dentist-approved; you have to chew a lot of them for the discoloration to set in.
* Boda is nobody's take-out joint, because they don't offer take-out. Part of me finds this frustrating; I often want food from Boda, but don't always have time to do the sit-down thing. But I also understand, respect, and agree with the explanation they offer on the website's FAQ page: "We want everyone to enjoy our food fresh and prepared correctly on the plate. It is designed to be eaten straight away with much care put into its preparation."
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Associate Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Top 5 foods: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.