FARGO — Thai cooking is all about the nose. They say odors linger in the memory longer than any other sense. Perfumes stay in the mind forever. Curry, fish sauce and tamarind aren’t far behind.

Northern Thai brings with it a little of the odors, and flavors, of China along with other South Asian countries. Landlocked, you’ll find a little less shrimp, a little less fish, a bit more chicken, and a lot of pork.

A good introduction to this collection of cultures, all in a single box, is the pork-filled, wonton-like Gau Gee.

Appetizers are always a little hit and miss. They swell the menu a little at the front end the same way desserts do at the other. A little less crispy than they could have been, the Gau Gee at ThaiKota in Fargo still speaks well to this Asian Pacific fusion.

Gau Gee as an appetizer at ThaiKota. Eric Daeuber / Forum food critic
Gau Gee as an appetizer at ThaiKota. Eric Daeuber / Forum food critic

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For its comments on the metamorphosis of the dumpling in the Asian Pacific, and the very good chili peanut sauce that comes with it, it’s well worth the $6. I’ve always thought of it as something the Chinese brought to Hawaii first, but it shows up in a number of Asian Pacific places, too, and here in Fargo as well. It comes served with fresh cold-cut cucumber and cabbage.

For the full Northern Thai experience, apart from the ubiquitous Pad Thai, opt for the Kaeng Hung Leh ($12.99). Pork belly began showing up in Fargo on pizza a few years back when woodfired fans began demanding something a little different, but it has never showed up like this.

Kaeng Hung Leh at ThaiKota. Eric Daeuber / Forum food critic
Kaeng Hung Leh at ThaiKota. Eric Daeuber / Forum food critic

Kaeng Hung Leh is a complicated dish with more than a few versions you’ll find in Thai restaurants, but what sets this apart as coming from the kitchen of someone interested in doing this dish right is the ginger. A little sweet and a little sour, along with a different expression of those two flavors in the added garlic, makes this a different curry experience from its thicker and heavier curry cousins from elsewhere.

To try that, but to stay in the same corner of Asia — indeed, to stay in the north of Thailand — the yellow curry known as Khao Soi is a good choice. A little thinner than other yellow curries, it speaks to Thailand’s proximity to Myanmar.

The casual and simple interior of ThaiKota in Fargo. Eric Daeuber / Forum food critic
The casual and simple interior of ThaiKota in Fargo. Eric Daeuber / Forum food critic

Not interested in culinary country-hopping? The pan-Thai Pad Thai covers all of Thailand in a single dish. If you want to try the unambiguously Thai, this is the dish, with its noodles, egg, peanuts and that unmistakable breath of tamarind that brings that suggestion of the slightest sweet and sour flavors that pull all this cuisine together and hints at all of Southern Asia.

There is a casualness to ThaiKota. It’s small and simple and does as much as it can with the small corner of a convenience gasoline station near downtown Fargo.

Pad Thai at ThaiKota. Eric Daeuber / Forum food critic
Pad Thai at ThaiKota. Eric Daeuber / Forum food critic

Most dishes are served at the counter in boxes that double as takeout containers so you can sit down and enjoy them on-site, or walk out the door in the new pandemic style of dining out. Service is friendly and a full explanation of everything on the menu is available, perhaps coming directly from the person who is cooking it.

Rolled ice cream at Tea & Crepe in downtown Fargo. Eric Daeuber / Forum food critic
Rolled ice cream at Tea & Crepe in downtown Fargo. Eric Daeuber / Forum food critic

ThaiKota does not have a dessert menu, but a few blocks away, Tea & Crepe can end your Thai experience with a dish of the distinctly 21st century Thai street food of rolled ice cream dressed with your choices from a near-endless list of fruits and candy. A nice way to end an evening of a uniquely international cuisine from Southeast Asia.

The counter at ThaiKota. Eric Daueber / Forum food critic
The counter at ThaiKota. Eric Daueber / Forum food critic

ThaiKota

Where: 1201 1st Ave. N., Fargo

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4-8 p.m. Monday to Saturday

Phone: 701-212-4851

Online: https://www.thaikota.com/

Ratings (out of 4)

Food: 3 stars

Service: 4 stars

Ambiance: 2 stars

Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at food@daeuber.com.