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Wok-Fried Thai Omelette with fresh herbs from chefs Ploypailin Sakornsin and Jeremy Kuo, of Sangsan Healdsburg on Thursday, June 2, 2022. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

Sangsan Healdsburg pop-up celebrates flavors of Thailand and Taiwan

Couple marries flavors of Thailand, Taiwan at pop-up dinners

Chefs Ploypailin Sakornsin and Jeremy Kuo fell in love while working in the kitchen of SingleThread Farm-Restaurant-Inn, a three Michelin-starred restaurant with five guest rooms in Healdsburg.

“We were secretly dating, but the secret didn’t work,” said Sakornsin, 30, who grew up in Bangkok and did her externship at SingleThread while studying at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, New York.

The couple got married in October 2019. After graduating, she took a job baking for Quail & Condor Bakery in Healdsburg, while Kuo continued working for SingleThread. In 2021, they took a leap of faith and started serving the street food of their homelands, Thailand and Taiwan, at various pop-ups at restaurants, bars, wineries and farmers markets.

Dubbed Sangsan Healdsburg, their pop-up business serves Thai-inspired dishes ranging from a Larb Salmon Tartare and Yum Pork Salad to Grilled Turmeric Chicken with Tamarind Sauce. Sangsan is a Thai word that means “to celebrate” or “to hang out.”

“When we were planning our concept, we wanted a place where you’d want to go hang out with friends and family,” Sakornsin said. “Having that vibe of not just eating but enjoying each other’s company is what we’re looking for.”

Kuo, who had worked at SingleThread for the past five years, recently left his job there as junior sous chef to provide full-time help for his wife and the growing demand for Sangsan’s pop-ups and catering.

The 34-year-old chef was born in Los Angeles, but he moved back to Taiwan with his family for most of his childhood. He returned to the States to attend high school in Orange County and studied environmental science at UC Santa Cruz while working as a technician in the student pharmacy. All the while, he found himself constantly cooking for his boss, roommates and friends.

“I never had the courage to go into cooking until I was 29 or 30,” he said. “I went to Napa Valley College Cooking School in St. Helena for close to two years, and I was the first extern at SingleThread.”

Sakornsin has a similar story. She studied business and finance in college, then worked in a bank for two years. Itching for a new challenge, she opened a small sushi kiosk with a trained chef.

“I grew up in a foodie family,” she said. “My mom loved to cook food, and my dad loved to eat her food and my grandma had a restaurant.”

“Last year at SingleThread, we had to do takeout, so Chef Kyle gave us the chance to do Thai food to go.The people really loved it.” Ploypailin Sakornsin

When her sushi chef backed out of the business, Sakornsin decided it was time to change careers.

“It took some time to convince my family to let me study cooking,” she said. She finally moved to the States in February 2018 to attend the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park and graduated two years later.

The couple credits SingleThread Chef/owner Kyle Connaughton with planting the seed for launching their own business, which marries the complex flavors and textures of Thai food with the influences of Kuo’s Taiwanese childhood.

Ploypailin Sakornsin, right, and her husband, Jeremy Kuo, owners of Sangsan Healdsburg, create their Thai Stone Fruit Salad on Thursday, June 2, 2022.  (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)
Ploypailin Sakornsin, right, and her husband, Jeremy Kuo, owners of Sangsan Healdsburg, create their Thai Stone Fruit Salad on Thursday, June 2, 2022. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

“Last year at SingleThread, we had to do takeout, so Chef Kyle gave us the chance to do Thai food to go,” Sakornsin said. “The people really loved it.”

Sangsan has hosted pop-up dinners at Miracle Plum Kitchen in Santa Rosa. They also have had occasional pop-ups at Lo & Behold Bar & Kitchen and Quail & Condor bakery and its sister sandwich shop, Troubadour, all in Healdsburg. But they really attracted attention while doing a pop-up at the Lioco Wine tasting room in Healdsburg

“That’s where we built a connection with the locals,” Kuo said of Lioco. “A lot of people walking past with their dogs became our customers.”

“We’re targeting Tuesdays because most restaurants are not open that night. The whole idea is to try to be reasonably priced for the community.” Jeremy Kuo

Now, with the summer season in full swing, the couple can be found cooking fragrant Asian fare at the Healdsburg Farmers Market on Saturday mornings and at Healdsburg’s popular Tuesday on the Plaza concert series in the evenings.

