Khun Yay (‘Grandma’), my landlord’s mother, is originally from Ayuthaya, but moved to Mae Hong Son when she was 14 – more than 70 years ago. ‘It took us three months to walk here from Ayuthaya,’ she explained to me, adding that part of the journey was done on elephant back. After seven decades here she’s essentially a native of the city, and even used to earn extra money by selling Thai Yai/Shan sweets. She can also make the local savoury dishes, and everybody in the family agrees that she makes a mean hang lay.
Kaeng hang lay is a rich curry based around pork belly (hang lay is a corruption of the Burmese word for pork curry). The dish is found all over northern Thailand, and because it’s easy to make in large volumes, is often associated with communal eating. ‘If you come during a festival they’ll make the dish using tens of kilos of pork,’ explained Khun Yai, while pounding the curry paste in a mortar and pestle. Her version is a variant on the local version of the dish that usually forgoes the chili paste altogether (she decided to include a basic one here), and which also highlights the local obsession with tomatoes (here in the form of ketchup). She explained that if you substitute chicken for pork, and leave out the ginger, tamarind and garlic, you’ll have the recipe for kai oop, another popular local curry.
Kaeng Hang Lay
Small chilies, 10
Salt, 1 tsp
Shallots, sliced, 2
Shrimp paste, 1 Tbsp
Garlic, sliced, 1 Tbsp
Bork belly, including fat and skin layer, 1kg
Bottled chili sauce, 1 Tbsp
Ketchup, 2 Tbsp
Sweet soy sauce, 1 Tbsp
Turmeric powder, 1 tsp
‘Marsala’ powder*, 2 Tbsp
Vegetable oil, 2 Tbsp
Shallots, peeled and quartered, 12
Small cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole, 20
Ginger, peeled shredded, ¼ cup
Tamarind pulp, to taste
Sugar, to taste
Salt, to taste
*Known locally as phong maksalaa, this is a spice mixture used in Mae Hong Son.
Combine chili paste ingredients and grind to a paste using a mortar and pestle:
Wash pork and cut into chunks about 4cm long. Combine with chili paste, chili sauce, ketchup, soy sauce, turmeric powder and ‘Marsala’ powder:
Heat oil over medium heat in a deep saucepan. Add pork mixture and allow to seal, stirring only once or twice, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add enough water to cover the pork:
reduce heat and allow to simmer until almost all the water evaporates, the fat rises and pork is tender, up to two hours. If water evaporates too quickly, add more.
Add shallots, garlic and ginger:
and allow to simmer until tender, about 10 more minutes. Season to taste with tamarind pulp, sugar and salt, and serve with hot rice and an acidic salad; Khun Yai suggested a local salad of green mango.