Late Night Snack at Somtum Der


Spicy papaya salad with roasted duck neck. I know, sounds weird, but it wasn't.

Holiday parties always represent a dilemma for me. There's usually too much booze, too much cheese and too many desserts. When I leave the party it is with a bit of a wobble and a sugary film on my teeth. Last night I attended my first of the holiday season, in a luxury high rise on 66th Street, just north of Lincoln Center. From the 34th floor, the views west to the Hudson, and uptown along Amsterdam Avenue, were incredible. The cheap warm white wine and the cheese were lackluster at best. I followed the party up with a trivia night at a bar in the East Village. The bar had bar food. Mac 'n cheese, short rib Frito pie, Texas queso and chips, the items on the list were like what you get for Christmas if you've been naughty.

At 10 p.m., when I left, it was both cold and I was hungry. I had twelve blocks to walk. Time to consider what I wanted to eat, or whether I could talk myself out of eating at all. These two thoughts vied with the only item I could think of: pizza. But a giant slice of pizza late at night is a terrible idea for me, both for my diabetes and for my diet. So I walked and I clasped my scarf around my face to keep warm and I wondered what I had in my kitchen that I could eat that would make me happy. It wasn't easy. My mind catalogued what I had: rice cakes, carrots, hummus, dark chocolate, kale and nuts. In other words, nothing.

I thought of the pizza. I rejected it again, even though I was sure to walk on the one street that would lead me straight past the two places I like, Two Boots and Stanton Pizza.

I walked. I thought of pizza.

I wanted something savory. And then I remembered. That new place on Avenue A called Somtum Der, recently reviewed by Pete Wells in the NYT. I was going to walk right by it. Spicy papaya salad and sticky rice, could there be a better late night meal?

I waited at the bar for my order, the waiters brought me water, smiled wide and delivered the check. I scrolled through my phone and whiled away the moments between have and have not. I eagerly awaited the spicy, tangy, crunchy perfection that is somtum.

In Thailand is where I first tried it, from the street vendors up and down the roads. "How spicy?" they would ask. A big smile unleashed when I held up three or four fingers, which meant how many peppers I wanted. Later, when I was halfway through my dish, and dying, I would struggle to speak as my eyes teared and my mouth burned like I was drinking directly from a bottle of tabasco. Absolute joy.

The dish was perfect. The sticky rice just right. Sated and content, with my mouth on fire, I poured a glass of almond milk (a good way to cool the heat), and thought of some other ideas of perfect late night eating that you don't have to feel guilty about. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Popcorn drizzled with truffle oil & salt, or with olive oil & Old Bay seasoning, or with Bragg's & olive oil, salt & pepper
  2. A tart apple dipped in almond butter
  3. Pita chips and hummus
  4. Avocado with salt & pepper spread on toast
  5. Rice cake spread with cream cheese

Of course, I'm sure these all sound a bit too healthy. In that case end your little snack with a square of dark chocolate.