Dishes to Try Up North

Pak ki hood, blanched and served alongside nam prik

Believe it or not, I am not going to write about kanom jeen nam ngiew or the Steelers today. I know, I know. I know this makes you sad. But I must branch out. Show all my brilliant colors. Spread my wings.

So instead, I will ramble on semi-incoherently about my childhood in the era of Rama VI, back when rickshaws ruled the North and people foraged in the jungle for food. My fascinating reminiscences include memories of being abandoned at the post office as my nanny chatted up her then-boyfriend, and being menaced by a homicidal goose tethered to a pole in the middle of her front yard. Did you know geese are thoroughly unpleasant creatures? Now you do.

I also remember my Aunt Priew, who lived right next door to my grandmother’s house — easily accessible from our yard once you managed to jump over a tiny hill of ferocious red ants. Somehow, I never really made the jump and was bitten every time I tried. Yet day after day would find me once again testing the anthill because my Aunt Priew is a tremendous cook, possibly the best cook of Northern Thai food in the kingdom.  Roasted lin fa (sky tongue) beans, julienned and stir-fried with glass noodles or paired with a fatty raw larb; a touch of magorg, or water olive, added to a fiery nam prik num (roasted green chili dip) — my aunt is full of these little touches with the local produce that set her dishes apart from the rest. Now if I could just convince her to open a restaurant …

These are some of the Northern Thai dishes that are worth the long trek up to the tip of the country. They go just as well with khao suay (jasmine rice) as they do with khao niew (sticky rice). Try them for a real taste of Northern Thai food:

(Note: Please forgive the photos. They are a little … blurry. No, it wasn’t the wine.)

Gaeng om, Northern-style

Gaeng om, sort of


Unlike the light, prickly Isaan gaeng om, the Northern Thai version is — like much of the rest of Northern food — richer, meatier and fattier. The curry paste is that for a typical gaeng muang (Northern curry), with a couple of additions. There is lemongrass, galangal, dry chili, shrimp paste and garlic, plus pla sarak (kind of like pla salid, but bigger) and bakwan, which, if not Sichuan peppercorn, is something very similar, with the same tongue-numbing effects.

The tongue-numbing peppercorn bakwan

This paste is then fried in oil and augmented by fresh chilies, pork innards, bruised lemongrass and red shallot bulbs, and kaffir lime leaves and stewed, and then garnished with dill and coriander. It has a lingering meat taste that is very Northern.

Gaeng gadang

Pork “jelly” with pork rinds


Some dishes seem like they were engineered by mistake. Puff pastry is one; this is another. It’s basically a gaeng muang focused on kaki (fatty pork leg) and/or moo sam chan (three-layer pork), left out in the cold. It’s a distinctly “cold season” dish because traditionally it was left out overnight to congeal; today, it is chilled in the refrigerator and served in slices like a terrine. Very unusual and very porky.

Saa pak

Northern Thai “salad”, or saa pak

This is hands-down my favorite dish up North, but something that, aside from a few vendors in the Chiang Rai wet market, is very difficult to obtain. The reason could possibly be the 10+ types of local leaves (pak puen muang) required for a real saa pak (“spicy leaves”).

Greenery includes thinly sliced brinjals, young mango leaves, water olive leaves, pak pu ya (“grandfather-grandmother leaves,” a kind of edible blossom), plus sliced shallots and chopped fresh tomato. It is then tossed, like a chopped or Caesar salad, with flaked fish meat which has been grilled or boiled (with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf to lose the fishiness), plus nam prik num (roasted green chili dip) and sliced water olive.

This is a dish I am going to try to recreate at home with plain old lettuce, onions, tomato and avocado. I think it could give me a little taste of home, even in the middle of Bangkok.

 

9 Comments

Filed under Asia, Chiang Rai, curries, food, food stalls, markets, Northern Thailand, Thailand

9 responses to “Dishes to Try Up North

  1. David

    All this food stuff is good, but can you get back to the Stiilers? Where you watchin’ the game ‘nat?

