Tag Archives: cooking

What’s Cooking: Soup makuea

Thai eggplant mash with shallots, fermented anchovy juice and toasted rice kernels

Isaan-style Thai eggplant mash with shallots, fermented anchovy juice and toasted rice kernels

I’m trying this thing where I eat less meat. In fact, I’m trying not to eat any at all, beyond fish. This is because I went on a two-week barbecue tour where my friend Karen and I stuffed ourselves on different variations of pork product 3-4 times a day. So I am turning pescatarian, but trying not to be too strict with it, because that is a surefire way to get me to stop.

I change the rules as I go along. It keeps things fresh (i.e. confusing). If I am at a dinner party, I will eat whatever the host is serving me, because I don’t want to mold other people’s stuff around my dietary whims. Also if I’m doing an assignment involving some sort of meat. I was also cutting out booze but I am back off the wagon because why make my life less awesome? I drink a glass of red wine a day and, if I am going out, I drink more than one glass. WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL GRANDMA? I hear it’s heart healthy.

The focus on non-meat food, and my abject laziness in the kitchen, means I am trying a lot of new places. There is the vegetarian restaurant Na Aroon at Ariyasom Villa, old favorite Rasayana Raw Food Cafe, and a longstanding vegetarian Italian place saddled with the Indian-ish name Govinda. And there is a lot of Japanese food: Hinata at Central Embassy and a lunch at the newly opened Sushi Ichi at the Erawan that was so good I booked another lunch for the following week. I sometimes don’t miss red meat, much. Then I sometimes count the days to when I can find an excuse to eat it again.

This is one of those recipes that, for me, put many of the meat cravings at bay. It’s also dead easy (I am reading a lot of Jamie Oliver, because his are the only recipes I can stand to make right now). As with any other dish, it sprang out of necessity: we didn’t have any bamboo shoots on that particular day, and an abundance of the gumball-sized Thai eggplants known as makuea proh. With its toasted rice kernels, pla rah, and scattered mint, it’s very Isaan-inspired. Eat with sticky rice and grilled chicken like you would a som tum, or serve it with lettuce leaves like a larb — it’s up to you.

Soup Makuea (makes 4)

6-8 Thai eggplants, boiled

4-5 shallots, peeled

2 Tbs dried chili powder

2 tsp mahgrood lime leaves, julienned

3 Tbs toasted rice kernels, ground

1-2 Tbs pla rah juice (or fish sauce, if you’re in a pinch)

Juice from one lime (optional)

Handful each of mint, coriander and sawtooth coriander, chopped

1. With your mortar and pestle, mash your shallots until they are like a jam. Add the eggplants, and mash until they are at the desired consistency.

2. Mix in your chili powder, lime leaves, and toasted rice kernels.

3. Flavor with pla rah or fish sauce. Add lime to taste if you like.

4. Add your chopped herbs and mix in well. Serve at room temperature.




Filed under Asia, food, pescatarian, Thailand

What’s Cooking: Elvis Suki


Scallops ready for the grill

(Photo by @karenblumberg)

Elvis Suki (Soi Yotse, Plabplachai Rd., 02-223-4979, open 17.00-23.00 daily) is one of my favorite places to take visitors from out of town. Its specialty — the Thai-style sukiyaki after which it is named — is an unglamorous but delicious goop of glass vermicelli, a blank canvas on which a yin-and-yang-likedrama is played out nightly: blanched seafood or meat versus the vibrant thrashings of a spicy-sweet-tart chili sauce, like the Meg underpinning a buoyant Jack.  That said, it’s still the Cleveland of street food dishes, solid but unlamented, probably a nice place to live but unlikely to haunt your dreams.

Their scallops, however, are another story. Other people make scallops like these: an unlikely pairing of scallops and a dab of pork, minced or otherwise, both doused liberally in a sweet, garlicky butter. Yet somehow no one can hold a candle to Elvis Suki’s version.  Maybe it’s the atmosphere? (no-nonsense open-air shophouse or, if you are fast enough, no-frills air-conditioned room?) Maybe it’s the people? (A mix of families and office workers). Or maybe it’s the service? (Probably not). In any case, few diners leave Elvis Suki without those scallops.


