6.18.12 – This restaurant is now closed.
In my humble opinion, Thai food is one of the most difficult types of cuisine to make properly. Just look at how many Thai restaurants there are in Portland – four in just a few blocks of Alberta Street. Any Thai expatriate may think they can buy a little curry paste and make Thai food, but very few actually manage to pull it off. There are several reasons for this. One is because early Thai restaurants in America quickly learned they needed to adapt to American palates. This meant toning down the spices. Second, many ingredients used in traditional cooking were unavailable in the United States. The combination of these two factors resulted in food that was overly bland, and uninteresting, or just far too unbalanced and spicy. Finally, there is the question of balance. Most dishes have many ingredients, all with strong flavors and characteristics of their own. Add too much of any one, and the entire dish is thrown off.
Like a Bach fugue, each line on its own can be rather boring. Put all the different lines together and you have a wonderful balance of sound: sweet, sour, spicy, salty; all the notes work together to harmonize. Thai cooking is much the same way, but unlike Thailand where many vendors just specialize in one dish, American restaurants have to come up with entire menus. It’s not easy to do the intricacies of this food justice on such a large scale.
Thai food is further complicated by influences from different regions. Everything from sauces to accompaniments tends to be in northern and southern versions. Early Chinese brought the introduction of stir-frying. Beginning about the 17th century, Dutch, Japanese, and Portuguese cuisine also influenced Thai cooking. However, Thai foods are different from those in the way they use spice mixtures. Pure spices are used and enhanced by herbs such as lemongrass and galangal. While Thai curries can burn intensely at first, they have a short life on the palate, where other curries, such as Indian varieties, tend to have a much longer finish. One should also remember that Thai cuisine is greatly influenced by the country’s Buddhist background. It is rare to find the use of large animals in big pieces. Instead, larger cuts are shredded, the common utensil for eating being the spoon. You will still find many of these characteristics in Thai dishes today. This is further complicated by fusion restaurants that have come into vogue. There is both “Americanized” Thai food, as well as a fusion where other countries are strongly influencing dishes. Finally, recipes are generally influenced by the food’s originating region. Take, for example, pad Thai. A dish with a huge amount of ingredients, there are also a great many different recipes for it. All of this can make it very difficult to review the food unless you go back to the founding influences from the very beginning. Does it follow the basic principles; is it balanced so all the flavors harmonize, and does it taste good? By these standards, much of the different variations can be judged equally, even with a modern twist on ingredients. Many other Thai dishes are the same way, with each chef having his/her own following, ready to argue that their restaurant’s preparation is the only ‘real’ way to make a particular dish.
When ordering Thai food, keep in mind that dishes are meant to be shared. A proper meal should consist of a soup (which you should always find on any Thai menu), a curry, and some sort of dip with fish and vegetables. If the soup is spicy, non-spiced items should be substituted for the curry. There must be a harmony of tastes and textures, both within the individual dishes, but also within the entire meal. For the Thai, the heart of food is simple, plain rice. Without rice, many Thai will feel that they have not eaten. Rice and food – khao in Thai – are synonymous, and the Thai often refer to plain rice as ‘beautiful rice’ or ‘noble rice’. The dishes that provide the nutrients and flavors which complement the rice are referred as kap khao, meaning “with rice”. As with everything else, the way rice is prepared tends to vary between the northern and southern regions, with meals in the northern areas such as Chaing Mai more likely to serve sticky rice in small straw baskets (frequently in wrapping to keep it moist). In southern areas, you are more likely to get the fluffy jasmine rice generally found in Thai restaurants around Portland. One must also remember, noodles have always been a huge part of Asian cuisine, dating back many thousands of years, and are found in many regional dishes. For more information, see our Thai Food Primer by clicking here.
Enough of the primer; we are here to talk about one restaurant in particular, and that is Siam Society on NE Alberta. The first thing you should know is it is located in an old power company substation. A square blockhouse that was a warren of little rooms filled with electrical equipment has been completely renovated, yet still keeps the industrial feel of its past. From the imposing square building with a sweeping staircase leading to the front doors to the foot-thick concrete walls, there is no doubt this building has a serious industrial past. Many of the interior walls have been cut out, with large steel beams acting to replace their load-bearing capacity. The ceiling, rising some 20 feet, is studded with skylights. The old windows with their beautiful iron shutters are still in place on the otherwise, completely refinished outside shell. On a recent early evening, light poured into the room, dramatically lighting the space. With the accompanying industrial art, it really is quite beautiful. When Siam Society first opened, there was a problem with the heating system. This has been solved, but as the concrete tends to absorb cold, wear a sweater during the cooler months. In the summer there is a terrific patio upstairs in the back. I can’t wait to have a drink out there on a warm evening.