“We’re targeting Tuesdays because most restaurants are not open that night,” Kuo said. “The whole idea is to try to be reasonably priced for the community.”

Their menu choices vary by season, but their pop-up prices have ranged from $14 for Shrimp and Pork Relish with Rice Cake to $38 for a whole seabass, which can feed up to four people.

At the farmers market, Sarkornsin likes to make some of her favorite street foods from Bangkok, including the beloved Wok-Fried Thai Omelette (Khai Jiao) that she deep-fries in a wok with fresh herbs.

The omelette, often served plain or stuffed with oysters or pork in Thailand, does not absorb the oil. Being cooked at a high temperature gives it a nice crispy edge. The fried omelette is one of Thailand’s comfort foods, similar to macaroni and cheese for Americans, and is often served with sticky rice and hot sauce for a full meal.

Sakornsin’s favorite dish from Bangkok, however, is the beloved shrimp patty, a seafood cake deep-fried and dipped in sauce.

“It’s like a crab cake, except it’s a bouncy shrimp cake,” she said. “We coat it with panko, and then we serve it with plum sauce.”

At the Tuesdays in the Plaza concerts, the couple plans to serve Fish Sauce Crispy Wings, a classic chicken dish given an Asian twist with the complex umami-laden flavor of the fermented fish sauce.

Kuo is also excited about serving one of his favorite Taiwanese desserts, Snowflake Shaved Ice, which is often topped with fresh mango chunks in Taiwan. This crowd-pleasing treat is an ideal way to beat the heat during the soaring temperatures of summer.

“Snowflake” indicates that it is made of frozen milk, which has a fine, fluffy texture closer to ice cream than shaved ice. The couple has purchased a special machine to shave the frozen milk block, and they plan to launch the dessert topped with a fresh strawberry sauce and a splash of condensed milk.

“Taiwan was called the kingdom of fruits because the agriculture was very strong,” Kuo said. “I want to introduce this dish to Sonoma County . … I like the texture and the mouthfeel.”

Chef Jeremy Kuo’s wife and co-owner of Sangsan Healdsburg, Ploypailin Sakornsin, reminded him that the photographer was taking pictures of his dessert and he didn’t need to smile while holding a backdrop. He couldn’t help himself so I back up for a behind the scenes look. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)
Chef Jeremy Kuo’s wife and co-owner of Sangsan Healdsburg, Ploypailin Sakornsin, reminded him that the photographer was taking pictures of his dessert and he didn’t need to smile while holding a backdrop. He couldn’t help himself so I back up for a behind the scenes look. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

The Taiwanese cuisine has been influenced by Chinese flavors, but it’s also a melting pot of Japanese and Southeast Asian cultures as well, Kuo said.

“The most famous dishes are the beef noodle soup, the pineapple cake and the boba tea,” he noted. Known as bubble tea in Taiwan, the iconic tea-based beverage is famous for its chewy tapioca pearls. It was invented in the 1980s and the rest, as they say, is history.

The couple, who live in Healdsburg, hope that by keeping their pop-up food approachable, Sangsan Healdsburg will catch on with North Bay residents looking for affordable, global fare and a fun place to hang out with friends.

Sakornsin said she misses all the delicious street foods of Bangkok, perhaps even more than her family.

“The food scene there is really vibrant, with open stalls on the streets selling seafood or soup or dessert,” she said. “Thai people put food first. It’s a country of abundance.”

The following recipes are from Ploypailin Sakornsin and Jeremy Kuo of Sangsan Healdsburg. Sakornsin suggests using a crisp apple in this salad for extra crunch. Use what stone fruit you like. You can find fried shallots at most Asian markets.

Assembling the Thai Stone Fruit Salad from chefs Ploypailin Sakornsin and Jeremy Kuo, of Sangsan Healdsburg on Thursday, June 2, 2022.  (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)
Assembling the Thai Stone Fruit Salad from chefs Ploypailin Sakornsin and Jeremy Kuo, of Sangsan Healdsburg on Thursday, June 2, 2022. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

Thai Stone Fruit Salad

Makes 2 to 3 servings

For dressing:

3 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon palm sugar or simple syrup

1 Thai bird chile or ½ serrano chile, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

For salad:

3 ripe peaches, plums or nectarines

1 crisp apple, such as gala, Fuji or Honeycrisp

½ shallot, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons fried cashews, chopped, for garnish

2 tablespoons fried shallots (optional), for garnish

2-3 sprigs cilantro, chopped (save some for garnish)

For dressing: Mix lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar (or simple syrup), chile and chopped garlic.