Elvis Suki’s grilled scallops with pork (makes 4)

What you’ll need:

–       4 large scallops

–       1 slice (about 60 g) pork neck

–       2 Tbs butter

–       2 large cloves garlic, finely minced

–       Salt and pepper (to taste)

–       Sugar

To make:

  1. Make garlic butter by mixing garlic with softened butter
  2. “Dry brine” pork by coating in salt for 15 minutes. Before using, pat dry.
  3. Clean scallops and place 1-inch-long piece of pork alongside scallop on the shell. Season both with salt and pepper.
  4. Dot with dollops of garlic butter and sprinkle both scallops and pork with ¼tsp of sugar.
  5. Grill or broil in oven for about 5 minutes, keeping a close eye so that the scallops do not burn.
  6. Take out and serve while hot.
The grilled scallops at Elvis Suki

The grilled scallops at Elvis Suki



Filed under Asia, Bangkok, food, food stalls, Thailand

What’s Cooking: Bamee Slow

My stab at "bamee kai", or egg egg noodles

My stab at “bamee kai”, or egg egg noodles

It’s on. Stress has taken hold, and I am feeling overwhelmed. As deadlines loom and previously-unforeseen hitches suddenly rear their little heads, I find myself reacting in strange ways. Please don’t be alarmed. If you see me staring at you, I am not contemplating you for dinner. I don’t see you at all. If you are foolish enough to say something to me, do not be startled if I spout even more rubbish than usual. I am trying to work something out.

In my present state, I have discovered some people enjoy my company more than usual. These are twisted and strange people. They are also food lovers. Because, in an attempt to keep from creeping as many people out as I usually do, I have retreated to the kitchen, where I can be as weird as I want and as brave as I like. It’s all OK, you see. My inevitable failures here won’t be as heartbreaking. And the results, as pitiful as they are, can be shared by everyone.

Today, I am attempting to replicate one of my favorite comfort foods, the bamee kai (egg noodles with, um, egg) from Bamee Slow, officially referred to as  “Bamee Giew Moo Song Krueang” (open after 8pm at the entrance to Ekamai soi 19). Diners who like these noodles enough to queue up for them — and Thais have a hard time lining up for anything — affectionately call this place “Bamee Slow” because the khun lung (old “uncle”) manning the stall makes every bowl one by one, and it can take up to half an hour to get your order (for the record, the longest I have waited is 22 minutes). He has since stepped back from the soup vat and his daughter has taken over, and I am told she is a bit faster. But their noodles are as popular as ever.

What I love are the al dente, silky noodles, coated with the unctuous yellow yolk that eventually spills out of every unlucky egg plonked into each bowl. Slices of red pork, sturdy bits of Chinese kale, crumbled minced pork bits: none are immune from the reach of the yolk. This is what I am trying to capture, in my own small way.

Before starting, you need to make sure you have a big enough strainer that will hold all your noodles while ensuring that all the starch washes away, so that your egg noodles are not a smooshed-up Jack Sparrow-like bird’s nest, rendering your entire bowl a sad mess like the remnants of my career. Also, like the people at Bamee Slow, you should make up each bowl one-by-one: it really does make for better noodles.

I boiled a handful of pork soup bones in water with some garlic and white peppercorns for an hour, skimming periodically, and then flavored the broth with soy sauce and roasted chili paste (the ingredient that I think lends the toxic orange color to Bamee Slow’s broth). However, if you don’t have the time or inclination for this, pan-fry some minced pork with or without pork soup bones first, then cover with water and boil for a few minutes before starting. Or, simply get a couple of pork bouillon cubes into some hot water and proceed without delay. It’s all up to you.

