>> Can Coon Thai Restaurant อีสาน คลาสสิค แคน คูน | Eat the World Los Angeles

Thursday 5 March 2020

Can Coon Thai Restaurant อีสาน คลาสสิค แคน คูน


COVID-19 UPDATE: The dining room is closed and an area for takeout orders and pickup has been created, with requested social distancing for customers waiting.
For the first 14 years of its life in Bellflower, Can Coon was a small five table operation on Alondra and Eucalyptus, a spot in a strip mall currently occupied by Thai Noodle King. Now two traffic lights to the west, the beloved neighborhood Thai spot has for the last four years made its home in a new larger space and started to spread its wings.

Rather than an oddly spelled version of that well-known city in Quintana Roo, México, the name of this restaurant is actually derived from two very important parts of culture in the Isan region of Thailand. A khene (or can, แคน) is a bamboo mouth organ that originally hails from Laos, a place that shares much in common with the northeastern region of Thailand. Coon is from dok khun (ดอกคูน), the beloved and spiritual yellow-flowering tree ubiquitous in Isan and surrounding places.

These hints are a good primer to ordering here (as well as the Thai name of the restaurant that includes "Isan Classic") although the family originally from Sisaket that runs the place can also help. As mom works her magic in the kitchen, the daughter will explain everything they do best and help with recommendations if needed. One of these is their excellent homemade sausage, an item they used to ship all of the country because it is so loved.

Now too busy to continue this, here in Bellflower is the only place to enjoy the esaan sausage ($9.99, above), an almost magically good starter. This is the fermented sour pork that the region is known for, spiced with ginger and chili. You will continue to think about how good this tasted for days.

Also in the show-stopping category is koi koong ($10.99, above), a dish they do not even bother describing in English on the menu. For the uninitiated, the dish is like a cross between larb and ceviche, raw shrimp "cooked" with lime and served with pieces with onions, chilies, toasted rice, and herbs. It is quite rare to see on a menu and so well done here. Recommended.

Even after saying spiciness was preferred, it was suggested to start with medium levels, advice that turned out to be good. Dishes like the koi koong and som tum arrived with enough chili to get beads of sweat going and make good use of the fresh vegetables and sticky rice to calm a hot tongue.

Another good break from the heat is the nue dad deaw ($9.99, above), freshly fried salted beef jerky with crunchy skin. The deep fried exterior tasted like roasted rice, but the daughter just smiled and said she could not say anything because it was a treasured family recipe. It comes with a bright red chili dipping sauce but this seems unnecessary since the meat itself is so good.

When the som tum expert at the table put a bite of som tum lao ($8.99, below) in her mouth, she smiled and exclaimed "YES!" before putting more in immediately. The dish arrives tinted grey as it should, full of salty fish fermentation as Lao style requires. They are less interested in the sweetness of the other side of the Mekong.

After four dishes prepared with such flawlessness, it was beginning to seem like the only negative thing about Can Coon was their dull muzak soundtrack that starts to play tricks with your head when the heat levels rise.

On a slightly lower level though, but still not close to being bad was the kang aom plar ($10.99, below), a Lao/Isan style soup that is thickened by roasted rice and full of dill. This comes as another bit of relief from the spice levels of other dishes, more sour than anything. It was put to good work with bites of sticky rice, using the broth to cool down.

UPDATE 18 JANUARY 2021: Some recent takeout included some of the above and one new dish, beef larb shown below.

To get to know both components of the restaurant's name, there is a piece of art incorporating the instrument and the flower together on the wall. The Thai characters on it also reference back to the family's origin of Sisaket, on the border with Cambodia.

The instrument is associated with a more rural lifestyle and can actually be one of those things that Bangkok and other city kids might tease someone from Isan about. As adults everyone agrees that it is beautiful and an important piece of culture that represents the region well.

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