Cut stone fruits of your choice and apple into bite-size wedges.

In a mixing bowl, mix the fruits, thinly sliced shallots, some of the chopped cilantro (leave the rest for garnish) and dressing. Put the tossed salad into a serving dish. Garnish with chopped fried cashews, crispy shallots and chopped cilantro and serve.

Sakornsin fries this Thai omelette in a wok, but you also could use a nonstick pan with curved sides. You want the oil to be about 1 inch deep. Serve with jasmine rice and Sriracha or hot sauce of your choice.

Wok-Fried Thai Omelette from chefs Ploypailin Sakornsin and Jeremy Kuo, of Sangsan Healdsburg on Thursday, June 2, 2022.  (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)
Wok-Fried Thai Omelette from chefs Ploypailin Sakornsin and Jeremy Kuo, of Sangsan Healdsburg on Thursday, June 2, 2022. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

Deep-fried Thai Omelette

Makes 1 to 2 servings

3 eggs, large

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 sprig of Thai basil (just the leaves)

1 scallion

¼ shallot, thinly sliced

1 Thai bird chile, thinly sliced (optional)

4 tablespoons regular canola oil for frying

In a small mixing bowl, use a fork to mix all the ingredients (except frying oil), fast and vigorously until the mixture is completely incorporated.

Put wok (or nonstick pan) on medium-high heat. When it’s hot, pour in the frying oil. Wait until the oil is hot. (You can check by drizzling in some of the mixture. If the mixture droplets puff and float up almost right away, the oil is ready.) Turn the heat down to medium, pour in the mixture and use a spatula to start pushing the edges of mixture into the middle of the pan.

Repeat several times until the mixture is 70% cooked. This will create fluffiness and an evenly cooked omelette. Peek under the cooking side, and if the color is golden and caramelized, flip the omelette. Continue cooking for 30 seconds or until the omelette is fully cooked. Carefully lift the omelette, let the excess oil drip out, then put into a serving dish. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Snowflake ice was introduced in Taiwan a few years ago. Instead of crushing blocks of ice, milk is frozen, then finely shaven, creating an ice that is fluffy and tastes almost like ice cream. The strawberry sauce will make more than one serving, so use for more shaved ice or reserve in the refrigerator.

Snowflake Shaved Ice with Strawberry Sauce with condensed milk from chefs Ploypailin Sakornsin and Jeremy Kuo, of Sangsan Healdsburg on Thursday, June 2, 2022.  (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)
Snowflake Shaved Ice with Strawberry Sauce with condensed milk from chefs Ploypailin Sakornsin and Jeremy Kuo, of Sangsan Healdsburg on Thursday, June 2, 2022. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

Snowflake Shaved Ice with Strawberries

Makes 1 serving

For milk ice block:

300 grams (1 ¼ cups) milk

For strawberry sauce:

2 pounds strawberries

3 tablespoons sugar

1 lemon, zested and juiced

Condensed milk, for garnish

For milk ice block: Pour milk directly into a 8-ounce plastic deli food container and put it in a freezer for at least 6 hours or until the liquid become rock-solid. (The size of this food container fits perfectly into an ice crusher.)

For strawberry sauce: Right before taking out the milk ice block, rinse and clean the strawberries. Cut the tops off and cut the strawberries into quarters. (Set a few aside for garnish.)

Macerate the quartered strawberries with 3 tablespoons sugar in a mixing bowl. Let the bowl of macerated strawberries rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Then take half the macerated strawberries in the bowl and put them in a blender. Blend until it has the consistency of a sauce.

Fold the remaining half of the macerated strawberries into the sauce.

Add zest of a half lemon and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Adjust the sweetness to your desired level by adding more sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time.

For assembly: Dip the milk ice block plastic food container in a pot of warm water so it can be unmolded easily. Place the ice block into an ice crusher.

Press down the handle with one hand, and with a plate in the other hand, catch the shaved ice while rotating the handle.

Top the Snowflake Shaved Ice with some strawberry sauce and garnish with a splash of condensed milk and a couple of sliced strawberries. Use leftover sauce for more shaved ice. It can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56

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