Bamee Slow’s egg noodles (makes 2 servings)

– 200 g pork soup bones

– 500 ml water

-2 garlic cloves

– 5-10 white peppercorns, depending on how peppery you like it

– 1 tsp nam prik pow (roasted chili paste)

– 1 tsp salt

– 3 Tbs soy sauce

– 200 g minced pork

– 200 g fresh egg noodles

– 4 stalks Chinese broccoli or kale

– 2 eggs, soft-boiled (boiled for 3-4 minutes), cooled in an ice bath, and peeled

– Sugar, chili powder, fish sauce, white vinegar (for garnish)

To make:

1. Boil first four ingredients for an hour, skimming periodically.

2. Season with soy sauce, salt, roasted chili paste and more white pepper. Adjust to your taste.

3. Add minced pork and allow to boil for a few minutes until pork is cooked, skimming scum off of surface.

4. Add your greens.

5. Place half of your noodles in a strainer and immerse in the broth, skimming more off the surface if needed. Wait 2-3 minutes for noodles to “cook” and lose their starch.

6. Place in a bowl and ladle broth with minced pork (but without pork bones) over the noodles. Garnish with egg and greens and, if you have it, a few slices of Chinese-style barbecued red pork.

7. Serve alongside sugar, chili powder, fish sauce, white vinegar (with or without sliced or smashed chilies) and ground peanuts, if you like.



Filed under Asia, Bangkok, food, food stalls, noodles, pork, Thailand

What’s Cooking: Moo Jum


Finally, a decent approximation

Isaan food is a celebration of simple things, put forth very directly and forcefully. Your finger-licking renditions of gai yang (grilled chicken) and nuea nam thok (spicy beef salad) aren’t content to sit mutely on your tabletop, requesting your appreciation; slightly smoky and full of heat, they practically shout I AM DELICIOUS as you cram morsel after succulent morsel down your throat. Paired with a hank of sticky rice and the battalion of condiments that Thais cannot resist pairing with everything, they are unstoppable, a food army that cannot be resisted, taking up all the valuable real estate in your gut that you have reserved for something useful, like beer.

Moo Jum (located at the entrance of Suan Luang Soi 3 after 6pm) specifically traffics in these very dishes, the ones that make you sorry you stuffed yourself silly. Like most great Isaan cooks, they focus on straightforward simplicity. The namesake dish, an Isaan-style sukiyaki, is a spicy-tart broth in which unwitting vegetables, sawtooth coriander, Thai basil, pork and an egg are dunked, creating an aromatic melange good enough to eat even on sweltering hot nights. A simple spicy squid salad, rings of flesh barely blanched, dressed in sharp shards of Thai celery stalk and chili. And of course, their famed kor moo yang (grilled pork collar): sweeter than up north to be sure, charred at the edges from the grill, lacquered like a freshly-baked pie, as brown as the skin of a dedicated bodybuilder.

For all its supposed simplicity, I have struggled with this recipe. The basic recipe (as outlined in Chef McDang’s “The Principles of Thai Cookery”) uses a basic marinade of mashed garlic cloves, pounded coriander root, 1/4 cup of soy sauce, and 10 white peppercorns that is then slathered onto the meat. Very traditional, but nothing to set hearts aflutter. I tried to build on that recipe by going back to the marinade’s roots, substituting fish sauce for soy and adding some palm sugar. The result: ho-hum. I then tried to add molasses paired with fish sauce: NO DO NOT DO THIS EVER. It appears that where modern versions of kor moo yang are concerned, it is best to stick to soy sauce and build on that.

So last night, alongside an odd pairing of roasted cauliflower and soba noodles, I made some more pork collar for unsuspecting victims-slash-guests who had come over expecting dinner. The result was not awful! This is the best iteration of Moo Jum’s kor moo yang so far.

Kor Moo Yang (serves 4, just barely)

– 400 g pork collar (or shoulder)

– 4 garlic cloves

– 2-3 coriander roots, washed

– 1/2 tsp white peppercorns

– 1/4 cup soy sauce

– 1 Tb brown sugar

– 1 Tb sweet soy sauce

To make:

1. As in Chef McDang’s recipe, mash garlic, peppercorns and coriander root into a paste with mortar and pestle. Add soy sauce and sweet soy sauce and mash that all together to form marinade. Add brown sugar.