The interior is broken into two sections, the full bar taking one side, and the dining room the other. The cocktail list is terrific with some of the best drinks in Portland. My favorites include the pomegranate cosmo: a perfectly balanced mix of fresh limes, shaken with 100% pomegranate juice, vodka, and triple sec, and their twist on the Brazilian caipiroska, with muddled limes, sugar, Stoli, and mango juice, beautifully adorned with slices of fresh mango around the outside. These cocktails are perfectly balanced, most around $7.00. Seven bottled beers are available: Singha, Hoegaarden, Corona, Bridgeport Supris, PBR, Kaliber, and Rogue Hazelnut Ale. Four are on tap @ $3.00, all Roots Organics’, and there is a small selection of wines by bottle and glass.
We have a good thing going here: a nice building, attentive staff, excellent drinks… but it all comes down to the food, and, in most cases, Siam Society delivers with flair. All the portions are large; I’d make them a bit smaller. It would be easy to make a meal out of an appetizer and a soup. The presentation of every dish is beautiful. Some curries come to the table in the individual copper pots used to cook them: dramatic and they stay nice and hot.
The calamari may be the best I have ever had. It is lightly battered and cooked to exactly the correct crispness. I was dazzled by the subtle flavors of lemongrass and a hint of hot peppers married with the subtle seafood flavor. It doesn’t get better than this. The lighter than usual batter really lets the flavor of the calamari come through.
The pork spring rolls have been a huge hit every time. You get a platter with about six large pieces that are crackling crisp, lying alluringly on a bed of spinach. Cinnamon, hazelnuts, and vanilla beans give them a wonderful depth. An accompanying dipping sauce works perfectly; this is an incredibly good interplay between flavors – just terrific. One caution, eat them while they are hot or they aren’t nearly as good.
Though they are not always on the menu, the homemade sausages are a must-have. Chiang Mai is in the Ping River Valley, a well known agricultural region. The food from this northern part of Thailand has different characteristics from the other three parts into which Thailand is generally divided. Their namesake sausage is robust and wonderful, crackling with flavor. Everything pairs marvelously when you orchestrate a bite with the cabbage, peanuts, and ginger.
Soups are interesting, a bit different from the normal Thai fare. Even the small portions are quite large. I tried the ginger soup, which was VERY gingery, muting some other flavors, but it still went over well with my group. The Thom Kha with chicken was a bit thicker than you normally find around town, though not as heavy as you would find in Thailand. I think it is terrific; I could easily just have a bowl of this for dinner. The coconut milk blends perfectly with lemongrass, kaffir lime, fish sauce, and I believe galangal, making it refreshing during warm weather and warming during cool weather. When it is on the menu, the hot and sour soup shows the Chinese influence on Thai cuisine, but only in the basic structure, not in the final execution. It has a good combination of flavors, some of which I can’t identify, but everything balances just the way it should.
I’ve had a pretty good sampling of the other dishes. Here is a quick summary.
Laad naa had a perfect level of deep, smoky flavor. The smoky pork balances the other ingredients, the fat wheat noodles provide the perfect base, and the Chinese broccoli and mushrooms are bright and crisp.
Phad Thai is probably the biggest selling Thai dish in America. It is also one of the most complicated and least appreciated for its complex melody of flavors. Instead of the nuts being finely chopped, they were halved and scattered throughout, a nice change that added some texture. It was a decent entrée, a dish that is very hard to compare to others because there are so many variations on the recipe. My recommendation is to think about it while you eat and try to pick out and appreciate all the flavors. Many versions have 17 or more ingredients.
The phad kee Mao with beef is a dish of great contrast, the textures and flavors of the crispy fried basil leaves, grilled red peppers, chilies, and onions all harmonizing with the tender beef, and perfect wheat noodles. This is not the “drunken noodles” you have tried most places, but a much more sophisticated version that really sings. Often, this dish is a blowout of spice that covers the other flavors (the reason they call it “drunken noodles” is because of the amount of water you’ll want to drink to combat the heat.), but here the heat is held back just enough so that everything balances. The crispy fried basil gives lovely little explosive bits of flavor against the noodles; a transcendent dish that raises Thai-fusion cooking in Portland to a new level.
