Thai food is in no short supply in Santa Cruz. But there’s not anything like the new pop-up Hanloh, says owner Lalita Kaewsawang. She grew up in Thailand, and says she’s bringing a level of authenticity to the food not normally found in Pad-Thai-heavy Thai restaurants—for example, on occasion she’ll offer the tangy Chiang Mai curry from Northern Thailand. Hanloh’s next pop-ups will be on Friday, Feb. 10 at the Food Lounge and Tuesday, Feb. 14 at Midtown Café. At the Valentine’s Day pop-up, she’s designing dishes specifically for couples to share.
What can people expect from your pop-ups?
LALITA KAEWSAWANG: The way I cook for Hanloh is really inspired by the way I grew up cooking and eating in Thailand. I really want to just bring justice back to Thai food one dish at a time. I just want to do one to two dishes at a time and do it very well. And do it in a way that fits the venue that I work with. I like to serve curries because I think it works well. I really can’t see myself sticking to just one dish. I think it would be so boring.
What is the vibe like?
It’s all casual. It’s pop-up. I’m not a restaurant at all, it’s all takeout style. All my curry that is vegan, I use vegetable stock that I make. The curry with meat, like recently, I got a lot of pork bones to make the stock. With curry, if the base is not good, the curry can’t be good. It’s very time consuming. I’ve been making my own curry paste, basically everything. Good Thai food, it’s complex. They like a lot of flavors in Thailand. It’s seemingly simple, but there are layers in the flavor. My biggest challenge is, is this something that people are going to understand because I’m not making Pad Thai? Even if I make Pad Thai I think it would be a very different look of Pad Thai. If you go to New York or San Francisco, there’s really authentic food out there. Santa Cruz I think is a little different.
Tell me about Chiang Mai Curry.
It’s part Thai, part Burmese. Chiang Mai in the name of the province in the northern region of Thailand, near Burma. I would see this curry every day when I was walking home in Thailand. It can be with chicken, beef, pork. I’m doing it with pork belly. A lot of fresh gingers, peanuts, lemongrass. The curry powder is in there. Southern Thailand doesn’t use curry powder the way northern Thailand does. No coconut milk, either. A lot of tamarind. The tamarind really gives it that acidity that Thai people love. I’m getting to know Santa Cruz. I get to hear people’s feedback. I like to sit back and look at my dishes and see what I can tweak and adjust.