Category Archives: rice

Breakfast in Hua Hin

Congealed pig’s blood in soup — a common Thai breakfast dish

It doesn’t happen very often, maybe, but it might — somehow, for no reason at all, you wake up at 6 in the morning with an empty stomach, having picked at a watermelon salad at the neighboring hotel the night before. You are starving. You need food, pronto.

Luckily, Hua Hin has it all covered. This once-sleepy seaside town — the traditional weekend getaway of time-pressed Bangkokians everywhere — may be an amateur when it comes to approximating any sort of nightlife, but is everything a morning person with a love of food could possibly want. By 6, it’s already buzzing: steam rising from curry-filled pots; dough rolled out for the morning’s first patongko (Chinese fried bread) order; monks out strolling the market, bowls in hand.

When I get to Pa Choung (4/3 Amnuaysin Rd., 082-212-4490, open 6-noon), she is in the middle of making merit. On the hob: a fiery gaeng som full of little shrimp and dok kae (what I’ve seen referred to on some menus as cowslip blossoms), pad ped moo pa (stir-fried curried wild boar), dried and butterflied fish, sun-dried beef, deep-fried pork cutlets and a green curry full of slivered bamboo shoots.

Green curry and deep-fried pork: breakfast of champions

This isn’t all of it. She says she is finished making all of the food at 8. But it’s usually gone by 8:30. I’m happy with the smattering of curries already there.

But while Pa Choung is a one-woman curry-making machine, Raan Kafae Jek Pia (intersection of Naebkehardt and Dechanuchit Roads, open 6:30-1:30pm) is clearly Breakfast Central for the entire town. Every table is occupied, and on nearly every tabletop is a mug of sludge-like kafae boran (old-fashioned coffee), flavored with a layer of condensed milk. But this is not the main attraction. Instead, it’s the collection of stalls that service Kafae Jek Pia’s customers: jok moo (Chinese-style rice porridge with minced pork); khao thom pla (rice porridge with fish); guaythiew (noodles in soup); and, most intriguing of all, gow low lued moo (pig’s blood in soup), traditionally served for breakfast here, in a country not really known for its breakfast foods.

Cubes of pig’s blood blanched in broth

Pig’s blood cubes are taken from a chilled bowl and blanched in boiling broth for a few minutes. They are then added to slices of pork, blanched Thai watercress, some Thai celery for freshness, and a dash of deep-fried garlic for bitterness and punch. There are bits of innards too: intestine and liver and slices of heart. It’s a one-stop shop for piggy flavor. Sometimes, if you pair it with a plain bowl of rice, you can drop some of that in there too, or take a spoonful and dunk it, watching the grains soak in the broth, a bite at a time. It’s the best antidote to thinking too much that, well, I can think of. What else is breakfast for, if not that brief reprieve before the start of the day?

 

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Filed under Asia, food, food stalls, Hua Hin, pork, rice, Thailand

Something Special

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I — like many of my fellow Bangkokians — am feeling a bit down. The kind of down that doesn’t bear talking about.

So why am I writing a blog post? To tell you the truth, I don’t really want to write a blog post. For something that is better done, funnier and far more likable, you should deffo check out writer/actress Mindy Kaling’s blog: http://theconcernsofmindykaling.com/, because we all need a little bit of inspiration now and then, and where better than from the author of “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” (the answer is yes).

Do you want your inspiration to come from somewhere closer to home? I am nothing if not obliging. Let me do you a favor and direct you to another something special, http://mysousvidelife.wordpress.com/. Is she not adorabun? Someone get this woman a cooking show, stat! Another thing: despite being a “flood refugee”, she is still decorating Halloween cupcakes and figuring out fun things to do with all those shmackets of Ma-Ma noodles lurking in all our kitchen cabinets (no need to front, you know you have them too).

Are you still here? Geez. Well, if you’re not up for something fun and uplifting, I’m your girl. As one would naturally expect, the floods are taking their toll everywhere, including on the sidewalk. Many, many, many of my fave vendors are MIA: the buay loy guy on Mahachai Road; the khao kluk gapi (rice with shrimp paste) vendor in front of Baan Phra Arthit; the Hainanese chicken rice people in front of Great Shanghai; the chicken and bitter melon noodles guy behind Emporium; the Sukhothai noodle guy (why didn’t he call to tell me?) next to Klong Saen Saep; and the guay jab people across from Benjakiti Park. There are more, many more whose absences I have yet to discover and mourn.

 

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These people spent their working lives making us happy; now they are gone, with nothing to mark their absence except maybe a shuttered storefront or, more disconcertingly, nothing at all. They have vanished into thin air.

