A blog about food in Thailand
and elsewhere.


Monthly Archives: December 2008



Lao is the new…

Posted at 6pm on 12/1/08 | read on
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 Going to market, Luang Prabang, Laos

well, I’m not exactly sure what, but it certainly is in the press lately. First of all, Saveur #115 has a feature piece on Lao food. I didn’t think the dishes profiled seemed particularly ‘Lao’, but I liked much of the photography.  And secondly, there’s a piece on the food of Luang Prabang in the December issue of Food and Travel, written and photographed by, uh, me. Sneak preview here.

Tom yam samong muu

Posted at 2am on 12/3/08 | read on
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A bowl of tom yam samong muu, Chinese-style pig brain soup, Bangkok

I don’t think Phil was too keen on the idea, giving prions as a lame excuse. But they were out of brains that day anyway, so he got off easily. However on a recent visit to Banglamphu I wasn’t so lucky; they hadn’t yet run out of brains, and I finally got a try. What I’m referring to is tom yam samong muu, pig brain tom yam.

This unusual — even for Bangkok — dish is served in an ancient townhouse in Bangkok’s Banglamphu neighbourhood owned an extremely friendly 80-year old man:

The second-generation owner of Tom Yam Samong Muu, a restaurant serving pig brain soup, Bangkok

His father, an immigrant from China (and who eventually lived to be 94 — the result of a diet of pig brains?), was the original owner. He reckons his father started the restaurant up during the early years of WWII, and little, including the positively medieval kitchen, appears to have changed since then. He now runs the place with his daughter.

Undoubtedly due to his father’s influence, the man told us that the style of pig brain tom yam he makes is the Chinese style (Thai-style pig brain tom yam is available just across the street, he explained). In fact his signature dish doesn’t only contain pig brains; there are bits of liver, tubular lengths of intestine and pork balls (no, not pork testicles, meatballs), among other meaty bits I wasn’t able to identify. The dark brown bits you see are, if I remember correctly, battered deep-fried chunks of taro, which were particularly tasty.

He told us that most people eat the soup with a bowl of rice, dipping the meats in a tiny side dish of spicy dipping sauce first, then eating it with the rice. His dipping sauce was in fact delicious, and was made from tiny pickled chilies ground up with salt.

The verdict? Not bad, but not amazing. As pictured above, the broth appears thick and cloudy, but wasn’t as rich as it looks. And I’m more put off by intestines than brain, which to be honest was actually very similar in flavour and texture to soft tofu. I’m thinking of using it as a tofu substitute for vegan recipes.

Tom Yam Samong Muu
11 Phraeng Phuthon
086 772 1600
9am-4pm Mon-Sat


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Just a few of the options at Khao Tom 24, a restaurant serving Thai/Chinese cuisine in Yaowarat, Bangkok's Chinatown

then stop by my exhibition, The Last Chinatown, which begins tomorrow, December 6th, at Kathmandu Gallery in Bangkok.


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 Lemongrass omelet at Poj Spa Kar, Bangkok's oldest restaurant

Poj Spa Kar (pronounced phot saphaa khaan) is Bangkok’s oldest restaurant. The current chef, Nathamon Jaidet, married into the family of the owner, whose relatives were former cooks in the Thai royal palace. She continues to use some of these royal recipes, my favourite of which is this simple, but delicious Thai-style lemongrass omelet.

Natthamon Jaidet making a lemongrass omelet at her Bangkok restaurant, Poj Spa Kar

Unlike a French-style omelet, which is cooked on one side in a small amount of butter, Thai-style omelets (khai jiaw) are essentially deep-fried on both sides. Minced pork is a common addition, but this unusual version uses finely sliced lemongrass, which provides the dish with a slight citrus flavour. The ideal Thai omelet is ‘fluffy’,  which Nathamon claims is due to the addition of a squeeze of lime juice. The cooking process is also unique, and Nathamon insists on using very hot oil, which results in an oil-free omelet. She also pours the egg mixture into the oil from about a foot above the wok, producing an omelet that is crispy and layered, not unlike a pastry.

Ingredients:
Lemongrass, 1 stalk
Eggs, 2
Lime
Oil for deep-frying
Chili
Cilantro
Bottled chili sauce

Slice white section of lemongrass as thinly as possible.

Beat Eggs thoroughly. Add a squeeze of lime juice, beat again. Add lemongrass and combine.

