Monday, May 20, 2024

The chicken kapow at Prik Nam Pla in Somerville’s Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The folks at Prik Nam Pla clearly like to play with words and letters. The curious title of the Davis Square eatery may catch some uninformed Western eyes, but it’s an umami Thai table condiment that is essentially chili flakes, salt and fish oil. The restaurant adds it to most everything it serves. And what does it serve? Basic Thai street food – rice bowls, which nestle in with the area’s other really good examples of the cuisine, with Yummy Thai out on Massachusetts Avenue being all about pad thai and pad see ew noodle dishes, while the mainstays at Dakzen just down the way on Elm Street are spicy noodle soups. And talk about spicy – we’re talking new levels of just what four chilis mean.

Prik Nam Pla set up shop late last year in a storefront on College Avenue that had been Kor Tor Mor, another Thai restaurant. It’s a small, spartan place with two tables and a tight-sitting bar to nosh at, dominated by a mural of a vehicle driving down a street in Thailand.

The “kapow” at Prik Nam Pla is what’s more commonly called krapow, a Thai rice bowl with wok-sautéed vegetables, basil, a protein and a healthy dose of the house-featured spicy sauce. “Krapow” in Thai means “basil,” and “pad” means “holy,” and sometimes you see it as pad krapow or “holy basil,” but I digress. For me, krapow means ground chicken, though you can get your krapow with tofu or shrimp. I stayed my course and was happy, but boy was this hot, deliciously hot, working well with the plump, slightly sticky rice. The peppers, green beans, basil and juicy ground chicken soaked up the sauce, as did the rice – but at least the rice helped deal with the heat. The other offset was my glass of water, and if I had one critique of Prik Nam Pla, it’s that the water glasses are like six ounces; I had to keep flagging a friendly and ever-ready waitperson for refill after refill.

Prik Nam Pla’s mural and small eat-in bar. (Photo: Tom Meek)

You can’t plow your way through this spiciness; it’ll give you a well-earned bead on your brow. I’m sure you can ask them to dial it down or crank it up, but the flavors and the piquant sting I experienced felt right and righteous. For point of reference, I’d put myself at a 6 or a 7 on a heat scale going up to 10.

Other rice bowls you can get are teriyaki, panang curry, and garlic and basil fried rices; there are stir-fried noodle dishes to have as well. On the appetizer menu is a requisite tom yum soup (spicy tomato broth that educes a pleasurable pucker) and golden bags, crispy egg sheets filled with minced chicken and sweet corn. Prik Nam Pla is a great fast nosh and perfect for family or party takeout. During my meal, there was a teeming rack of to-go bags. The woman who kept refilling my water had to deal with a third-party delivery driver complaining that the food wasn’t ready when they came in the door (it took like two to five minutes to come up), and all she did was smile when he barked, a perfect response that made me smile as I ate my kapow of krapow. 

Prik Nam Pla (24 College Ave., Davis Square, Somerville)

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.