In Earl Ninsom’s new grocery and eatery, Thai cooking novices need not fear the dozens of fermented fish sauce options, crates of pig kidney, or heaps of vacuum-sealed bags of cuttlefish. At Tarad (“market” in Thai, pronounced tahlad), Ninsom boldly plunges into the city’s ocean of Southeast Asian comestibles, translating the most intimidating of ingredients into everyday culinary resources. In other words, he’s made the hard decisions for you.
This new shop-and-eat venture on SE Morrison Street and Sixth Avenue is a fresh direction for Ninsom—a departure from his three Portland restaurants (Thai Cottage, Mee-Sen, and PaaDee), now in the hands of other members of his family of Bangkok expats. Ninsom and his partners stock their cozy, 500-square-foot wooden shack every morning with satchels of cilantro root from Gathering Together Farms, alongside coveted brands of shrimp paste and favorite cookbooks, most written in Thai and painstakingly translated onto little inserts. Ninsom’s hope is to teach as well as inspire. At a counter up front, an abbreviated menu of custardy duck egg dumplings, noodle bowls filled with steaming pork broth and meatballs, and thick, spice-laden stews of toothsome pork belly and shoulder helps with the inspiration.
Tarad’s secret weapon is Ning Purnabimba, a chef whisked away from Chiang Mai, the cultural capital of Thailand. Her traditional spicy chile dip, nahm prik ong, is the place to start: a concentrated, spicy relish of chiles, garlic, and shrimp paste pounded with a mortar and pestle and thickened with ground pork and tomatoes. This is Thai food as it should be: funky and fiery. Stock up at Tarad and re-create it at home to serve with rice and sautéed greens or as a simple appetizer, scooped up with raw veggies or pork rinds.