Where to Boon Noon in East Arlington.
Why For lovingly prepared Thai food, plus crispy anchovies, tapioca coconut cookies, and bags of black garlic from Boon Noon’s marketplace. Many of their products are imported from Phetchaburi, “the most well-known region for desserts and pure palm sugar,” says owner Nutthachai “Jeep” Chaojaroenpong, who calls Boon Noon a “grocerant.”
The backstory Chaojaroenpong comes from Pak Chong, part of Thailand’s Nakhon Ratchasima province. He studied for a time at Johnson & Wales. He earned a graduate degree in marketing from Boston College and lent his knack for recipe development and business planning to restaurants such as DakZen in Davis Square and The Nu Do Society in Central Square.
This is a more casual affair, close to his Arlington home. He runs the small, seatless storefront with his wife, Phatcharawin “Patchar” Watthanagithiphat, as well as Sawitree “Aoi” Suksakul and Pilaiphon Wongpunth. They longed for an authentic taste of home, eschewing sugary, Americanized Thai. The focus is on kub kao: “food served with rice that you eat with family,” he explains.
What to eat You heard it here first: “The secret is that there is quite many restaurants in and around Boston area buy Khao Soi paste from us,” Chaojaroenpong says. And so that deeply fragrant, coconut-scented curry noodle soup is a staple here, fired up with house-made toasted chili.
He also recommended the spicy satay noodles — draped with peanut sauce, chili oil, scallion, cilantro. I ordered it veggie-style, with fresh, healthy chunks of carrot and broccoli. When I ask him why the flavor is so deep and mellow, he doesn’t hold back.
“I question why peanut sauce here is so pale and doesn’t have much flavor. In Thailand, the peanut sauce is much darker. The cooking process makes coconut milk break down to oil, but many people here are afraid of oil on the top of the food. But coconut milk is a healthy fat, like olive oil,” he says. “And we don’t hold back on the spices: galangal, scallion, lemongrass. And the thing that boosts the flavor is the chili oil we make in-house.”
There are also offbeat menu finds, like the absolutely magical lox Rangoons, made with salmon, real cream cheese, and dill — it’s as though the very essence of Sunday brunch has been captured in a little crispy pouch. The other big hit are shrimp cakes folded into a donut shape, battered and served with a creamy lemon and sweet chili sauce. Soon he’ll add desserts, such as Sweet Potato with Salted Palm Sugar Caramel, and coconut cream. Nothing on the menu is over $15.
While you wait, browse the market. It has a charming homeyness, like popping into someone’s pantry: a plastic container of baked clams here; imported red lime paste there; a bag or two of black garlic. (“Good for diabetes control,” Chaojaroenpong tells me as I shop.)
Market confections come from Phetchaburi, “the most well-known region for desserts and pure palm sugar, with the help of Patchar’s parents,” he says.
What to drink Creamy Thai iced tea or hibiscus tea, mixed while you wait; sodas; and water.
The takeaway In Thai, Boon means “good karma,” Chaojaroenpong says. This friendly little place just over the Cambridge line oozes it.
161 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, 781-316-0059, www.boonnoonmarket.com
Kara Baskin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.