Kao soy with curried chicken is a good test dish for a Thai restaurant. This is a green northern version, originating from the Muslim community. Make sure to squeeze the lime over it to bring out the flavors, and pay attention to the subtle mace and cinnamon flavors hiding within the coconut milk. The first time it was wonderfully piquant, the second time the flavors were a bit muted, but as with most homemade curries, the flavor is going to vary a bit from batch to batch. Overall, it has a great combination of ingredients, with many layers of flavor giving it lots of depth. Crunchy noodles give a great contrast in textures. As with the other curries, it comes steaming to the table in a beautiful copper pot.
Grilled pork chops are great. If you like pork and spicy Chinese influenced dishes, you will think you are in heaven. The pork is cooked to exactly the right point. The chops are thick and juicy with a wonderful sear, the sauce full of fresh, crunchy textures. Thick slices of fresh mango cool at the same time the heat of the spices. A lovely effort.
Another big hit is the roasted chicken, glazed with a ginger rum sauce. The chicken is (once again) perfectly cooked and moist, the sauce giving it a slightly sweet resonance. We passed it all over the table as it is huge, and everyone wanted more.
Panang curry with grilled flank steak has tender beef and tiny Thai eggplants, giving it a subtle herbaceous flavor. The spice is just right, not too hot. Lately, it seems like there is less flank steak than before. Very smooth sauce, no separation – in a surprising change, if you have the leftovers the next day, you don’t have to fight your way through a layer of congealed grease. The flavors are somewhat subtle, slightly overpowered by the spiciness, but if you concentrate, the different components are not difficult to pick out. It can be a bit on the sweet side, but if you spend any time in Thailand you will quickly realize that most curries are even sweeter there.
Finally, the massaman curry delivers a blow of complexity and flavor that will leave you stunned. I think this is the best dish on the menu, and that is saying a lot. There are many layers of complex flavors giving tremendous depth and a long finish. Even the potatoes are perfectly cooked. If you can finish the dish (the portion is so large and rich, this would be a bit of a challenge), you’ll want to lick the bowl. An astonishing interpretation of a classic Thai dish.
Desserts at Siam Society can be stunning. Perfect ice creams take lots of practice because the flavors change so much as they freeze. Don’t miss them here; they are always fresh, and close to perfect, with a creamy, tiny grain, and lovely balanced flavors. The coconut ice cream atop steaming sweet coconut sticky rice had everyone at the table fighting over the bowl. A cardamom ice cream had a remarkably rich flavor and did a delicate dance with vanilla notes. Coconut flan was a big step up from normal restaurant versions, absolutely smooth, with a vivid, silky mist of Grand Marnier. The lemon ginger cheesecake is on a crust that is light yet friable, the cake almost as light as a mousse, with tiny bits of lemon zest and a scattering of candied ginger across the top. Phenomenal! If nothing else, stop here for the desserts and a really good cup of coffee!
Siam Society is not true Thai in the purest sense of the word, but rather a new set of influences on a very old cuisine that is already influenced by many of the world’s regions. While the food might not be as spicy as some would like, remember, they have to keep it at a level where it will be palatable to most people coming in. If you like things hotter, you can always ask for the sides of chile/spices.
It is nice to have a new addition to the Thai restaurant scene that is not just another cookie-cutter version of all the others. The inside is striking, the drinks excellent, and much of the food is quite memorable. I like that the owner greets you as you walk in the door, and the chef frequently makes her way out at some time during the meal to see w
- Address: 2703 NE Alberta, Portland, OR. 97211 Google Map
- Wheelchair accessible through the door on the left side.
- Website: siamsociety.com
Our pals over at portland food.org–a mass of whom I noticed were there last night, dining a few tables from mine; I would have said hello but did not want to give Nick agida–do not seem to share your/our enthusiasm for Siam. Taste is of course subjective. Count me a huge fan.
Doesn’t anyone else have an issue with those horribly looking and terribly uncomfortable chairs? It’s a shame to see such cheap, tacky chairs in an otherwise beautiful space.