2. In a large mixing bowl, pour marinade over pork and allow to infuse meat, ideally overnight, or at least four hours.

3. When ready, grill meat until brown and charred a bit at the edges. If you, like me, don’t own a grill (why are American males so into grilling?), heat up a nice heavy pan (I use a cast-iron one) that has been oiled beforehand, and brown the pork until it’s a nice caramel-ish color. Then stick this into the oven that’s been set at 180 degrees Celsius for about 15 minutes, or until the edges gain the same charred edges and sticky-looking exterior that you would have gotten via grilling.

4. Slice and serve with a tamarind or sweet chili sauce, along with some sticky rice.


Filed under Asia, Bangkok, food, food stalls, pork, Thailand

What’s Cooking: Jay Gai


Two kinds of Isaan-style grated salads at Jay Gai

It is almost impossible to live anywhere in Bangkok that is not within walking distance of a som tum (grated fruit or vegetable salad) vendor. While street food lovers frequently rhapsodize over the best bowl of noodles or grilled hunk of meat, it’s som tum that most often finds itself at Thai tables.

And what som tum it is. Although the grated green papaya is the variety that is most popular in (and out of) Thailand, vendors display a wide range of fruits and vegetables with which to make this salad, from cucumbers and long green beans to tart gooseberries and green bananas. The truth is, anything with any sort of crunch is a good base for a grated spicy salad. It’s the dressing that usually stays constant.


Som tum Thai — the type most commonly eaten in Bangkok and abroad — is the kind we are exploring here, with a dressing made of lime juice, fish sauce, and a healthy dose of sugar (be it palm or granulated). A light dusting of roasted peanuts and dried shrimp and you’re done. But if you are the adventurous sort who does not shy away from fishiness (really, the essence of Thai food), there is som tum Lao, tinged with that extra oomph afforded by pla rah, or fermented Thai anchovies, or even som tum nuea (the northern Thai variety), flavored with a bit of nam poo doo (the juice of pulverized and fermented field crabs). I am not a fan of som tum Thai, which I find to be too sweet throughout much of the capital nowadays, but I do have plenty of time for the Isaan version, made with either crunchy fruits or vegetables, or mua (confused), which includes kanom jeen (fermented rice noodles).

The som tum Lao and som tum mua shown above hail from Jay Gai, also known as “som tum yib bat” (som tum where you must pick a number), such is the popularity of this stand on Naresuan Road in Udon Thani. Their som tum Lao is rich in anchovy flavor, with a nearly rancid tinge; the som tum mua includes green papaya, bamboo shoot, cherry tomatoes, long beans and snails alongside the kanom jeen. Both are what you expect Isaan-style som tums to be: thick, heady, uncompromising.

That’s not what we’re doing here. Chris and I are starting with the basics, by trying to emulate Jay Gai’s “Thai-style” som tum. With Western cooks in mind, we are using shredded carrot and daikon radish in place of green papaya. The only thing we may be copying from Jay Gai is its propensity (and everyone else’s propensity) for MSG (pong chu rot).

Som tum Thai, inspired by Jay Gai (makes 4 servings)

In the bowl of a mortar with a pestle, pound 3 cloves of garlic with 1-3 Thai chilies (vendors call each chili a “met” and ask customers how many “met” they want in their som tum. Answers usually range from none (“mai sai prik“) to five (“ha“). Mash into a paste.

Add 3 Tablespoons fish sauce, the juice of 2-3 limes, and a Tablespoon of palm sugar or granulated sugar.  Taste to correct seasoning. This is your last chance to fix the dressing before all the other ingredients are added to the mortar. 

Add a cup of granted carrot, half a cup of grated daikon radish, 3 inches of long beans cut into 5 cm pieces, and 3-5 cherry tomatoes. Mash gently with your pestle to ensure the strands get bruised (nothing is worse than too-crunchy pieces) while scraping the bowl with a large spoon with your other hand. 

