Hello from the Third Wave

It’s been a tough third COVID wave for us in Thailand, and it doesn’t look like it’s improving anytime soon. My son has taken to running to his computer every day at noon to check on the latest numbers; they are always grim. The effect on the local economy — and by extension, the dining scene — has been predictably grave. A few weeks ago, Bo.lan announced they were shuttering their doors, hopefully in order to morph into another iteration at the end of this particular tunnel.

But there were also some small glimmers of light during this time, for me at least (and isn’t that what’s really important?) I got to go up North and traipse around a farm, taking photos of the literal fruits of other people’s hard labor.

The rice research center in Samoeng, which actually grows wheat *shrug emoji*
View from the top at nearby Mollisol, also in Samoeng

The lovely Aarya made us a gorgeous spread that included a whole roasted seabass “acqua pazza”-style and a faithful rendition of a Veronese duck stew enriched with chestnuts and an entire bottle of red wine. It inspired me to attempt my own duck stew (whole Barbary duck ordered via Paleo Robbie), which was then discovered in a freezer while marinating due to some communication issues (my Thai is truly terrible), and ended up becoming a pretty good duck fried rice and jab chai (Chinese-style veggie stew) with duck broth.

I am also sort-of celebrating the imminent arrival of one book, originally slated for release in 2020. The COVID-delayed third edition of my Thai street food guide is … hopefully? … coming out at the end of this year. This book *may* join its sister on the shelves — tentatively titled “Real Thai Cooking”, it’s my very first cookbook with co-author, photographer and genius recipe doctor Lauren Taylor in New Zealand. We have just finished the first draft of our manuscript and are ready to send it to our long-suffering editor Doug (insert fingers crossed emojis here!)

When I originally sent out my book proposal (written during our first COVID wave with help and guidance from Jarrett Wrisley and Paolo Vitaletti, who generously allowed me to see their proposal for “The Roads to Rome”), I envisioned a book in which all the focus would be on my essays, which would place the recipes in context and make them less of a consideration. What I ended up doing — with generous assistance from both my mother’s and mother-in-law’s kitchens and a treasure trove of funeral cookbooks from my husband’s family — was literally stumble into a bunch of recipes that have deepened my own understanding of Thai food and how it has evolved. TLDR: a lot of these recipes are the bomb tbh. This is coming straight from the horse’s mouth.

There are a bunch of recipes that I really love in this book so there’s some competition, but I think my favorite recipe of all is the one gifted to me by my friend Tawn C., who is a designer in his normal life. While we were in Phuket he made a nam prik out of store-bought peanut brittle that was a flavor explosion; when paired when grilled salt-encrusted fish and all of the accoutrements for a mieng pla meal, it ended up blowing everybody away.

Tawn arranged this spread for mieng pla

The main ingredients, I kid you not, are a good-quality fish sauce and local peanut brittle (tua thad, or “cut peanuts”, made out of peanuts, sesame seeds and palm sugar) from the candy aisle.

Needless to say, it’s a fine tightrope walk between super-sweet, salty, spicy and tart, all the while making sure not to overshadow the main star of the show (What’s that? Oh yeah, the fish).

So here it is, Tawn’s chili dip recipe, and don’t ever say I don’t give you anything!

“Nam prik tua thad”

Ingredients: 

  • 6 pieces of tua thad, or peanut brittle
  • 4 goat chilies or bird’s eye chilies
  • 2 cilantro roots, cleaned
  • 7 garlic cloves
  • the juice of 2 limes
  • 3 Tbsps fish sauce
  • 1 tsp golden syrup

Method:

  1. In a mortar and pestle, pound chilies, roots and cloves together into a paste. Scrape out of mortar and set aside.
  2. Pound your peanut brittle until it is pulverized, then add your paste to it. Mix well.
  3. Season with lime juice and fish sauce. Taste. It should be a balance between salty, acidic, spicy and sweet.
  4. Add golden syrup if not sweet enough. Surprisingly, the sweetness will amplify all the other flavors.

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Hello from the Third Wave

  1. Steve Parkinson

    We really feel for Thailand at the moment, particularly for all our Thai friends in Hua Hin (our second home). Besides being lovely people many of the are musicians and like the restaurant business the live music industry is really hurting. After visiting 40 plus times in the last 16 years, we miss it badly. Good luck with the new book. We will look out for it. Stay Safe.

  2. Lordy, Tawn is a genius! Did he just come up with that, or is that something he heard about before?

  3. Don Jariyasunant

    So sorry to read what’s going on in Thailand right now Chow. This new infection wave is just crippling local businesses, especially food vendors. I hope and pray the vaccination roll out works and Thailand can come back to some sort of normalcy again in 2022. I was last in Bangkok in 2019 and hope to eventually come back again. I do miss the food scene.

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