It would have been nice to see you and say hi, Nancy, sorry you didn’t come over. Nick actually agrees with y’all, he likes the place, and he liked our dinner more than many at our tables.
I am one of those with a dissenting view of Siam Society. One thing I have to say is that there basically was no concept of presentation where the plates were concerned. Almost every single plate came out with the same mixed greens you can buy in a bag at any supermarket. It became a joke at our table.
I didn’t feel that the flavors were balanced overall, but I am not an expert on things Thai, just on what I find pleasing to my own palate. And I didn’t find much pleasing in our 3 hour meal.
It even ended with a whimper. Dessert was flavorless sorbet, ice cream that hadn’t frozen properly (it was liquid), and burnt leaves around sticky rice and bananas (the few that weren’t burnt were OK, but a couple should not have made it out to the table). Word is they gave us the desserts for free. Good thing, it would have been absurd to charge for that.
Doubt I’ll be back to sit on those nasty chairs again. Just didn’t find enough to like to return.
If you are not an expert on Thai – why do you feel to make such comments. I wonder if you know how many people read this website and how completely discouraging you sound –
I have been to the Siam Society on several occassions, introduced many of my friends to the place and we all agree that it is by far the best Thai food in town. One of my friends who lived in Thailand says it’s the best Thai food she has ever had outside of Thailand.
As far as the chairs go – if that’s is all people have to complain about is the chairs I say that Siam is doing a fantastic job. What would you suggest that a restaurant use?
My opinion is just that, my opinion. I am entitled to it and you are entitled to disagree. I made it clear that I am not an expert and that I was there once. And it was also clear that SS knew that they were serving people who go out and eat and post online about their experiences. They made a lot of money that night, don’t feel sorry for them, they can’t please everyone all the time, ya know. I’m sure that they are nice people and all…
I don’t think I have to be an expert on Thai to comment that the plates looked pathetic, the dessert was burnt, the ice cream wasn’t frozen properly, etc. I am starting to think you just can’t imagine someone not liking something you like…and how dare they voice a different opinion! ;o)
It’s great that you like it, although you offer no details about your experiences as to why, just threw down the “my friend is an expert” card, really. And hey, if your friends are experts and like it, good for you and them! Enjoy the place and keep going, no problem. (and I am not being facetious here in the least, it’s great to find a place you love to eat at)
I don’t just speak up about my good dining experiences, and I am glad that other people don’t too. I don’t form an opinion of any place based on anyone else’s opinion, I base it on my own experiences. Perhaps you would prefer this site if FD just put positive things in his reviews and didn’t post about places he doesn’t like? Hell, then he can take money from them, because all this would be is a bunch of ads.
And about the chairs, it wasn’t the only thing I disliked about the place, which was pretty clear, so I find it weird that you would focus on it. As to what should they use…how about chairs that are more confortable than the ones they have?
BTW, I love Basta’s, but their chairs are some of the worst in the city.
I get your point – perhaps I was being a little bit vague and a little bit biased. It really is one of my favorite places in town – we all have different palates and all like different things. That’s what makes the world go round…
Have you seen the awesome new sign at Siam Society…very cool.
Are you on their payroll or just have an obsession with this place?
if you have to ask…
I have seen many of your postings around the various blogs. You are definitely entitled to your opinion, but, for the most part, your viewpoints are “flavored” with uncalled-for negativity.
“Almost every single plate came out with the same mixed greens you can buy in a bag at any supermarket. It became a joke at our table.” “Doubt I’ll be back to sit on those nasty chairs again.”
As well, you come off as a pretentious, arrogant person… “And it was also clear that SS knew that they were serving people who go out and eat and post online about their experiences.” Because you consider yourself an “expert” diner, does that, in your mind, require better food, service, or even chairs?
Its interesting because I must have been there the same night (give or take a day). I thought the presentation was one of the best in the city. I, ordinarily, do not like Thai, but left Siam with a newly found love for the food.
Sorry to disappoint you – not on their payroll, perhaps obsessed is a bit strong – just like the place – wondered what others thought of the new sign…that’s all.
pollo elastico says
In response to “TiredOJill-O”‘s wanker-ish post, I viewed photos of the dinner in question (posted at Extramsg.com) and would have to agree with Jill-O on this point.
