So you think you know your Thai curries? Yellow. Check. Red. Ate that. Green. Totally. How about black curry? I didn’t think so. Black curry is a dish that’s plentiful in the Phetchabun province of Northern Thailand, an area where Isaan and Laotian cuisine mingle like converging rivers. Black curry isn’t your usual curry blended with coconut milk. Nope, this stuff is watery like broth—It’s dark, murky, and really spicy.
Black curry gets its name because of the deep pigmentation of the broth which comes from a mixture of acacia seeds, mushrooms, shrimp paste, and tiny fermented fish. The fiery flavors are formidable thanks to dried red peppers and freshly ground chili powder. The extreme spiciness and wateriness of the curry is similar to Thai jungle curry.
I’ve only first learned of black curry at Knock Out Thai Noodles + Rice in Van Nuys, situated in a unremarkable strip mall not far from the Van Nuys airport. Only open for two months, Knock Out Thai is partly run by a chef named Sakris Chaiwattananon. He used to train Thai boxers back in his homeland, ergo the name of the restaurant. Previously, chef Sakris cooked at the popular Hoy Ka Noodles in Hollywood. When I asked Sakris why he put the unknown and challenging curry dish on the menu, he responded, “Because nobody else makes it.” His answer is indicative of his pugilistic background—he loves challenges.
Black curry is a challenge to eat too. You must like it hot. Even at medium spicy, the heat level is extreme—like Jitlada extreme. The broth is herby, almost medicinal. Thick stalks of bamboo shoots lend a profound pungency to the curry. A choice of shrimp or sole completes the curry. Rice is a must when downing black curry. Sticky rice is traditional and recommended.
I suggest you get a taste of this black curry before everyone else does. Who knows. Next month it might be purple curry that steals the show.
Knock Out Thai Noodles + Rice, 16449 Vanowen St., Van Nuys, 818-787-6083