    • Last time the Steelers went to the Superbowl, I saw the game at Bully’s and nearly got into a fistfight with an Arizona Cardinals “fan” (more like a Steelers hater. Hate those kinds of fans). So I think I shouldn’t venture out into public this time. Also I got chest pains from watching the last, game-winning drive and had to go home and lie down for the rest of the day.

      Where are yinz guys gonna watch the game?

  2. Pingback: Bangkok Eating - Page 22 - FlyerTalk Forums

  3. SpecialKRB

    Wow, Kanit. You sure have a lot to say. Perhaps your own blog would be a better forum.

    Awesome suggestions! Can’t wait to go up North with you again!

    Xoxo,
    Karen

  4. WOULD YOU CHANGE THE TRANSCRIPTION TO KANG?
    PLUS Qs and As & SOME NOTES OF INTEREST from Kanit…drkanitfood@yahoo.com
    1. Thai Kang was never supposed to be mild. Kang Jued (with bone stock) is originally a Chinese cooking technique and should have been called Tom Jued all along.
    2. TRANSLITERATION NOTES
    RE: Kang Khieo Wan Kai (Th) [Vocal = Kang K’hiew Wan Kai / Gaeng K’hiew Wan Gai] Green Chicken Curry แกงเขียวหวานไก่
    • So many speakers of English may ask: “Why not ‘Gang’ or ‘Gaeng’ instead of Kang ?”
    • I agree that ‘Gaeng’ is frequently seen in many menus and even cookbooks but according to the RIPRTS and RIRTGST, ‘ก’ as the first consonant should be romanized as ‘k’ and that is how we get the ‘k’ in Kang (แกง).
    • Next question: “Why not add “e’ to make it Kaeng ?
    • May I reply with a question: “If an ‘e’ is added, Kang becomes Kaeng whose sounds may mean “เก้ง” meaning ‘elk’ .
    • “Why not Khew instead of Khieo ?
    • Because of the English verbal forms – the past tense form of ‘know’ is ‘knew’ and it would not sound right.
    • The explanation for using ‘o’ as a romanization for final consonant ‘ว’ in the Thai word ‘เขียว’ is done as recommended by “Charoenporn T, Chotimongkol A, Sornlertlamvanich V. Automatic Romanization for Thai. Software and Language Engineering Laboratory, NECTEC (National Electronics and Computer Technology Center, Thailand”, 2010 AD.

    SOME INTERESTING QUESTIONS
    Q.1 What is the definition for “Thai food dish” ? …the sort of dish that you may see in a restaurant/ ‘Thai’ menu dish ?
    Muntarbhorn has defined “Thai food dish” (Gastronomy in Asia II) according to one or more of the following criteria:
    (i) ingredient(s): a food dish whose main ingredients originated or first appeared among either a Thai ethnic group or within the land(s) of Siam or Thailand,
    (ii) cuisine: a food dish whose style of cooking or preparation is uniquely Thai and has been created by Thai person(s),
    (iii) geography: a food dish that, in the past, either originated in or first appeared within the boundary of the lands of Siam and/or Thailand,
    (iv) ethnicity: a food dish dish created by a Thai ethnic group which has become established as part of tradition or culture of that ethnic group and appeared timewise before any other similar food dish of other ethnic groups,
    (v) availability: a food dish that is available exclusively or almost exclusively within the land boundary of Thailand,
    (vi) records: a food dish whose details have been recorded by a person or persons of a Thai ethnic group ahead of other groups, or whose historical record, e.g. stone inscription, or manuscript, took place before that of others,
    (vii) tradition, culture, and customs: a food dish that has become internationally known as Thai food dish with substantial historical evidence linking it to the tradition, culture, and customs of a Thai ethnic group within the lands of Siam and/or Thailand,
    (viii) Thai Kingdom: a food dish with local “Thai” ingredients which originated during one of the Thai Kingdoms i.e. Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Dhonburi and Bangkok/ Rattanakosin, and
    (ix) international acceptance: a food dish with international acceptance and without objections from peoples of other ethnic groups.