These platings (and serving sizes) at first glance don’t seem to warrant the overly effusive praise I’ve been hearing (nor the prices in comparison to other Thai restaurants – $8 for vegetarian salad rolls?) – but since viewing a few lo-res photos can hardly substitute for the actual experience, I’ll reserve my judgement.
Tim L says
Yeah, it looks like there are two “Tim’s” who love Siam Society…and their new sign.
Have dined there many dozens of times and have yet to encounter a less than steller meal or dining experience. Will be there tonight,in fact.
I sat beside Jill-O at that dinner. While she is entitled to her opinion, it’s a fact that almost every single plate served to us came with the same bagged lettuce garnish. And perhaps her complaint about the chairs was exacerbated by the fact that our dinner hit the three hour mark due to long waits in between courses.
It’s my contention that Siam Society is incapable of serving that many people very well, at least on that night. It’s a tough thing to pull off, really, so I don’t discredit them for it. 22 people eating, say, 15 dishes, that’s a lot for any kitchen, let alone a newish kitchen.
But what I meant to comment on was the acidity that is pervasive here. Couldn’t we lay off a bit on the personal attacks? It’s hostile and not conducive to discussion.
As I previously stated, people are entitled to opinions. What Jill-O left out (unstated):
1. The wait between courses
2. That the 3 hours you spent dining was not your (given) choice.
3. That there were 22 of you.
I would concur, given the current FOH/BOH at Siam, they cannot accommodate such a large party at one time. At the same time, though, Jill-O:
1. Does not give all of the relevant facts (and she should–especially if she is going to publically opine).
2. Because of her “biting” comments, loses credibility (and is thereby deserving of people calling her on it).
T.O.: I believe that it was understood that she was part of the huge Portland food.org group that Nancy mentions in the first comment.
As far as her ‘biting’ commentary goes, Jill is a New Yorker, she tells it like it is and doesn’t sugar-coat it.
…..a “mass” does not equate to a definite #…and can refer to a few as 4 (often in reference to loud as well as large parties). Oh, I am from New York as well (and very proud of it)…I just realize Portland isn’t New York.
…and there is a large difference between rudeness (as well as not detailing all the facts)and telling “it like it is and doesn’t sugar-coat it”.
Timothy, I really like the new sign, especially the flourish. I would prefer it light up yellow, instead of white, though, if I’m going to pick nits. Artsy and cool, a great addition to the neighborhood. Love the food, too, incidentally. Heh.
I’d never bring a party larger than around twelve to a restaurant that size, to address the current kerfuffle. It’s asking for disappointment. More than twelve or so and I’d pick a place with private rooms or a kitchen that’s large enough to accomodate that kind of a slam, like Oba or Balvo or Roux.
FWIW, it’s not like we just showed up with that many people. It was arranged weeks in advance, and even the menu was pre-set. I’d also like to add that the service was excellent, it was the kitchen that couldn’t handle it.
We have had many dinners with that many people that have been absolutely splendid. Carafe served perhaps twenty of us last year with quite a few couses. It was a wonderful evening.
I do disagree with my friend Jill on one point: you simply can’t judge a restaurant when you have that many people. So I will give them another chance or two.
Although, when you think about it, if SS wasn’t up for us, they should have refused us or insisted on smaller numbers.
Oh, and I should say that it was less than half of our crew who left that dinner with unmet expectations. Quite a few loved it.
“I do disagree with my friend Jill on one point: you simply can’t judge a restaurant when you have that many people.”
That’s my feeling. I also agree that a resto shouldn’t take on a party they can’t handle, and when I checked Citysearch, Siam Society was listed as “Group Dining” — ie, good for large parties. As a new-ish place, I’m not surprised that they may have bitten off more than they can chew.
After reading about the wonderful and inventive cocktails that food dude mentioned, I have to say that last night (during last Thursday), after two attempts over a 2 hour period, I went thirsty. The bartender told us – a party of 3 -that “he had 20 drinks ahead of us. This seemed to translate to “get lost, I’m busy here”. The next time we tried to have a drink, after having dinner somewhere else, we were told “i’m very busy here”.
I then asked to speak to owner/manager who in turn said “it’s last Thursday” as if this more than made up for the fact that his bartender turned us down flat for cocktails. I must also add that we never spoke a word to the bartender, merely sat at the bar.
