It has been more than a year and a half since Chef Ratha Chau opened Num Pang, his Cambodian sandwich shop in New York City, just off Union Square. It's a tiny storefront next to a parking garage. If you weren't paying attention, you might just pass by.
That would be a mistake. But it's not one many people seem to be making since the chef moved beyond Kampuchea, his full-service kitchen on the Lower East Side. "These are our people," he explained. "There's a huge difference in neighborhoods. Here you can have business from morning to nighttime. Lunch business on the Lower East Side is tough to come by."
Num Pang's menu features six "classic" sandwiches and five seasonal specialties, but in honor of Cambodian Independence Day (November 9) Chef Chau highlighted one of his favorites, Ginger Barbecue Brisket. As with all the others, it's served on bread made by Parisi according to the chef's own recipe. In addition to the white flour typically used in baguettes, it calls for semolina. "Typically, the baguette used in banh mi kills the roof of your mouth," he explained. "I didn't want that to happen."
Toppings on the Ginger Barbecue Brisket include: pickled carrots, pickled red cabbage, Sriracha mayonnaise, a thin, wide piece of pickled cucumber sliced on a bias, and a nice thick piece of brisket that has cooked for 12 hours. Its inspiration? Barbecue and home-cooking. "I love barbecue," Chef Chau said. "It's one of my favorite things to make and eat. There's nothing I would make here that I wouldn't make at home."
This is a messy, messy sandwich ($7.75). Juices drip down your fingers, there's mayo on your palms, you can't really put it down once you start, and you need at least three napkins once you're done. But you just don't care. Tang, sour, sweet, creamy plus deep earthy meat on slightly toasted bread. It's a Sunday sandwich-- something to eat when you don't have to be anywhere.
"This isn't typical of what you'll see anywhere else," Chef Chau noted.
He's right. So be wise. Take note of the recipe.