Heat at least four cups of oil until just beginning to smoke. Pour eggs into hot oil with a swilrling motion, from about a foot high. When omelet is slightly brown on the bottom, about 20 seconds, flip. Cook until slightly brown and crispy on opposite side, a few more seconds. Drain oil and serve with optional garnishes of sliced chili and cilantro, and a small bowl of bottled chili sauce. Serve with rice.

A coupla pics from Mae Hong Son

Posted at 4am on 12/13/08 | read on
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Main street, Pai, during the tourist season, Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand

Main street, Pai, during the tourist season, Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand

Am up north again and haven’t had as much time as I’d like to take pics, but did get a couple chances here and there, mostly in the beautiful (but now empty) rice fields of Mae Hong Son.

Cows coming home outside Pai, Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand

Cows coming home outside Pai, Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand

 Rice fields outside Pai at sunset, Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand

 Rice fields outside Pai at sunset, Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand

Gathering rice outside Soppong, Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand

Gathering rice outside Soppong, Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand

Rice fields outside Pai at sunset, Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand

Rice fields outside Pai at sunset, Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand

Gathering rice outside Soppong, Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand

Gathering rice outside Soppong, Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand

A whole lotta khao soi

Posted at 5pm on 12/13/08 | read on
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 Andy Ricker, chef/owner of Pok Pok, in Portland, Oregon, eating khao soi at Samoe Jai Fah Ham, Chiang Mai

As if I haven’t been going on about it enough already, I have more exciting khao soi-related news. I was lucky enough to meet up with Andy Ricker of Pok Pok fame in Chiang Mai, where together we visited six of his favourite khao soi joints. The above pic was somewhere into our third bowl at the famous Samoe Jai Fah Ham. I’d love to reveal more, but the results will run in a magazine article next year. More to follow then. For now I’d just like to say that six bowls may not seem like a lot, but I reckon it will be a good while before I gain back the desire to eat khao soi…

Thai Yai sweets

Posted at 8am on 12/16/08 | read on
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 Thai Yai/Shan-style sweets for sale in Soppong, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

I’m usually not a huge fan of Thai desserts, but have really been enjoying the sweet stuff up here in Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand. The majority of people in this province are Shan, also known as Thai Yai (or Tai), and have a different set of sweet stuff than the Thais. Essentially, they’ve made due with the limited set of ingredients they have at hand: rice (regular or sticky, or sometimes wheat flour), sesame and sugar, often from sugarcane (rather than from palm sugar, as is typically the case with southern Southeast Asia).

My favourite so far is suay thamin:

Suay thamin, a Thai Yai/Shan-style sweet for sale in Soppong, Mae Hong Son

I can’t remember what suay means, but thamin is Burmese for rice, in this case sticky rice, which has been steamed with raw sugarcane sugar and/or juice and topped with a salty coconut custard. A similar and equally common sweet is alawaa:

Alawa, a Thai Yai/Shan-style sweet for sale in Soppong, Mae Hong Son

made from rice flour, coconut milk and sugar. Both of these were bought in the tiny town of Pang Maphaa, also known as Soppong, and were among the only interesting things to eat there.

At the morning market in Mae Hong Son I came across these, which resembled donuts:

Thai Yai/Shan-style sweets for sale in Mae Hong Son's morning market, Thailand

Apparently they’re made from rice flour, sugarcane sugar and… sesame.

The last, and probably simplest of all, is khao pook:

Khao pook, a Thai Yai/Shan-style sweet for sale in Mae Hong Son, Thailand

This is purple sticky rice that has been mashed up with a bit of salt, then rolled in ground sesame. It’s then served with sugarcane syrup or simply a block of sugarcane (as shown above) and wrapped in bai tong tueng, a leaf from a teak-like tree that often replaces dishes in this part of the country. Amazing really, what you can do with just a few basic ingredients.

Sesame oil

Posted at 6am on 12/17/08 | read on
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 Dried sesame plants, Pang Muu, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Sesame is an important item in the traditional diet of the Shan people in Mae Hong Son. In addition to the various sweets that employ the seed, sesame is also used for its oil. Most places in Mae Hong Son use a mechanical press to make sesame oil, but one place in Ban Pang Muu, about 5km north of the provincial capital, still does it the old way: by buffalo.