    Q.2 Some examples?
    By considering the last criterium (ix) on international acceptance, Tom Yam Kung is a “Thai food dish”. There are recipes of Tom Yam in 1889 and 1890 AD and a recipe of Tom Yam Kung printed in 2441 BE / 1898 AD.

    Q.3 Some comments on the Thai-ness of the Top Ten Thai Dishes?
    In 1999, the Office of the National Culture Commission, Royal Thai Government, announced the results of a questionnaire survey of 1,500 Thai restaurants in Africa, America, Asia, Australia and Europe.
    The top ten dishes were: (1) Hot and Spicy Prawn Soup- Tom Yam Kung,
    (2) Green Chicken Curry- Kang Khiew Wan Gai, (3) Thai Fried Noodles- Phat Thai, (4) Fried (Meat) with Hot Basil- Phat Kaphrao, (5) Red Roasted Duck Curry – Kang Phet Ped Yang, (6) Chicken Galangal Soup- Tom Kha Kai, (7) Beef Salad- Yam Nuea, (8) Satay Beef/ Satay Chicken/ Satay Pork- Sate Nuea/ Sate Kai/ Sate Mu, (9) Chicken Fried with Cashew Nuts- Kai Phat Mamuang Himmaphan and (10) Beef with “Phanang” Curry Sauce – Phanang Nuea.
    At present , Kanit Muntarbhorn would be willing to say the following dishes are “Thai”:
    • Hot and Spicy Prawn Soup – Tom Yam Kung,
    • Green Chicken Curry – Kang Khiew Wan Gai,
    • Thai Fried Noodles – Phat Thai,
    • Fried (Meat) with Hot Basil- Phat Kaphrao,
    • Red Roasted Duck Curry – Kang Phet Ped Yang,
    • Chicken Galangal Soup- Tom Kha Kai
    • Beef with “Phanang” Curry Sauce – Phanang Nuea.

    But Kanit Muntarbhorn is not willing to say with certainty that Satay Beef/ Satay Chicken/ Satay Pork- Sate Nuea/ Sate Kai/ Sate Mu, and Chicken Fried with Cashew Nuts are “Thai”.
    • Is Pork Satay Pork more Peranakan Malay than Thai?
    • Isn’t Chinese Chicken Fried with Cashew Nuts older than Thai Fried Chicken with Cashew Nut?

    Q.4 On dishes to accompany rice, which are really Thai?
    As we all know about grilled meats e.g. fish for lunches and fresh vegetables with relish ‘nam phrik’ for dinners, I will concentrate on family dishes, and start with Tom Yam Kung cooked in Mor Kang (soup pot / curry pot).
    For Tom Yam Kung, water, herbs and prawns are essentials. In the nineteenth century AD, Thai country folks had problems about water and water containers (big clay-fired water jars were made by the Mons and were not available to most country folks). They did not have the means to save and keep clean rainwater for daily use; often, the water came from muddy water resources e.g. in hot seasons.
    Therefore, some herbs were needed to mask the muddy smell of water as well as the muddy aroma of rice-paddy fishes e.g. Serpenthead / Snakehead and river prawns.
    Near rivers and canals existed gatherable lemongrass bulbs and of Thai/Kaffir lime leaves and they provided the answer for Tom Yam…Yam possibly refers to the use of several herbs.
    In the three oldest recipes on Tom Yam, greater galangal/ Siamese galangal/ Siamese galangal i.e. Kha was not included (1889 and 1890 AD). Coconut milk was not included!
    Today’s trilogy of herbs are Lemongrass, Greater Galangal and Kaffir lime leaves.
    Ancient “Boran” Tom Yam was not milky/creamy and did not have Kha but it did have the old type of Nam Phrik Phao. [Today’s Nam Phrik Phao is oily probably due to Chinese influence]
    Among the oldest printed recipes for Tom Yam were TomYam Pla Mor and Tom Yam Pla Kraben [Tom Yam Records: In the 19th Century (AD), Tom Yam Pla Mor and Tom Yam Pla Chon were recorded in magazine-like books, Pratithinbatr Lae Jot Mai Het of 1889 AD and 1890 AD ].

