Neighborhood Eats: Spicy Thai food at Somtum Der in Brooklyn

RED HOOK, Brooklyn (WABC) -- In this edition of Neighborhood Eats, we're headed to a neighborhood spot in Brooklyn with a focus on community.

Somtum Der opened its doors in Red Hook in November, and they were only a few months in when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now, they're hoping their neighborhood spot can stick it out.

Normally, Somtum Der is a small kitchen that fits the concept of the whole neighborhood, and pre-pandemic, it became a neighborhood gathering spot with diners feasting on hot pot, fried chicken thighs, spicy larb, sticky rice skewers, and -- of course -- somtum, which is spicy papaya salad.

And that's just one of the specialties. The "Der" in the name refers to the northeastern Thai region called Isan, from which owner Supanee Kitmahawong hails.

"To open a business with Isan food and bring Isan food to New York is something we're very proud of," she said.

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Kitmahawong opened the first location in the East Village, and her architect there wanted to open a location in Red Hook.

"If I have a space down below my house, I said can we open a Somtum Der," Thida Tongthai said. "And it happened."

But COVID-19 arrived four months later, and they closed for a month to protect employees. When they reopened, several hundreds of meals were donated to workers at Brooklyn hospitals.

"This is our village," co-owner Stanford Chan said. "We always wanted to be, first, a neighborhood place. COVID reinforced that in a concentrated way."

Deliveries and take out continue, and they hope their back garden offers an oasis to customers.

"We tried to make it a quiet space for our client," Tongthai said.

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They grow their own herbs in the garden, and they've been able to bring back 80% of their staff so far.

"Are we going to survive? We don't know yet," Kitmahawong said. "But we try. We try hard."

Somtum Der is located at 380 Van Brunt Street and is open for lunch and dinner every day.

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