New York City’s {Thai} Emporium: Bangkok Center Grocery

BGSK's Pad See Ew

I started Big Girls, Small Kitchen because I love to cook at home–obviously. But when I’m inspired by the cuisine of a far-flung place, sometimes it’s hard to find the right ingredients to follow even a simple recipe, and the only option is to go out. To equip ourselves to cook any cuisine in the confines of our small kitchens, we’re sending contributor Lauren Rothman off to visit the Russian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, Greek, and Italian supermarkets of New York City. Her shopping expeditions will yield the specialty ingredients we need in order to make the food we’re craving at home these days.

Today, Lauren’s off to Bangkok Center Grocery, a Thai emporium in New York City, located in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Will the store have everything she needs for pad see ew and som tum?

Here’s Lauren:

As an avid home cook and an enthusiastic eater of New York City’s myriad cuisines, my appreciation of southeast Asian dishes goes way back—all the way to middle school, when some like-minded friends and I (read: total geeks) formed an “ethnic” cooking club. As de facto president, it was my responsibility, each month, to comb through my mother’s extensive selection of cookbooks and select the 4 or 5 recipes that club members and I would prepare together before sitting down to feast. Ostensibly, any type of fare could be eligible for the “ethnic” moniker, but over and over again, I found myself drawn to fragrant Indian rice pilafs; bright, cilantro-and-mint-stuffed Vietnamese summer rolls; and, above all, fiery, fish sauce-heavy Thai curries and noodles. More often than not, the cooking club sat down to a meal redolent of galangal, palm sugar and Thai basil.

Part of the fun of preparing for these monthly feasts was the excuse, as an intrepid young subway rider, to hop a train to parts of the city previously unknown to a brownstone Brooklyn native, in order to seek out those exotic ingredients. That’s how, all those years ago, I first discovered what remains my favorite Manhattan source for Thai ingredients: Bangkok Center Grocery. A tiny, supremely well-stocked store located on Chinatown’s Mosco Street, Bangkok Center crams all the essentials of larger southeast Asian groceries onto its well-curated shelves, from fish sauce and dried shrimp to fresh herbs and bitter melon.

So last week, when I found myself craving some homemade Thai food, I put together my grocery list and headed to Bangkok Center. I wanted to make two fairly simple yet representative dishes; I settled on som tum, Thailand’s famous, lime-heavy green papaya salad; and pad see ew, thick, chewy rice noodles dressed with sticky dark soy sauce. For the green papaya salad, I’d need, in addition to its namesake ingredient, long beans; palm sugar; fish sauce; dried shrimp and red chiles; for the pad see ew, I’d need flat fresh rice noodles; dark soy sauce and Chinese broccoli.

Arriving at the small storefront on Mosco Street, I immediately located the fish sauce and soy sauce I’d need among Bangkok Center’s extensive collection of bottled and jarred sauces. From a nearby shelf, I picked up a small package of palm sugar. Heading to the refrigerated section, I grabbed a green papaya as well as the red chiles and a bag of dried shrimp. Unfortunately, the store didn’t have any fresh rice noodles in stock, so I opted for a bag of wide, square-shaped dried rice noodles for my pad see ew instead. And what about the fresh produce? I didn’t locate either the Chinese broccoli or the long beans I needed for my meal, but luckily, being in Chinatown, any of the well-stocked vegetable stands on the nearby streets could provide those in a flash. Out of a grocery list of nine items, Bangkok Center had six, with the dried rice noodles making a fine substitute for the fresh ones I originally sought—not bad. And for a modest $22.50, the seven items I purchased were a relative bargain.

Back at home, I unpacked my southeast Asian ingredients and considered who I’d invite to dinner in the absence of the long-dissolved cooking club. I may be a decade or two older, but most of my friends are still food obsessives—putting together a guest list would be easy.

The Emporium
Bankok Center Grocery
104 Mosco Street, New York, NY10013-4321

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