    Q.5 Re: PHANANG KAI / PANAENG KAI , is it originally Thai?
    Answer is No. According to the Dictionary of the Siamese Language (contents published in Thai), Phanang [Vocal = Pa’nang] is a kind of curry paste belonging to Kahek Tet e.g. Phanang Kai.
    “khaek tet” meant non-European visitor(s). An old description of “khaek tet” is dark a skinned and curly haired foreigner. Incidentally, “Phanang” Chicken Curry was given as an example’ In searching for khaeks in 19th century (AD) India, possible Muslim ethnic groups ranged from Dawoodi Borah from Surat, Parsi from Bombay, to Chulia from Tamil Nadu.

    Q.6 Re: Is PHANANG CURRY Traditional Thai?
    Answer is YES
    Evidence is seen in the following references – at least one citation per decade
    • 1st Decade (1930- 1939 AD) – Phanang Sri Sa Pla Chon in “Tumrup Sai Yowapa” 1935 AD / 2478 BE,
    • 2nd Decade (1940 – 1949 AD) – Nam Phrik Phanang in “Tumup Suep Sai” 1942 AD / 2485 BE),
    • 3rd Decade (1950 – 1959 AD) – Phanang in “Tunra Kup Khao Tipparot” 1951 AD / 2494 BE,
    • 4th Decade (1960 – 1969 AD) – Phanang Kai in Memorial book of Khun Rattavejjasaka 1963 AD / 2506 BE,
    • 5th Decade (1970 – 1979 AD) – Panang in Memorial book of Khun Mae Sa-ard Sirisampun 1971 AD / 2514 BE.

    Q.7 What is the evolution of Kang Phet Kai?
    From 121 years ago…chicken fried with red chilli paste and sweet basil leaves (plus 4 essentials for kang) without coconut milk or cream ….to today…chicken curry with red chilli paste and coconut milk and some sweet basil leaves.

    Q.8 What is the situation on Kang Masman?
    One should say that despite foreign influences and its Muslim origin,
    Kang Masman is a Traditional Thai Curry…
    …never mind the debate about authenticity…unless a dish has passed the traditional test, its authenticity cannot be considered and should not be suggested as a topic for debate.
    THAI MUSLIM CURRY HAS PASSED THE TRADITIONAL SECTION OF THE “FIVE-DECADE TRADITIONAL AND AUTHENTIC THAI” TEST
    References over five or more decades are as follows:
    • 1st Decade: 1880- 1889 AD. Masman Kai [Pratithinbatr Lae Jod Mai Het – I (Thai language). Bangkok: Bangkok-Prasitkan Ltd, 2432 BE / 1889 AD],
    • 2nd Decade: 1890- 1899 AD. Masman Kai. [Tamra Kup Khao by S. Rachanuprapun (Probably First Thai Cookbook, Thai language), 2433 BE / 1890 AD] and Kang Masman Kai. [Patanukrom Kan Tam Khong Khaow Khong Wan Yang Farang Lae Siam by Darunee, 2441 BE / 1898 AD],
    • 3rd Decade: 1950- 1959 AD. Masman Kai. [Tamra Kup Khao by HSH Princess Chanchareon Rajani. (Thai language), 2495 BE / 1952 AD], Kang Masman Kai / Nuea. [Tamrup A-han Khaow by P Malakul. Bangkok, 2501 BE / 1958 AD],
    • 4th Decade: 1960- 1969 AD. Kang Masman Kai. [Memorial book, Khun Mae Nid Suwannasangkha, 2508 BE / 1965 AD],
    • 5th Decade: 1970- 1979 AD. Kang Masman Kai / Nuea. [Tamrup Kang Thai Lae Tet. Sapa Satri Hang Chart. Bangkok, 1975 AD], and Masman Curry. [Modern Thai Cooking by M.L. T. Kritakara and M.R. P. Amranand. Bangkok: Editions Duang Kamol, 1977 AD],
    • 6th Decade: 1980- 1989 AD. Kang Masman Nuea. [Recipe by S. Sonakul. Thai Life. Bangkok, 1986 AD], and
    • 7th Decade: 1990- 1999 AD. Kang Masman. [A-han Thong Thin Thai by A. Liabwan. Bangkok, 2542 BE / 1999 AD]

