Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bamboo Club Thai Spicy Noodles

The first time I ever had Pad Thai was at The Bamboo, famous for its exotic world beat music and fabulous Asian/Caribbean cuisine. The cornerstone of Toronto's funky Queen West scene through the 1980s and 1990s, The Bamboo showcased cutting-edge reggae, funk, R&B, Latin, jazz and soul, and cranked out signature Caribbean, Indonesian and Thai dishes that kept the 'Boo' at the top of virtually every 'best-place-to-eat' list in the city from the day it opened. 

An old black and white photo of the venerable Bamboo Club

It was the hottest place to be. The music was loud and the place was usually packed. The food was new and exciting, and the atmosphere was laid-back with a decidedly Third World feel. It all worked. One of the cool things was that nothing in the club was new. The lime-green wrought-iron front gates came from a wrecking company, the banquette seating was from the Drake Hotel, toilets were bought for $50 from a pinball parlour that was going under and the bar was salvaged from an Irish social club in Buffalo. 

There was another challenge though — the club couldn't have a liquor license unless it served food, so two veteran chefs were brought in — Vera Khan handled the Caribbean fare, while Wandee Young did the Thai cooking. Their cuisine is now legendary. Rumour had it that whenever David Bowie was in town, he had to have the BamBoo's Ka Kai Soup and Thai Spicy Noodles. In fact, anyone who was a fan of the Bamboo can immediately rhyme off their favourite dishes and reminisce about the unforgettable meals served on the tropical outdoor patio or in the funky Treetop Lounge — dishes like Gado Gado, Chicken Satays with Peanut sauce and Thai Cold Spring Rolls.  

The fabulous Bamboo Club cookbook

Thankfully, Vera Khan's and Wandee Young's treasured recipes were published in the 1997 cookbook, The BamBoo Cooks, illustrated by the enormously talented Barbara Klunder, who also designed the Boo's funky logo, menus, posters and story-high murals for the club. Her graphic design defined the look for the club, just as the kitchen defined the flavours, and owners Richard O'Brian and Patti Habib defined the spirit. My special memories are spending hot summer nights with good friends, listening to The Sattalites, the Bamboo's regular nine-piece Reggae band, and enjoying Wandee Young's Thai Spicy Noodles. As Catherine O'Hara said in the cookbook's forward, "It was a great place to eat, dance, flirt and talk meaningfully until last call. It was an oasis, a loveboat, a desert isle, a Caribana float". Sadly the club closed in 2007, and I wish it was still around. There's never been a place like it. It was magic.

Thai Spicy Noodles
Serves 4
Recipe from The Bamboo Cooks Cookbook

1/3 package Thai Rice Noodles
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cake of tofu
1 lb deboned chicken breast, leg or thigh, cut into bite-size pieces
4 cloves garlic
8 black tiger shrimp (21/25), peeled and deveined, tails on
4 eggs
4 tbsp Thai fish sauce
4 tbsp fresh lime juice
4 tbsp tomato purée
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp dried chilies, for medium hot Pad Thai
1/2 cup peanuts, finely chopped
4 handfuls bean sprouts
3 green onions, cut into 1/2-inch diagonal pieces
fresh cilantro, chopped
lemon wedges, cucumber or watermelon slices, optional

Soak the rice noodles in cold water for at least 4 hours or overnight. Take 1/4 cup of the oil and heat in a frying pan until it's hot but not smoking. Fry the tofu for about 2 minutes on each side until golden. Drain on paper towels and let cool down. When it's cool, dice into cubes.

In a medium sized wok, heat the remaining oil until it's very hot. Add the chicken and garlic and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and tofu, and stir for 1 minute.Add the eggs and stir fry constantly until the eggs are cooked. With the wok on high heat, add the drained noodles, and stir fry until they become limp and slightly translucent. Add the fish sauce, lime juice, tomato purée, sugar and chilies, stir frying for 3 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup of peanuts, the bean sprouts and green onions, and mix well for 2 minutes. Serve immediately with fresh cilantro, lemon wedges, cucumber or watermelon slices and garnish with remaining chopped peanuts. Add a few extra chilies for extra zingy Pad Thai!