A Tiny Thai Restaurant In Remote Greenland Serves Up Spice (And Whale Skin Soup) : The Salt When Suriya Paprajong arrived in Greenland in 2001, he didn't even have a coat. These days, his eatery in Qaqortoq, population 3,000, is a local favorite, melding Thai flavors with an Arctic twist.
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A Tiny Thai Restaurant In Remote Greenland Serves Up Spice (And Whale Skin Soup)

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A Tiny Thai Restaurant In Remote Greenland Serves Up Spice (And Whale Skin Soup)

A Tiny Thai Restaurant In Remote Greenland Serves Up Spice (And Whale Skin Soup)

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now to a story about curried yak and globalization and jackets - lots and lots of jackets. NPR's Jackie Northam reports from a remote corner of Greenland.

(SOUNDBITE OF OIL BUBBLING)

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Hot oil bubbles up as a whole redfish is carefully lowered into a deep fryer. The heady scents of lemon grass, chile and garlic fill the crowded kitchen of this Thai restaurant. The fresh-caught fish will be served up with a curry sauce.

SIRIPEN PAPRAJONG: This one is a Panang sauce. We use coconut in can. In Greenland, no have coconut tree (laughter).

NORTHAM: This is the Inbox Cafe: A Little Thai Corner. It's at the end of the main port here in the town of Qaqortoq in southern Greenland. It's a picturesque place of 3,000 people. Houses painted in vibrant reds, greens and blues dot the rocky hills overlooking the clear waters of a fjord. This is a long way from Thailand, says the restaurant's owner, Suriya Paprajong. He remembers when he first came to Greenland. He says when he got on a plane in Bangkok, it was 104 degrees Fahrenheit. When he landed in Greenland, it was minus 43 degrees.

SURIYA PAPRAJONG: I came from Thailand to Greenland in winter time without jacket. It's a lot of snow.

NORTHAM: That was 18 years ago. Paprajong came to work at a Thai restaurant in Greenland's capital city, Nuuk. He would be able to make much more money there than he could in Thailand. His wife, Siripen Paprajong, says she was excited to go to Greenland, even if she or many other Thais didn't know where it was.

SIRIPEN PAPRAJONG: In Thailand, nobody know about Greenland. Where you go? Greenland. Finland, England, Iceland - nobody know about Greenland.

NORTHAM: A few years ago, Paprajong moved to Qaqortoq for another job and then opened his own cafe, one of only two restaurants in town. It's a bit out of the way for visitors. There are no major roads in Greenland, so you have to take a helicopter or a boat to get to Qaqortoq. In the summer, the cruise ships bring in customers, but most of his business comes from the locals.

(SOUNDBITE OF RESTAURANT AMBIENCE)

NORTHAM: There are about a dozen wooden tables at the Inbox Cafe, set with Thai serving dishes. Portraits of the Thai royal family hang on the main wall. Siripen says the favorite dish for locals is pad thai.

SIRIPEN PAPRAJONG: Yeah, they like spicy (laughter). Yeah, some want the extra spicy 'cause it's cold weather. It's good with the warm food.

NORTHAM: Siripen says they bring in Thai staples such as fish sauce from Denmark or Thailand. Fresh ingredients such as lemon grass and green papaya are tough to get during the winter months, so they improvise. Paprajong says they've also modified traditional Thai dishes to suit Greenlandic tastes, including using reindeer and whale meat.

SURIYA PAPRAJONG: And also, it's yak. It's very good to cook in Thai way. With soy sauce and chile and garlic, it's very, very good. It's - people, they like.

NORTHAM: Paprajong says he's come to love Qaqortoq, the environment and the people, who have nicknamed him the Thai Eskimo. And he's gotten used to the cold winters.

SURIYA PAPRAJONG: Now it's no problem.

NORTHAM: Do you have a jacket?

SURIYA PAPRAJONG: Of course (laughter) - a lot of jackets now (laughter).

NORTHAM: Jackie Northam, NPR News, Qaqortoq, Greenland.

(SOUNDBITE OF MY MORNING JACKET SONG, "I'M AMAZED")

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