Will it cut the mustard?

This is not to be confused with cutting the cheese — because of course I will cut the cheese. No, “cutting the mustard” is an old saying that implies something has passed muster, is deemed acceptable. The question here, as always on this blog, refers to food — the future children of my pots and pans.

I am going to be embarking on a cooking challenge, aided by inner voices supplied by Chef McDang and my aunt and Win’s grandmother and whomever else has written a Thai food recipe. I do this because, while I am a competent cook of English roasts and Italian pastas and French, uh, fries, frozen from the bag, I have never put my hand to a real Thai food recipe, not even once. And that bothers me.

That also places me in the realm of the “average-mediocre” in terms of cookery skill here; it won’t be as alienating as reading a cookbook by, say, Thomas Keller, but (hopefully) I won’t be a complete doodoohead either — I do know the difference between a beurre manie and a roux. Which won’t help me much in this case. Yet however.

There is also a post-Songkran bounty of recipes in my house, right at this moment. Win’s grandmother has two restaurant menus-full of them, laced with the Persian-Chinese-Thai influences that run though my husband’s family, who gather in Hua Hin every Thai new year to gorge on khao na gai (rice topped with chicken gravy) and khao buri, or “cigarette rice”, similar to the Thai-Muslim standard khao mok gai except more herbal.

Khao buri

I won’t start with that stuff though. That stuff is too hard.

So why not? It’s not like there is furious demand for my writing services. Somehow editors aren’t peeing themselves in ecstasy over my story ideas about exploring the little-known cuisine of the super-secret community of western Pennsylvanians in Bangkok (cheesy fries on cheese toast, with cheese) or an expose on noodle stalls helmed by cooks born to Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chefs moonlighting as doctors/lawyers/prime ministers on Thonglor. Somehow this gig isn’t working out for me right now. I have plenty of time.

But do I have the mustard? (For the record, I know I don’t need mustard to cook Thai food. At least I know that. I need ketchup).

Wish me luck!


Filed under Asia, Bangkok, food, rice, Thai-Chinese, Thai-Muslim, Thailand

7 responses to “Will it cut the mustard?

  1. I love your article! I was just wondering what ‘khao buri’ is? –is it the same with ‘khao mok gai’?

    • Thanks! It is a biryani like khao mok gai, but it’s a family recipe using its own combination of spices. Khao buri is just a fancy name to show it is a family recipe.

  2. gautam

    There are interesting niche communities worth exploring:

    1. How many different types of Sikh communities exist in Bangkok? What do they eat and how have their eating habits changed as generations have been born in Thailand, begin speaking Thai as their first language and become increasingly Westernized? Example, unlike YOU, many older generation Indians must eat with their hands to feel happy!

    2. What distinguishes the foodways of the “brahman’ priests of the royal family? Anything they eat or do differently from ordinary Thais?

    3. What happened to your Persian ancestors? Did they choose to get assimilated into the Thai Buddhist society? Certainly, the “Pathans” arriving in Thailand from “Bengal” and from Rohilkhand, Uttar Pradesh and ultimately, Pakhtunkhwa in Afghanistan retain some of their cultural and dietary distinguishing features. You speak of an intensely herbal chicken rice: what is it, and how is it made? It would be interesting to learn more about it, how it evolved in Thailand, even if you do not wish to cook it yourself.

    I am told that there are more than 80 different languages spoken in Thailand. Say that there are even 5-7 significant linguistic groups; that still means a much greater variety of foods and cooking styles than we get to hear about. Who better to explore some of the less-known [to us] paths than you?

    North/ Chiang Mai/ Myanmar/Myanmar Muslim- Panthe

    Central Thai

    Southern Thai
    Southern Thai/ Muslim/Malaya influences


    Chinese, Vietnamese, more recent Indian, Japanese, Bangladeshi immigrant influences

    What other “types” or influences can be found in traditional Thai cooking, besides Portuguese/European, Persian, etc.?


  3. Chissa

    Wow! What thai dish are you going to try to master first? Why is no one in Thailand interested in western pennysylvanian polish/Italian American cuisine? It’s not like they know what it really is.

  4. Sounds like a fascinating new adventure!

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