Ganda Brings Tears To My Eyes (For More Reasons Than One)
When a fat guy’s wishlist of places to eat is growing exponentially by the day, there is really only one thing said large man can do in the face of such adversity… start eating! Saveur’s homage to Los Angeles came out a week before Jonathan Gold’s 99 Things to Eat in L.A. Before You Die list, so I feel obligated to start there. And nothing stood out more to me in those 104 pages of pure bliss than Editor James Oseland’s love of the crispy catfish at Ganda, in Hollywood’s Thai Town.
I don’t know James Oseland, but there are two things I know about him. 1) He edits my absolute favorite food magazine there is. 2) The guy knows a little bit about Asian food. So if he claims to have eaten the crispy catfish at Ganda five days in a row, I think it’s safe to say it’s worth checking out.
Anybody who eats out on a regular basis will at some point in their lives pull up to a recommended restaurant only to discover they had been before. That’s what happened at Ganda on Friday (on Hollywood and Harvard), when I discovered something incredibly upsetting. I used to live around the corner from this place. Even worse, I used to live around the corner from this place, and spent tons of time in this very strip mall! I have been to the sweet shop next door a million times, and eaten more mediocre meals with Thai Elvis than I care to admit (The Palms’ original location was in the same strip mall before moving West 5 years ago). But not once in the 2 years that I lived around the corner, did I think to walk into Ganda. Actually that’s not true. I remember walking in once, and leaving as soon as I discovered that it wasn’t an all you can eat buffet.
In my defense, at the time I hadn’t been to Thailand yet and all you can eat Pad Thai was infinitely more appealing to me than crispy catfish covered in galangal. Or fish balls with bamboo shoots. Or pork belly with string beans. Or any of the other containers of seemingly strange goodies on the Ganda buffet. But five years later I’m a changed man. And I was ready to check this one off my list.
Don’t let the strange ordering system, or the microwave discourage you from the steam table. The dishes on display are mostly restaurant specialties, and not available on the ala carte menu (which is not unlike the menus at most Thai restaurants in Hollywood.) Despite appearances it’s not self serve, and the ladies who take your “order” are more than happy to tell you what’s in each dish and how spicy it is. (Apparently at one time, nobody spoke English- but that is not the case anymore.) Although, if you’re not into spicy food- Ganda may not be for you. Some of this stuff is no fucking joke.
You get 2 dishes plus white rice for $5.50, 3 dishes for $6.95. And each additional dish on top of that is $2.50. On my main plate, I tried the crispy catfish (obviously) and some kind of braised pork belly with string beans that looked delicious. They had more crispy catfish on the buffet than any other dish (a giant mound of it in fact) and after one bite you understood why. Crispy, spicy, sweet, and kind of sticky from the galangal heavy dry paste that covers the fish. It’s what you dream of getting every time you order prik king from a generic Thai food restaurant.
Admittedly it may not be for everybody. You can’t mind bones (you’ll end up eating a lot of them) and it’s not as good as it would be if it was made to order. In fact, at the time I was eating, it didn’t necessarily strike me as the greatest thing I had ever eaten in my life. But I can understand how James O. would go back five days in a row. I’ve been thinking about that catfish every day since Friday.
As for the pork it tasted as good as it looked. Semi crispy bits of pork meat and fat, mixed with borderline raw string beans. Not sure if it was the stewed pork belly that James Oseland described in his article, but whatever. It was good!
I asked the lady who was helping me what her favorite dish was. Sadly she pointed to the penang curry with chicken, which I felt was more of a “what she thought I would like” choice- rather than her true favorite. But she kept insisting, so I felt obligated. It was delicious, and certainly better than a lot of the curries you’ll find in Thai Town. But it was easily overshadowed by the catfish and pork dish.
Unlike the pork and crispy catfish, which both looked great, and the curry, which was a pretty safe choice, I wanted to try something a bit out of my comfort zone. Something that didn’t necessarily look like anything I would normally order. Fish balls with bamboo shoots? Not sweet at all, and very spicy? Why the hell not!? I was once told by a Thai chef that an important characteristic of good Thai food is a slow building heat. Spiciness that gives you time to taste the flavors, before it sucker punches you in the face. Bite to bite I was jumping from dish to dish, so I’m not exactly sure where the serious heat came from (smart money is on the fish balls.) But after about ten minutes the symphony of flavors had reached a crescendo of pain. I guess my eyes were watering, because the waitress felt the need to check in on me. “Are you crying? Is it spicy?” I tried to cover up my tears by explaining that it was a good spicy and I was actually crying because the food was delicious, and it upset to me think that I had lived around the corner for two years and hadn’t tried Ganda until that day. I don’t think she bought it.
Either way I will definitely be back. Hopefully she won’t remember me.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say?)
- 3 different dishes of real Thai food, for lunch, for $7? Amazing.
- I love being able to see my food before ordering what I want
- Bring on the heat!
- Everything is already made, so lunch is super quick… perfect if Thai Town is a long drive from your work
- The crispy catfish haunts my dreams
- The steam table at Ganda is about as close to eating on the streets of Thailand as you’re going to get in this country
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Everything is made in advance, so some things are not as fresh as they could be
- I hate when places microwave food
- There are steam tables… but it isn’t an all you can eat buffet? WTF?!
- I don’t like spicy food
- The catfish has waaaaay to many bones, and I can’t eat bones
- There are better versions of a lot of these dishes at other restaurants
Ganda, 5269 Hollywood Blvd (btw. Harvard+Serrano), 323-466-4281