Then there are the people who are stubbornly sticking it out. They deserve special plaudits, because they are idiots*. Riverside, prey to the fickle lords of high tide? Sign me up! Alongside the beef noodle folks at Nai Soi and the famously taciturn Roti-Mataba is Khao Na Gai Ha Yaek (085-124-5511, open 10-19.00). Just steps down Phra Arthit road from Roti-Mataba, this chicken-and-gravy on rice vendor is quietly packed most lunchtimes, but inspires none of the usual fanfare, which makes it very special indeed. Yes, there is the khao na gai (35 baht), as well as versions with gun chieng (sweet Chinese sausage, 40 baht) or runny fried egg (42 baht), or best of all, both (47 baht). There are also noodles topped with chicken gravy, deep-fried noodles with chicken gravy, and sticky rice with red pork. But the namesake dish is the best.

Wandering down the road at high noon, unable to find ANYTHING I once loved in a landscape that looked familiar but wasn’t, this plate of chicken gravy on rice crowned with torn fresh coriander, fried egg and sweet sticky sausage was a godsend, the best thing I had eaten in weeks. I forgot I wasn’t supposed to be hungry, and ate it all.

*Obviously, I don’t really think they are idiots.

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, chicken, food, food stalls, rice, Thai-Chinese, Thailand

The other Chiang Mai

Rot duan at Suthep Market

Sometimes you don’t feel like treating Chiang Mai like a non-stop food safari. Sometimes, the usual parade of big names — Huen Phen, Lamduan Faham, Samerjai, OMG! — makes you feel all weary inside after thinking of the inevitable throng of people in line for a bowl of khao soy. And sometimes, you just want to eat where all the other jaded Chiang Mai-ers eat.

Because sometimes, Chiang Mai people are sick to death of aharn nuea (Northern Thai food), just like how Hua Hin people get sick of crab (unbelievable, I know, but it happens). And when that happens, they go to places like Yen Ta Fo Sri Ping on Suthep Road, where the chipped plastic bowls feature al dente thick, thin or glass vermicelli noodles liberally swimming with a garishly pink, chili-flecked seafood sauce crowned with a single, perfect fried wonton (35-40 baht).

Sri Ping's yen ta fo

There is also the requisite tom yum noodle (30-40 baht) and egg noodles with red pork and dumplings (40-50 baht), but nothing is as deliciously saucy as the namesake yen ta fo, a dish sure to get on your shirt and all over your face. And yes, I did rub my eyes after eating, and yes, severely regretted it for hours afterward.

I would argue that the namesake dish at Guay Jab Nam Khon Sam Kaset, right by the city’s monument to the three kings, is not the best dish here, although it is light and peppery and includes plenty of luk lok, a sort of soft porky sausage (50 baht). The gow low (broth without noodles) centers on a richer broth that tastes of beef and plenty of coriander (50 baht), and the khao moo krob is as good as anything you would find in Yaowaraj: a mix of crackle and fat, a thick sweet sauce enveloping the rice grains (50 baht). What can I say? I really like sauce.

Crispy pork rice at Guay Jab Sam Kaset

But if it’s something light and fresh you desire — Thailand via Hanoi rather than Hong Kong — there is always Raan Fer Wiengjan on Rachadamnoen Road. You have your choice of chicken (30-40 baht), fish (40-50 baht), tofu (30 baht), and the Northern delicacy moo yaw (30-40 baht), a pork “pate” originally created by Chinese-Thai chefs seeking to replicate French meat terrines.

Pho moo yaw

Vegetarians, don’t despair: Chiang Mai is thinking of you too. Or, specifically, Raan Jay Yai on Nimmanhaemin Road is. Anything on the regular menu can be made “jay” (a stricter Thai form of vegetarianism), including great versions of khao kluk kapi (rice fried with “shrimp paste”, 35 baht), guaythiew kua “gai” (noodles fried with a chicken substitute, 30 baht) and pad see ew (stir-fried noodles in soy sauce, 30 baht).

Jay Yai's pad see ew

This is all well and good, but did you really think I went to Chiang Mai without having ANY Northern food at all? What am I, an idiot? (Don’t answer that). Of course I went, and filled my face with nam prik ong and thum kanoon and sai oua and shrieked and gurgled as every Northern dish passed me by on the way to someone else, and wished myself stuffed full of everything that was good in the world. So that is how I found Haan Tung Jieng Mai (Northern dialect for Raan Tung Chiang Mai) on Suthep Road by the Chiang Mai University campus.