    Q.9 How does one write Kang Masman?
    TRANSLITERATION NOTES
    RE: Kang Masman / Kang Masaman / Kang Massaman / Kang Madsaman Thai Muslim Curry
    • Thai-English transliterations range from Kang Masman, Kang Massaman, Kang Massaman, Kang Matsaman, Kang Musaman, Kang Mutsaman, Kaeng Madsaman, Kaeng Massaman, Kaeng Matsaman, Kaeng Musaman, Kaeng Mudsaman, Kaeng Mutsaman, Gaeng Masaman, Gaeng Massaman, Gaeng Matsaman, Gaeng Mudsaman and to Kang Mutsaman and more
    • So many transliterations…my preference is ‘Kang Masman’ [Vocal = Kang Mas’man]
    • Why Masman / Masaman ? These two words ared words which can sound like the the current Thai word “มัสหมั่น”: “Mas” or “Masa” for “มัส” and “man” for “หมั่น”.
    • Let us examine the word “แกง”. Vocally, Gang may sound better than Kang but according to the Royal Institute and more (Gastronomy in Asia III), ก’ as the first consonant should be romanized as ‘k’ and this is how we get the ‘K’ in Kang (แกง).
    WILL YOU CHANGE THE TRANSCRIPTION TO KANG?
    SOME NOTES OF INTEREST
    1. Thai Kang was never supposed to be mild. Kang Jued (with bone stock) is originally Chinese cooking technique and should have been called Tom Jued all along.
    2. TRANSLITERATION NOTES
    RE: Kang Khieo Wan Kai (Th) [Vocal = Kang K’hiew Wan Kai / Gaeng K’hiew Wan Gai] Green Chicken Curry แกงเขียวหวานไก่
    • So many speakers of English may ask: “Why not ‘Gang’ or ‘Gaeng’ instead of Kang ?”
    • I agree that ‘Gaeng’ is frequently seen in many menus and even cookbooks but according to the RIPRTS and RIRTGST, ‘ก’ as the first consonant should be romanized as ‘k’ and that is how we get the ‘k’ in Kang (แกง).
    • Next question: “Why not add “e’ to make it Kaeng ?
    • May I reply with a question: “If an ‘e’ is added, Kang becomes Kaeng whose sounds may mean “เก้ง” meaning ‘elk’ .
    • “Why not Khew instead of Khieo ?
    • Because of the English verbal forms – the past tense form of ‘know’ is ‘knew’ and it would not sound right.
    • The explanation for using ‘o’ as a romanization for final consonant ‘ว’ in the Thai word ‘เขียว’ is done as recommended by “Charoenporn T, Chotimongkol A, Sornlertlamvanich V. Automatic Romanization for Thai. Software and Language Engineering Laboratory, NECTEC (National Electronics and Computer Technology Center, Thailand”, 2010 AD.

    • Dr. Kanit,
      Thank you for taking the time to reply. Our panel discussion earlier this week at the FCCT was illuminating and I would love to discuss Thai food further. Have a wonderful holiday season!

  5. This is brilliant and I love it. Can’t wait for your book and am going to print out every page of this blog to carry with me when I get back to Bangkok. Thank you!

  6. Chissa

    Oh my goodness, Aunt Priew’s cooking. The best ever. Now that I’ve poured over all the great food you get to enjoy I’ll just sit here and enjoy the culinary masterpiece that is called General Tso’s chicken from Shanghai Lee delivery. Jealous?

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