Street Food Profiles: Nong's Khao Man Gai in Portland, Oregon

Note: It's time for another edition of Street Food Profiles. This week we scoot to Portland, Oregon, a sidewalk cuisine mecca where this one-item menu finds inspiration from Bangkok vendors.


[Photographs: Nong's Khao Man Gai]

Name: Nong's Khao Man Gai (pronounced cow-mon-guy)
Vendor: Narumol "Nong" Poonsukwattana
Location and hours? SW 10th Avenue and Alder Street (map) across the street from Jake's Grill in Portland, Oregon.


What do you sell? Khao Man Gai ($6), or poached chicken served on jasmine rice with cucumber slices and cilantro. And don't forget that little tub of sauce—it's made with fresh ginger, garlic, sugar, fermented soy beans, and chile, and meant to be poured all over the meal. The Piset (pee-set), or "special" in Thai, which includes extra chicken and rice plus a few chicken livers ($10). To wash it all down, there's palm or aloe very juice and iced Vietnamese coffees made with local favorite, Stumptown.

How long have you been street fooding? Four months.

You on Twitter? How has it affected business? Yes (@Nongskhaomangai). I don't know. [Ed. note: Hmm, doesn't seem to be a very active page. Probably because they're not roving.]

Why a mobile business over brick-and-mortar? Because I can afford it and it's really small. Eight feet by eight inches.

Who are your typical customers? A lot of industry folk come by pretty regularly, along with typical 9-to-5ers who work in offices near by. The owner and chef of Clyde Common stops by often since it's only a couple blocks away.

Describe a typical day from start to finish.

  • Start at 7 a.m. Bring the water to the cart (there's no water access, so we have to bring our own). Start boiling water to poach chicken then use the chicken stock to cook the rice and make soup, which is served on the side. It's quite time-consuming.
  • Open for business at 10 a.m. I am always peeling garlic and ginger whenever I have a free second. I don't use pre-peeled garlic or ginger—I believe the flavor is inferior to whole. The peeled garlic and ginger goes into the sauce. One batch of sauce usually lasts about two days.
  • People start coming at 10 a.m., but it gets really busy by noon. We usually sell out at around 2 p.m., at which point the "Closed" sign goes up. I then usually do sauce preparation, whether peeling garlic and ginger, pureeing other ingredients, or portioning.
  • Around 3 or 4 p.m., I take care of all the dirty dishes, garbage, and do a thorough cleaning of the cart. (I can't stand messiness!) I consolidate ingredients, then check my ordering and storage to see if I'm running low on anything—utensils, portion cups, paper, propane, soft drinks, or food.
  • Hopefully, I'm out of the cart by 5 p.m., so I can pick up anything that i need for the next day. I'm usually home by 8 p.m.

What makes your food so special? Because it can't be found anywhere else in the city—well, at least not that I know of. I try very hard to keep it as authentic as possible, using the best ingredients available and never compromising on quality.

How would you define "street food"? Haha, I guess I would define it simply as, food sold on the streets.

The best street food city and why. I really like street food in Bangkok because everyone eats on the street and there is a wide, tasty variety. Every vendor needs to make ends meet, and they all strive to be the best since there is so much competition.

Your comfort food after a long day? It depends. Usually I like to eat a nice bowl of pho.

Advice for an aspiring vendor? Do your homework. Opening a cart is a long and grueling process, and the hard work doesn't end once the cart is open for business.