Thai Grocery Shopping in Queens with Pok Pok Chef Andy Ricker

Slideshow SLIDESHOW: Thai Grocery Shopping in Queens with Pok Pok Chef Andy Ricker

[Photographs: Max Falkowitz]

Popping out of the 74th Street-Broadway station in Jackson Heights, chef Andy Ricker of Pok Pok was ready to take us on a Thai market tour around the neighborhood, except our first stop wasn't actually a Thai market. It was a Patel Brothers, the grocery chain specializing in Indian imports.

"This is where I can find my white turmeric," Ricker said as we strolled in, heading straight to the produce section. He picked up a few of the pale knobby rhizomes. "The white is much harder to find than the yellow turmeric." Ricker likes the parsnip-y flavor it adds to Pok Pok's herbal salad.

Frozen coconut milk

Pok Pok has blown us away—both the one in Brooklyn and the original location out in Portland—in large part because of all the herbs, sauces, spices, and other Thai ingredients that Ricker obtains, many of which you don't see used at almost any other Thai restaurant in America. (Because they are such a pain, or just plain impossible, to find.) Since Ricker has a tough time locating all the Thai ingredients he needs via the normal restaurant wholesale channels, he has spent time exploring many of the small, wayward markets around the city and country—and there's a few wonderful shops in Queens—where he can find them. It's either that, or just smuggle them back in his suitcase.

We traipsed up and down the aisles with Ricker at Patel Brothers, followed by Inthira Thai Market (across from SriPraPhai) and Thai Grocery (across from Ayada, where we ended up having lunch) as he pointed out the products he likes (frozen coconut milk) and those he really doesn't care for (canned curry pastes; "don't ever buy them, please."). The produce section was always a fun stop: big, bulbous green papayas (the vegetable-like base for som tam salad) next to spiky jackfruit (used in curries) and mangoes of all sizes (hello mango season!).

This list doesn't include every single ingredient you'll need for Thai cooking. These are just some essentials that Ricker pointed out, as well as some slightly more obscure items that he unearthed from the shelves. It didn't hurt that he could speak to all the shopkeepers in Thai.

Basic Ingredients

Tamarind Paste

Other Interesting Finds

Dawk Ngiew

We recommend calling ahead to see if some of the less common specialty ingredients are in stock before you go.

Bonus Cat Photo

And now for a kitty interlude...

Ricker nuzzling Mimi, the cat mascot at Inthira Thai Market.

Where We Shopped

Thai Grocery: 76-13 Woodside Avenue, Elmhurst, NY 11373 (map); 917-769-6168; Thai Grocery on Facebook
Inthira Thai Market: 64-04 39th Avenue, Woodside, NY 11377 (map); 718-606-2523; inthirathaimarket.com
Patel Brothers: 37-27 74th Street, Jackson Heights, NY 11372 (map); 718-898-3445; patelbrothersusa.com

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