Khao pad nam prik num at Haan Tung Jiangmai

It’s a typical aharn tham sung (made-to-order) stall, but made achingly cool by the scraps of paper doodled by bored university students coating the tables and the kitsch-retro furnishings. That said, the food is solid, if slow, including rice fried with young green chili dip, pounded young jackfruit, and a nam prik ong that tasted suspiciously like shrimp paste (in the landlocked North, most recipes call for tua now — fermented beans, or nam pu — the juice of pulverized rice paddy crabs, instead of kapi).  Plus, there was a perfectly cooked kai ped yang matoom, a duck egg boiled just enough so that the yolk is “sticky”, like rubber sap.

No, our trip wasn’t all about food. I DO have other interests, you know. For instance, the PURCHASING of food. That is where the Saturday morning organic market off of Nimmanhaemin Road comes in. Organic producers of vegetables, fruit, rice and ready-made foods meet once a week to sell their bounty to the general public, and it’s a shame something comparable isn’t happening in much-bigger Bangkok.

Whole-wheat salapao at the organic market

Food for thought, maybe, for an organized and responsible food lover? (Not me). Maybe, just maybe, we can bring in something from Chiang Mai that doesn’t involve hastily-taped cardboard boxes and a few anxious moments by the baggage claim carousel.

Or maybe not.

@anuntakob and @aceimage caught haggling at Suthep Market

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Filed under Asia, food, food stalls, markets, noodles, Northern Thailand, pork, rice, shopping, Thai-Chinese, Thailand

What your khao mun gai place says about you

Have you ever read those stories promising to tell you all you need to know about yourself, based on something completely random, like, what’s in your left pocket at that particular moment, or what ice cream you had last week? I certainly do! Aren’t the findings always totally arbitrary, and frequently infuriating? Yay, random generalizations!

So let’s pass judgment, even though we know absolutely nothing about each other! Where do you like to eat your Hainanese chicken rice?

Montien Hotel Ruenton Coffee Shop (54 Surawongse Rd.)

You like tradition, and stability, and saying you know more than anyone else. You like big portions, and creature comforts, and stuffing your face. You are kind of boring and your friends are only pretending to listen to what you say. You also really like good chicken rice. For the record, this is my favoritest chicken rice, EVAH, still, after all these years. I like this chicken rice almost as much as I, like, commas.

What makes it isn’t really the big tranche of plump, tender chicken meat (dark meat or breast), topped (or not) with a sliver of skin, nestled next to two slices of congealed chicken blood and resting atop sliced tomato and cucumbers. It’s not even really the rice, glistening with chicken fat. It’s the sauce. People who really like sauce will LOVE this dish, which comes with not one, not two, but FOUR sauces: sweet thick, slivered ginger, brown bean/garlic, and soy sauce/chili. Yum!

Khao Mun Gai Gwon Oo (at Thalad Gow, Yaowaraj)

You are straightforward and like simplicity and honesty. You dislike and mistrust frou-frou, complications and anything overly ornate. This means you are a little bit like a hobbit, or other magical little creature that people idealize without actually envying.

I like the chicken rice here because it is about pure chicken flavor. The boiled chicken is presented simply, shredded and without skin, on top of rice carefully cooked in chicken stock and set off by slivered cucumbers for texture. The sauce and soup are almost like afterthoughts. This dish is about substance, not bells and whistles. It’s almost … wholesome (for a dish where chicken fat plays a starring role).

Gai Tawn Pratunam  (Petchburi Soi 30)

You like nostalgia, reminiscing over your plate of food with dusk threatening, headlights sliding past you as you contemplate next week’s work project. You are social and trusting and tend to believe the best in people. Also, you are sort of old.

Random enough for you? Honestly, this place is pretty good, even if I don’t get to it as often as I could. I would totally have included it in my book … if not for the, uh, 50 other food stalls that I put in it. So there’s that. They are proud of their dish and take care in selecting and presenting the best chicken (non-egg-laying female chickens, to be precise) that they can. The soup has good flavor and service is efficient. It has all these things going for it. They don’t need little old me anyway. We can still live together in harmony.

Shanghai Chicken Rice (Rama IV)

You yearn for adventure, newness and surprising others. You hate convention and conformity, and like to be onto the Next Big Thing before anyone else. However, your tendency to tell people about the Next Big Thing helps to undermine you, and can sometimes threaten to make you look like an asshat. You are probably a food blogger.

Because this place is open 24 hours, you are also probably a bit of a night owl. Nighttime is good for you, because this place is a lot less crowded when it’s not serving lunch. You have your choice of steamed or fried chicken, rice with Chinese seaweed, or “Shanghai chicken rice” with a dipping sauce liberally flavored with chili oil. For you, variety is good, and the possibilities are endless.

