Im Aroi Thai Cuisine – Stuffed Squid
Im Aroi Thai Cuisine
525 N Garfield Ave · Montebello, CA 90640
Slimy. Slippery. Slithering.
As the tiny little Squidward Tentacles passed grimy hands one after the next in a circle, each innocent eight year old was wrapped with curiosity. A dead fish was lodged inside the cephalopod, its last feast before perishing. Now it was a learning specimen for fourth graders on a field trip to the aquatic science center. Filled with dread while the others anticipated holding the sea alien, I became so nervous when it came nearer and nearer. Eventually it was my turn. Plop. The harmless squid plummeted to the polished floor. Disgusted at having to handle the slick creature and embarrassed at the whole situation, I was on the verge of tears. So was my first ever experience with squid.
A few decades later and once again I am confronted with my one time nemesis. But now in a more relaxed setting. Presented before me was one of Im Aroi’s signature dishes, stuffed squid. Two large pieces packed with a choice of ground meat – chicken, pork, or beef (no more dead fish inside!) – steamed and topped with a mix of characteristic Southeast Asian ingredients galangal, lemongrass, chili, and kaffir lime leaves. Both pieces lie on top of a bed of red leaf lettuce, which sits on top of a shallow pool of lime juice.
Like other cephalopods, squid is mild on its own but does an excellent job soaking up other flavors. This makes it perfect for the complexity found in the accompanying Thai sauce, the vibrant aromatics from the lemongrass and kaffir elevating the dish. It touches on all the taste bases – sour, sweet, salty, and spicy – hitting the grand slam goal of Thai cooking. Meanwhile, the citrus gets absorbed really well with each bite intensifying the floral notes imparted by the mix of ingredients. Acidic high notes from the juice linger throughout the taste experience. The Thai chili is minced extremely finely and imparts a spicy jolt of heat that comes through in bursts.
Ground meat mellows the assertive flavors in the sauce, bringing things down a notch. In terms of the protein selection, ground pork is the ideal choice with its good mix of fat and meat. Pork is the more common ground meat for many Thai dishes, along with chicken (such as in the gai ka pow dish). The soft, steamed pork is quite plain on its own, a positive since it offers some respite from the aggressive sauce.
Both squids are sizable, resulting in nearly ten pieces for each. Unfortunately on this visit, the squid had a slightly chewy consistency suggestive of being a tad overcooked.
11.95 is a good price for this exceptional appetizer enough to share amongst a family or group of four. Impressive colors and tastes abound in this dish. Im Aroi, meaning ‘satiated, delicious’ in Thai, or also in a way interpreted as ‘I’m delicious’ when approached in a pseudo English-Thai sort of manner, is one of few places in the area that serves up these steamed delicacies in such a way. No need to be afraid of squid anymore!