Tropic of Capsaicin
An Exploration of the Hot Dishes in a Hot City, Or Where to Go When You're Not at Waterloo Park
Pud Cha Catfish at Madam Mam's Noodles and More2514 Guadalupe, 472-8306
Mam's Thai restaurant is a stickler for the authentic, and many of the menu items can be quite mild, as they are in Thailand. But Pud Cha Catfish ($9.95) is the only five-chile-tagged dish found at this wildly popular campus-area eatery, and it certainly lives up to its reputation. The onomatopoeic name "pud cha" comes from the sound of the ingredients hitting the sizzling wok, and it is only traditionally made with fish or seafood. The quadruple-whammy heat comes from the fiery combination of Thai chile, green peppercorns, dried bird pepper, and the infamous tiny prik khee noo, or "rat-dropping" chile. The multilayered and complex flavor is moderated by the addition of shrimp paste, fish sauce, palm sugar, garlic, and shallot, combined with bamboo shoot, basil, mushrooms, and chunks of fried catfish to form a delicious, yet piquant, amalgam. It isn't the kind of heat that slams you upside the head; rather, it leaves you scratching your noggin trying to dissect the sources of the different tastes. Still, it's the only menu item there that I do not sprinkle some of Mam's exquisite roasted-chile paste on top of, and I like my Thai food sizzling.