Curry on Murray shares its owners' love for savory food from their homeland

| Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Werakul Laoworakiat grew up in Thailand, where he enjoyed the savory food traditions of his native land.

“When we came here, we wanted to share the experience we had in Thailand,” says the Oklahoma State University graduate. “America is a big country. There's a lot of work to do if we want to share (Thai cuisine) with all of America.”

Laoworakiat is working hard to do just that. Already owner of Curry Away in Edgewood, he says, “We always thought we were going to open more than one” restaurant. So he opened Curry on Murray in Squirrel Hill last June.

Sakkapas “Oh” Nukulkarn, 33, of Squirrel Hill, manages Curry on Murray for Laoworakiat, who works nearby as a software engineer helping to produce voice-recognition software. Nukulkarn and the owner have been friends for five years, since Nukulkarn moved to the area.

Nukulkarn graduated from Murray State University in Kentucky with a degree in management technology. “Which is not related to the hospitality industry, but at least I have the management experience,” he says.

Instead, Nukulkarn has the hospitality gene. He greets patrons and makes sure those who dine alone have someone to talk with, as he revisits their tables and makes sure they have everything they need.

The menu is authentic Thai, though Nukulkarn says exact ingredients are not always available.

“We cannot find the same basil we have in Thailand,” which has temperatures between 80 and 90 degrees year-round, he says. “It is difficult to keep (Thai basil) more than a week.”

While Curry on Murray includes mainstay Thai entrees like Pad Thai and Bean Thread Pad Thai, both for $10.95, a variety of other dishes are available. They include Crab Fried Rice for $13.95 and Eggplant With Tofu for $11.95. The restaurant also features several curry dishes, all for $11.95, including green (green pepper), red (red pepper) and duck curries. A soft shell crab with sweet chili sauce runs $16.95. Curry on Murray also has several vegetarian dishes, but vegetarians can expand their options by asking the staff to switch in soy for fish sauce or to leave out meat or fish ingredients. Lunch specials run a consistent $6.95.

“I tried to keep it simple and not too upscale, so people can afford it,” Nukulkarn says. While patrons don't need to dress up, Nukulkarn says they can make a meal a special occasion by bringing in a bottle of wine.

Curry on Murray seats 55 at contemporary light wood chairs and tables surrounded by coral, cream and earth-tone walls. Photographs of nature accent the walls.

The restaurant is something of a family affair for its owner and manager. Nukulkarn's wife, Navarat Jirasaveekul, 33, is sous chef, assisting executive chef Hoa V. Quan, 61, of the North Side. And Laoworakiat's wife, Mayurce “Pui” Chotiyanpong, helps update the menu once a month.

“We believe 60 million people in Thailand love this food, and we believe 330 million people here will love it, too,” Nukulkarn says.

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.

Moo Sen and Papaya Salad

Curry on Murray staffers chose to share a recipe for Moo Sen and Papaya Salad with Cooking Class readers. The dishes are a complementary yin-and-yang of Thai foods, with the cool salad playing a refreshing counterpoint to the crispy pork dipped in spicy sriracha sauce. The sauce, which consists of chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt, is a traditional Thai condiment named for the coastal city of Sri Racha in central Thailand. The dishes make a good pair, but the salad on its own would also make a flavorful, Asian-accented alternative to summer coleslaw.

For the pork:

10 ounces pork butt, cut in 3-inch strips

For the marinade:

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon evaporated milk

½ tablespoon vegetable oil

½ tablespoon seasoning sauce

2 12 tablespoons soy sauce

1 12 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 teaspoon white pepper

For dipping:

Sriracha chili sauce

For the papaya salad:

3.7 ounces papaya, chopped

2 small cloves garlic

1 chile pepper

1 tablespoon dried shrimp

1.4 ounces palm sugar

9 green beans

4 grape tomatoes, cut in half

5 teaspoons soy sauce

5 teaspoons lime juice

4 teaspoons carrot, chopped

1 tablespoon peanuts, plus more for garnish

Cabbage leaf

Combine the pork marinade ingredients and marinate the pork strips overnight, wrapping the pork in the marinade (see photos 1 and 2). The next day, place the pork in a deep-fryer basket and fry until crisp (photo 3). Serve with a small dish of sriracha chili sauce for dipping.

For the salad, do not mash the papaya. Instead, strike the peeled fruit carefully, making parallel strips with a cleaver, then peeling off the shreds carefully (photo 4).

In a bowl, mash the garlic together with the chile pepper, then add the shrimp and mash again.

Add the palm sugar, green beans, tomato, soy sauce, lime juice and peanuts and mash gently after each addition. Add the papaya and carrot and mash gently after adding each (photo 5).

Mix and serve atop the cabbage leaf, garnishing with peanuts.

Makes 1 serving.

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