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There are few food opinions I trust more than that of my oldest friend in the world and I Ate Oklahoma’s official noodle nerd, Becky Carman.
A bit of inside baseball: when I asked Becky to write for the site, I pretty much told her she could pick whatever cuisine she wanted. Briefly that was going to be potato chips, but she quickly redirected to noodles and we are all the better for it.
Ms. Carman also knows Norman infinitely more intimately than I do, so when I was heading down for dinner a few weeks ago, I asked her advice on where I should eat. Her reply was nearly instantaneous: Thai Kum Koon.
The metro area has a lot of Thai restaurants and, by and large, they’re great. I’m eagerly awaiting the day my kids’ palates evolve beyond the anything-but-ranch-flavor-is-”too spicy” stage so they can enjoy it with me.
Not that I have a whole lot of room to talk when it comes to Thai food. Like a lot of middle-aged dudes, I tend toward the basics—massaman curry, pad thai, pad see ew, Thai fried rice—because they are comforting to me.
But, seized by the spirit of Becky Carman (it’s one of her powers), I decided that at Thai Kum Koon I was going to try something new and different. And while I didn’t get the pickled pork soup—definitely next time—I did get some dishes I’d never even heard of before.
The result: pure joy.
While the food at Thai Kum Koon is fabulous, as you’ll read soon, the look of the restaurant is pretty dull. It’s in the corner of a strip mall and inside, there’s a big buffet that’s full at lunch and just kind of there at dinner.
Whatever charm it lacks in decor, it more than makes up for in service. Particularly when one waitress asked me if I was sure when I ordered the Five Spice Pork ($9.50). Others had ordered it and complained because it was made with pork belly, whereas I was thrilled to hear it.
Pork belly is, you know, the stuff that becomes bacon. But if it’s not cured and smoked and sliced into delicious strips, there’s still a lot you can do with it. Part of what makes bacon great is also what gave this server pause—big ol’ pieces of fat.
Granted, I’m not one for a bunch of flabby fat hanging off my food (hanging off my skeleton, clearly, is another matter entirely), but after tasting this dish, I can’t imagine who would have complained.
It’s a simple dish, but also simply wonderful. The pork belly is not hot-spicy, but delicious-spicy, with a warm sweetness that perfectly pairs with the fatty cut. And while the meat was as tender as a butterfly kiss, I was even more taken with the texture of the fat, which was almost custardy in its consistency. Not chewy, not slimy, not off-putting in any way. It melted as you chew it, flooding your palate with sweet and savory happiness. Except, you know, over steamed rice.
But that wasn’t the first thing I ordered. On my initial visit, I got something called Mee Krob ($5.50) and I was immediately out of my depth.
Mee Krob is a dish of crispy noodles, piled in a half-sphere with bits of pork inside and sweet-and-sour sauce drizzled outside. I honestly wasn’t even sure how to attack it, but I did what my years of training told me to do: stab it with a fork and put whatever comes off in my mouth.
Would you believe it was delicious? Crunchy and sticky and kind of like candy, but with pork, which is how I hope to be described someday. Granted, there was a lot there and it’s definitely better for sharing with a small group, but I’ll happily munch on it with friends on my next visit.
Another excellent starter is the larb “salad” ($7.95). Sorry for putting salad in quotes, as I know that draws more attention to it and that makes many of you nervous.
“Greg is...recommending a salad? Is this a cry for help? Is this one of those things where he’s being held hostage and ‘salad’ is a clue we should call the cops?”
Well, usually yes, but in this case, it’s because the “salad” is mostly chopped, poached pork with a spicy-sour dressing, red onions, and mint and cilantro leaves. Any salad that is mostly meat is my kind of salad and this one was especially good. The tartness of the lime juice in the dressing played nicely off the savory pork and the sharpness of the raw red onion. My breath was probably a travesty afterward, but it was worth the price of admission.
Next up: Hong Kong noodles with pork ($9.95).
Hong Kong noodles are crispy pan-fried noodles served with bok choy, carrots, and other veggies, your choice of meat (I chose pork, because…), and a deluge of savory brown sauce. The vegetables are stir-fried to a tender crisp and the noodles are slowly soaked up the sauce, so you get this crunchy, chewy bit attached to loose, slurpable noodle goodness. It’s a dish with a fairly straightforward, enjoyable flavor that also plays around with textures.
Much like the five-spice pork, Hong Kong noodles might not be for everyone, but they’re certainly for me. And since you’re reading this instead of doing any of the billion other activities you could be doing, I’d guess they’re probably for you, as well.
Brown sauce doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, I suppose, but it’s not quite thick enough to be called a gravy in my book. Whatever it is, I would like to order a steaming hot mug of it and stand outside, perhaps on a pier, sipping it while I watch the sunset. Weird? Maybe. But no weirder than any of the other stuff I make you read.
On my next visit, with Becky boycotting because she “wasn’t in Oklahoma at the time,” my best gal ordered flat noodles with pork ($8.50) and she did it again. She out-ordered me. It’s the bane of my existence, but also I need her, because otherwise you all would be missing out on even better food recommendations.
Flat noodles are pretty close to my beloved pad see ew, but with more vegetables, and a slightly more savory sauce that paired well with the slices of pork.
I ate quite a bit of it at Thai Kum Koon, but there were still leftovers and I 100 percent ate them all later that night when I got peckish. A belly full of hot noodles, sliced pork, and decadent sauce? It was like popping an Ambien and washing it down with Nyquil, because I was OUT shortly thereafter.
Becky was right, as she so often is. Thai Kum Koon is a delight and, if you’re lucky enough to be hungry in Norman, it’s worth your time and attention. And while you’re there, be a little more adventurous—I bet you’ll find a new dish to add to your go-to favorites.
The Oklahoma Pork Council represents the interests all of pork producers throughout the state, promoting pork and pork products, funding research and educating consumers and producers about the pork industry. Learn more about the OPC, find recipes and more at OKPork.org.