I will NEVER give this restaurant another chance because if I want to be treated that way (similar to the soup nazi), I will make my own cocktail and watch a rerun of Seinfeld!
Paul Van Slyke says
I was trying to be nice to you when you were complaining about the wait for a drink. Yes it did take a long time for everyone to get a drink, since it was last Thursday, but you seemed to us to be already intoxicated, so we were trying to keep you from having more alcohol. It is our policy to politely try and avoid serving people who seem already intoxicated.
Paul Van Slyke
I’ve grown to hate First Thursday with the throngs of drunkards, bad parallel parkers, and litter. We in the neighborhood call it “amateur night,” and although we are happy for the business it brings to the merchants, we generally avoid it if we want to conduct normal neighborhood activities such as going out to eat, getting cocktails, going to the video store, etc. Plus, there are tons of other options just a few blocks off the “strip” that are much more mellow and have plenty of seating. Anyone who thinks it will be easy to get drinks anywhere on Alberta during last Thursday is being naïve, and in my opinion, is asking for it. It’s like trying to find a quiet Irish bar during St. Paddy’s day. You want drinks with your friends? Do as the locals do. Bring a flask. Paul, you are my hero.
Au countraire re our “drunken” status. You have us confused with perhaps another party as we had NO drinks or otherwise intoxicating substance (hence our thirst) prior to coming to your beautiful restaurant.
We did have a few beers with dinner (at another establishment) before returning to Siam Society for our second go at a cocktail.
We ended up going to an Italian eatery on Alberta for a very delicious margarita.
As to cusinebonnefemme’s comments about not being able to get a drink on last Thursday, why bother opening at all on last Thursday if it will be so difficult to get a bite or a drink?
I agree with your “bring a flask next time” comment whole heartedly.
“why bother opening at all on last Thursday if it will be so difficult to get a bite or a drink?”
Pork Cop says
That is some perplexing logic to get behind.So, if it’s really busy a restaurant shouldn’t open because one or two people might be upset that it is so busy…….. Sounds like a reasonable (and successful) business plan
Tim L says
Again last evening I was blown away by one of my all-time favorite entrees ever inhaled in this town. I speak of the Pan Seared Halibut in Green Curry topped with Red Grape and Mango Relish. The generous portion of halibut was so tender and perfectly cooked right down to the nearest second, I think, and the combination of flavors and aromas and heat in the curry and the relish topping makes this a most memorable meal in my book. My complements to the chef.
I’ve got to concur. I have ordered the Siam Society’s Pan Seared Halibut in Green Curry at least 5 times over the past two years, and every single time, it has been done to perfection. Its a wondrously delectable dish. Yum!
Food Dude says
I have it every time I’m there
Here are some vitriol-free facts about my experience and then some general commentary.
When I went to SS over the summer with my wife:
1. The server dropped a purple cocktail next right next to my table
2. She then burned my hand with a hot tea pot
3. It turned out that the ginger tea I had ordered was actually very weak ginseng. She had put in 1 scoop instead of 4 and the liquid just looked like dishwater and tasted scary.
4. The food was coarsely-flavored. If Thai food is supposed to be balanced in flavor, this was not it. I understand that they are experimenting with new ideas and tastes but this was quite extreme. I don’t think I am an unadventurous eater but the Massaman Curry tasted a lot like peanut butter. And $16?!!!
I complained that I was unhappy with the service and that the food was not to my taste (flavor is subjective) and, to their credit, we were given a full refund.
I will try Siam Society again because it is a cool concept.
This place is seriously whitified, seems to be the trend in Portland these days.
minus 1 star for using Texas rice
minus 1 star for fiberous bamboo shoot, yeah it’s fresh, but I’m not trying to floss here
minus 1 star for french style duck in panang curry, just doesn’t go.
plus 1 star for Cardamom ice cream – excellent. The tapioca pearls were not cooked all the way through and has powdery center, but I guess that’s just garnish.
Verdict – 3 stars if you’re not Asian. 1 star if you are.
Typhoon on 23rd is much much better at this kind of thing.
I did learn one lesson – don’t get tattoo in a different language.
What you think means positive energy in Thai really says…
(positive) literally means like plus
(energy) actually means will power
We make fun of Asians for wearing silly nonsensical English t-shirts. But at least they have the brains to not permanently ink on their skin elements of a language or culture which they do not comprehend.