Pok Pok

by Steven Behling

NOTE: I've been sitting on a first draft of this post for nearly a year.  Pok Pok is special to me, and I've felt hesitant to put a period on the end of the sentence/experience that is Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings.  Nevertheless, it seems like the time has come to discuss our relationship, so without further ado:

Two summers ago, my friend Claire and I took a road trip down I-5 to visit our mutual friend Tamson in Portland.  The weekend was filled with delicious food, Oregon Coast tide pools, and general road trip wanderlust, all accompanied by a playlist created by a fictional 13-year-old with a lisp (her retainer gets in the way), an obsession with Taylor Swift, and a sample vial of Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds perfume ("for special occasions!").  

Our first stop in town was Voodoo Doughnuts (obligatory given that it was Ain't That a Peach Fritter season), but the genuine star of the evening was Andy Ricker's Pok Pok.  I'd long heard mythical tales of their famous chicken wings, but was feeling skeptical given that I'm not a fan of tearing meat off bones with my teeth. I spent my twenties in college and graduate school so I could eat meat that has been cut up into little cubes, served in a completely unrecognizable but oh-so-tasty manner (I'm looking at you, Chipotle!). 

Oh, how wrong I was.

Enter Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings.  Created by Ricker's first employee, Ich "Ike" Truong, these fresh, natural chicken wings are marinated in fish sauce and palm sugar, deep fried, tossed in caramelized Phú Quoc fish sauce and garlic (plus red pepper flakes if you get 'em spicy, and trust me...you want to), served alongside a simple Vietnamese table salad of pickled carrots and daikon, the latter being a welcome treat to soothe your burning tongue.  Hurts so good.

Subsequent trips to Portland have always included a stop at Pok Pok for wings.  Although our initial visits included such delectable dishes as Kung Op Wun Sen with wild caught gulf prawns baked in a clay pot over charcoal with pork belly, lao jiin, soy, ginger, cilantro root, black pepper, Chinese celery and bean thread noodles, served with piquant nam jiim...

...wing bean salad with grilled pork, Thai chiles, coconut, toasted peanuts, fish sauce, and fried garlic...

...charcoal-grilled corn on the cob with coconut cream...

...or even Neua Nam Tok (remember the first time I had this?), a spicy Isaan flank steak salad with fish sauce, lime and chili powder dressing, shallots, lemongrass, mint, cilantro, and the oh-so-texturally-important toasted rice powder...

...I've recently taken to just ordering an entire portion of Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings with extra hand wipes and many glasses of Pok Pok's pandan leaf-infused table water.  That is all.  Oh, and maybe one of Pok Pok's Som Drinking Vinegars to wash it all down.  

Let me be clear: If the world devolves into a dystopian future wherein we must resort to cannibalism, my dying wish is to have my body prepared in the manner of Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, bringing a bit of sunshine, splendor, and spice to such a  dark, cruel world.  I love you, Ike.  And I love your wings, in all their spicy chicken candy goodness.  

 Want to make your own wings?  Ricker has graciously adapted most of his recipes for the home cook in his 2013 cookbook, published by Ten Speed Press.  Signed copies are available at the address below or the PDX airport (yes, you can get his wings during a layover, bringing a whole new meaning to the saying "spread your wings and fly").

Pok Pok has many locations throughout Portland and New York City.  The original can be found at 3226 Southeast Division Street in Portland, Oregon.