They begin with dried sesame, shown above. When the pods are fully grown and dried, they open themselves, and getting the seeds out simply involves turning them over and shaking them out. The seeds are washed thoroughly, dried, and are ready to go

A bit of a water is added to the large wooden mortar-like vessel:

Preparing to make sesame oil, Pang Muu, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

followed by the seeds themselves:

Preparing to make sesame oil, Pang Muu, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

which have been washed thoroughly and dried slightly, but are not roasted beforehand, as in Chinese-style sesame oil:

Preparing to make sesame oil, Pang Muu, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

A rather reluctant buffalo is connected to a large wooden ‘pestle’ and proceeds to walk around in circles, driving the pestle and crushing the seeds:

Using a buffalo to press sesame oil, Pang Muu, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

It takes about three hours to extract all the oil, and the guy above has to walk with the buffalo the entire time, otherwise it will stop:

Using a buffalo to press sesame oil, Pang Muu, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

After an hour or so the oil begins to separate from the seeds and rises to the top. After three hours it’s simply scooped out by hand.  It takes 15kg of seeds to produce 4kg of oil, which is then put old whiskey bottles and sold in the province’s markets:

Bottle of sesame oil, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

To see this process firsthand, visit:

Pang Moo Organic Sesame Project
255/1 Moo 1, Pang Moo, Mae Hong Son
053 612 534


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Mae Sri Bua

Posted at 4am on 12/21/08 | read on
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Shan-style meatballs and curried veggies at Mae Sri Bua, a Shan restaurant in Mae Hong Son

Mae Sri Bua is a Shan restaurant in Mae Hong Son. The owner/chef, Mae Sri Bua is a native of the city and has been at this a long time. She has trouble walking nowadays, but still manages to make some pretty good eats.

Serving up food at Mae Sri Bua, a Shan restaurant in Mae Hong Son

On my first visit to the restaurant I had had jin lung, the meatballs pictured at the top of this post. This a Shan dish you see everywhere in Mae Hong Son and it’s made by pounding meat (the above were made with pork, but beef or fish can also used) with fresh herbs and veggies including lemongrass, garlic, galangal, fresh chilis, shallots, turmeric and tomato. The paste is shaped into meatballs that are then deep-fried. The meatballs are spicy and strong and would put any Swede to shame. Alongside this is some sort of curried vegetable that Mae Sri Bua claims has medicinal properties, and in the small bowl nam phrik khua, another popular Shan side dish that combines dried chili, deep-fried crispy garlic and a grilled soybean paste.

On another visit I had this:

Hang ley, Shan-style pork curry, and kaeng ho, a northern-style stir-fry, at Mae Sri Bua, a Shan restaurant in Mae Hong Son

kaeng hang ley, a Burmese-style pork curry, and kaeng ho, a northern Thai-style stir-fry. The former was probably the best version of the dish I’ve had in a long time, and was incredibly rich as well as fragrant from the thin slices of ginger. I think it could be even better if the pork belly was slowly braised until fall-apart tender. I’ve already bought the necessary ingredients and am definitely planning to make this one when I get home. If I get a chance, I’ll share the recipe here.

Mae Sri Bua
51 Th Singhanatbamrung, Mae Hong Son
053 612 471
8.30am-6.30pm


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Khao kan jin

Posted at 4am on 12/23/08 | read on
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 Khao kan jin, rice steamed with blood, as served at a stall in Mae Hong Son

The name of this dish is, I believe, dialect for, ‘rice with meat’. It’s a Shan dish that one finds all over northern Thailand, but is best near its traditional homeland.

Ironically there’s little meat involved in the dish; that is unless you consider blood meat. The dish is made from rice that has been mixed with blood (and perhaps a bit of salt) and steamed in a banana leaf. When served, the dish is topped with crispy deep-fried garlic, plenty of garlic oil and deep-fried chilies. Coriander (cilantro) and bean sprouts are served on the side. If you have the dish in Burma’s Shan State it’s served with the pungent root of a type of onion/leek.

One of the best versions of the dish I’ve encountered is at a tiny roadside stall in Mae Hong Son:

At a stall that serves khao kan jin, rice steamed with blood, Mae Hong Son

The stall serves just two things: khao kan jin and the local version of nam ngiaw, a northern-style noodle dish. Not surprisingly, the rice dish is rich and oily, but unless you were already aware, you’d never know it was made with blood (which has little flavour of its own anyway). The nam ngiaw is made in the local style: watery and employing more tomatoes than meat.

Khao Kan Jin Stall
Th Khunlum Praphat, Mae Hong Son
1-7pm


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