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, chicken, food, food stalls, restaurant, rice, Thai-Chinese, Thailand

What’s Cooking: Nam prik ki ga

Now, nam prik ki ga is not the most popular chili dip out there. It is certainly not the yummiest sounding: roughly translated, it means “crow shit chili paste”. That said, it doesn’t look, or probably taste, anything like crow poo — bright, tart and fiery, it is a perfect foil to crisp veggies, barely hard-boiled eggs and a couple of well-seasoned pork meatballs, if you like that kind of stuff.

This is Grandma Yuwadee Bunnag’s recipe.

Nam prik ki ga (serves 4)

-6 prik chee fah

-7 small red chilies

-11 garlic cloves

-1 Tablespoon kapi (shrimp paste), wrapped in foil

-8 white shrimp, cleaned and cooked (reserve cooking water)*

-3 limes

– 1 1/2 Tablespoons fish sauce

-1 teaspoon nam than peep (palm sugar)

-pork meatballs**

1. Set chilies, garlic and shrimp paste to roast in oven at full whack until blackened (about 20 minutes). They will look like this when done:

2. Chop cooked shrimp into pieces.

3. Squeeze juice from limes.

4. Pound garlic and shrimp paste in mortar and pestle until a paste forms. Add chilies a few at a time, taking care to peel them of their blackened skins before pounding. Add shrimp until all is incorporated.

5. Add 1 teaspoon shrimp cooking liquid, fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar. Taste for seasoning and add more cooking liquid if paste seems too “dry”. Finished paste will look like this:

6. Serve with fresh vegetables, rice and, if desired, fried pork meatballs.

*Use dried shrimp if you can’t use fresh shrimp.

**Make pork meatballs by mixing ground pork, minced garlic, salt and pepper. Then roll mix into palm-sized patties and fry in a Tablespoon of cooking oil until browned:

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What’s Cooking: Nam prik kapi

People have different opinions on things, even though they are all wrong. One of those opinions is that pad krapao (stir-fried meat with basil on rice), crowned with a fried egg, is the ultimate Thai “square meal”.

I don’t see it that way. Nutrition-wise (your protein, carb AND fiber), my money’s on nam prik kapi (shrimp paste chili dip), accompanied by fresh veggies, rice and a couple of nice plump Thai mackerel for good measure. THIS is what a lot of Thais think of when they think of nam prik. This — dare I say it? — makes it one of Thailand’s most iconic dishes.

Nam prik platu (for 2 people with semi-hearty appetites)

-2 Tbs small green eggplants (makuea puong)*

-3 Tbs dried shrimp, blanched to minimize fishy smell

-3 Tbs small chilies

-3 limes

-4 large garlic cloves

 -1 heaping Tablespoon shrimp paste

-1 heaping teaspoon palm sugar

-juice of one small orange (preferably of the kiew som variety)

-1/2 Tablespoon fish sauce

-2 Thai mackerel (see below)

For fresh veggie accompaniment:

-handful of white turmeric (cumin khao)

-handful of long beans, cut into 4-inch segments

-cucumber, peeled and cut on the diagonal

-2 Thai eggplants (makuea proh)

1. Pound shrimp paste, small eggplants and garlic with mortar and pestle until mixed.

2. Add chilies and pound. The peppery smell that begins to waft from the mortar means you are finally getting somewhere.

3. Add palm sugar and mix thoroughly. Now this is when Chef McDang, who believes in all-natural ingredients, would give me the side-eye, but: also add a teaspoon of granulated sugar, if you can. It will add to the flavor, I promise.  Mix well until the paste becomes glossy. It will look like this:

4. Add shrimp, fish sauce, 1 Tbsp lime juice and orange juice to mortar. Then add 1 Tbsp hot water so paste takes on a more liquid consistency.

5. Garnish with whole chilies, add more lime juice if needed, and accompany dip with fresh veg, rice and fried Thai mackerel.

(For Thai mackerel)

-Heat oil in wok or deep frying pan and fry until skin is brittle and slightly browned (10 minutes).

-Drain on paper towels and dab to get rid of excess oil.

Note: Instead of simply putting everything on separate plates, you can also take a dollop of the chili dip, flake some fish flesh off the bone, and fry it all with a bowl of rice. Add a little bowl of dip and fresh veggies on the side, and it becomes one of my favorite Thai meals!

* These little guys are frequently maligned by people who dislike their bitter taste, but their tannic quality offsets the spiciness of the chili dip perfectly, so try not to leave these out! Sometimes, hairy eggplants (ma uk) are used instead.

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, fish, food, rice, seafood, Thailand

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!

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