Today’s blog is about a single item on a menu. The Fried Rice Ball Salad at Champa Garden in Oakland.
Fried Rice Ball Salad, or Nom Khao, is a dish I found through one of my eating buddies. It sounded weird. Not particularly appetizing really. I mean fried rice is okay, but…
Boy was I wrong. Nom Khao is this amazing concoction of crunchy fried rice, coated in herbs and chock full of some special kind of salty pork bits. It is served hot out of the fryer and is accompanied with whole leaves of freshly chlled lettuce and stalks of fresh mint.
When the dish arrives, it is meant to be ladled onto the lettuce and rolled up. One can add mint or not, and I like to crumble some of the flaky red peppers over the whole mess before rolling it up. Red peppers on top are optional. I highly recommend them if you like heat on your food. Once you’ve made the lettuce wrap, you roll it up tight and dig in. The cold lettuce with the hot rice, the light springy crunch of the fried insides against the chilly crunch of the lettuce… it’s an experience in eating that is difficult to adequately describe.
The entire dish is a constant study in contrasts, hot & cold, spicy and herby, all mingling with textures aplenty.
This stuff is enormously addictive. When I start eating it, it’s one of the few foods I cannot stop eating. Until it’s gone. And then I shake out the plate. It’s crunchy, moist, full of flavor and always fresh. I have never had it anywhere but Champa, and wonder if any other establishment makes the dish anywhere near as well.
So here is my interactive challenge to my readers: “What is your favorite fried food here in Oakland?” It should be regularly on the menu and be something that you find positively unforgettable. Share with me something really delicious and I’ll go check it out and write about it here. I’m talking about a food you can’t stop eating it’s so good. You dream about it at night. Just mentioning it starts you to salivating. You need to eat it, it is that good. I’ve told you mine, now what is yours?
2102 8th Avenue
Oakland, CA 94606-2008