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We ate at the Toki pop-up this past weekend.  I don't know who the chef was for the pop-up, it wasn't Mr. Burner-Yang, but he had a hilarious sense of humor, we really liked him.  Almost walking into Union Market you could smell the goodness of the noodle soup happening back there, and as we got closer, the addictive smell perfumed the air and changed our somewhat hungry notions into a desire to consume food immediately.  We had no idea what was being served, people just were walking up and walking away with stuff.  Asking a few people in front of us they said noodle soup and Chinese buns, sounded fine to us.  We asked what was in the soup- lemongrass, chilies, tilapia, poached egg, etc.  Sounded good.  We managed to grab seats right at the two tables and watched the chef making little bowls of steeping goodness.  The buns were doughy and fresh filled with a spiced barbecue filling that was a delicious mix of meat spices and just a little veg.  It had just enough spice to set off the sweetness of the sauce, it was wonderful.

Then came the soup.  As soon as it arrived I could smell how spicy it is.  At this point I should note, I love spicy food.  I cannot say exactly how or why this came about, but I really enjoy it.  My companions had varying degrees of spice acceptability.  My SIL probably draws the line at mildly spicy "thai" food from her local takeout I would put her at 1 pepper on the menu acceptability.  My other companion I would put at a two pepper.  I don't think either was prepared.  Of course it was only after we sat down that we heard it was a Spicy Laotian Fish Curry (I knew what this meant, but at this point we were sitting down and I knew I would be fine and they didn't seem to want to back down, so who was I to intervene...).  I had a couple sips of the broth, to which I coughed.  But oh it was good, it was spicy, but you could still taste all the flavors of the soup, it wasn't palate killing spice.  A few more bites and I had a progression of sneezes, but then my sinuses opened up and I digged in.  I loved the thin noodles in the soup, they made it fairly easy to eat.  The poached egg and lime eased some of the heat and gave this rich and almost unctious feeling to the dish.  The fish was firm, but soft to the spoon, not overcooked.  The cabbage was crunchy, but got softer as the dish cooked. The peanuts were a delightful crunch and added texture to the dish.  This dish had it all.  Spice and acid, a bit of sour, richness, crunch, it was good.  We downed at least three carafes of water on the table eating it, not that it was spicy, we just were really thirsty, yep that was it.  We lamented how greedily we had eaten our buns pre-soup.  I ate all my filing and maybe had a little broth left.  My companions tried to make the best dent they could.  My poor Sister In Law, the bravery she exerted in the face of sheer terror was astounding.  I hope I can ever get her to eat an Asian noodle soup again, it won't be able to be spicy, that's for sure.  I loved every moment of it.  It was a real experience.  Sitting there with friends, having interesting cuisines cooked right in front of you, laughing when any of us breathed in too much heat pre-bite.  Watching other people it was a real show.  As we left the chef laughed telling us it was $2 for soup, $13 for water.  This was a really great meal.  I haven't been to the real Toki, but it makes me want to go.  This is not the type of soup you think, man I want this tomorrow.  I don't even know if I could face it again tomorrow, but next week, I would maybe give it another go.

There are a few excellent spots to eat in Union Market, but one of us usually ends up with a bowl of soup from James at the Maketto pop-up whenever we stop by on the weekend. Some time ago, we also had the Laotian fish curry, and while delicious, it was incredibly spicy. James is indeed as nice as they come, and every soup he produces is exceptional. Last weekend, it was "Cambodian Pho"; not spicy, but it was perfect in every way.

We're also big fans of Toki, and my favorite is the Kimchi ramen, which when compared to the Lao fish curry, is not nearly as spicy. (Getting hungry as I type this...)

Stop by Honeycomb, their small asian goods store in UM. They make many of the products themselves, and there is always something new and creative, including pickled vegetables and kombucha.

I'm looking forward to checking out Maketto when it opens. Word has it that it should be open in a matter of weeks.

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The Maketto pop-up, discussed five years ago, is long gone.  (James Wozniuk now has his own Malaysian joint at Makan/Thirsty Crow.)  District Fishwife has been my go-to for a while (I'm partial to the Donburi bowls).  (Alas, Onwuachi's cheesesteak place is no more.)

The choices at Union Market have recently improved dramatically, however, with the additions of outposts of Fava Pot, Indigo, and Lucky Buns, as well as Alex McCoy's Thai street food counter, Som Tam, and a new location of Laoban, a dumpling place with other locations (I haven't been) that recently brought onboard Tim Ma as "culinary director."  

Of these, I've only tried Indigo and Som Tam, both of which were very good.

Like everything else at Union Market, these aren't cheap lunches--everything is at least a dollar or two more than it should be (and would be in many other, lower-rent spots).  But at least now when I'm over there buying seafood from District Fishwife, I've got plenty of options for lunch, in addition to D.F itself.

 

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