It’s your decision to add Ajinomoto (to taste) or not, but every Thai I have spoken to insists that it is an essential ingredient, so there it is. We used a light sprinkling on our finished salad before garnishing with crushed roasted peanuts and dried shrimp (both to taste). A platter of fresh veggies — sliced green beans, a wedge of cabbage and some cucumber spears — accompanies the salad. If you want to be really traditional, serve alongside sticky rice and grilled chicken or pork shoulder or, if you want to be like Jay Gai, a bowl of boiled snails.


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What’s cooking: Aim Och


“Egg in a pan” at Aim Och in Khon Kaen

There is nothing easier to make in all of Thai street food than kai kata, or “egg in a pan”. Still stinging from our inability to decode Jay Fai’s Byzantine fusion of herbs and spices masquerading as tom yum goong, Chris and I decided to give ourselves a break and do something that is, quite literally, fool-proof.

Kai kata is the Thai version of the Vietnamese version of the American breakfast, said to have been inspired by homesick American GIs during the Vietnam War. In an attempt to replicate the American breakfast standby “ham and eggs”, Vietnamese cooks cracked eggs into “personal-sized” pans, garnished them with Chinese sausages and Vietnamese steamed pork pate (moo yaw) in place of sausages and ham, and cooked them quickly on a stovetop until the whites set. Garnished with a splash of red chili sauce like Sriracha and fish sauce and accompanied by a toasted, buttered bun stuffed with more “sausage and ham”, this no-fuss breakfast combo is quick, easy — and unbelievably satisfying. Best of all, you can let your imagination run riot: anything, anything at all, will work with these eggs. Have a sweet tooth and want to drizzle some maple syrup on it, maybe with a garnish of crispy

bacon? A handful of peas? Maybe some pancetta and sliced fresh chilies? Or maybe a

splash of minced chicken and diced carrots, just like at King Ocha in Udon Thani:


Kai kata and buttered bun at King Ocha in Udon Thani

There are no rules for this fusion-y adaptation of a Western favorite. Ironically, if you are in the West, you may need to make some substitutions for some hard-to-find ingredients, so you may have to re-substitute those substitutions. Hence our choice to use buttered ceramic ramekins instead of tiny pans, because we aren’t sure how many of those are available back West. If you don’t have an oven, you can make a bain-marie by putting your ramekins in a pan, filling with water up to the middle of the ramekin, and cooking your eggs on the stovetop. However you decide to make it, we have tried to cleave as closely to the “authentic” (circa 2013) basic Isaan-style kai kata as possible.

Kai kata a la Aim Och (makes 2 servings)

What you’ll need:

– 2 ramekins, well-buttered

– 2-4 eggs, depending on size of ramekins

– 1 link Chinese sausage (gunchieng), sliced

– 6 slices moo yaw (Vietnamese steamed pork pate) — baloney works in a pinch

– Two mini-baguettes or soft rolls (for real Thai street food flavor, they should be as sweet as possible)

– Butter (for toasting buns)

– Fish sauce with sliced chilies, Maggi, or Golden Mountain sauce (to taste)

– Sriracha sauce (to taste)

– Salt and pepper (to taste)

To make:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit/180 degrees Celsius.

2. Place buns, slightly open and their insides buttered, into a casserole and toast in the oven until warm, edges are light brown and butter is melted. 

3. In a pan, warm slices of Chinese sausage and/or moo yaw until hot to the touch.

4. Crack 1-2 eggs into each buttered ramekin, depending on size. Cook in oven for 5-10 minutes (depending on how well your oven works), until whites are set when you jiggle them and start to pull away slightly from the sides of the ramekin. If you like your eggs more well done (I love runny yolks), wait at least 10 minutes.

5. Take eggs out of oven and garnish with sausages and “ham”. If you have cooked minced meat and/or vegetables, scatter those onto your eggs as well. Season with salt and pepper.

6. Fill toasted buns with slices of “ham” and “sausages”. Serve alongside eggs, and make sure to pass the fish sauce/Maggi and sweet chili sauce. Easy AND delicious.


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What’s Cooking: Jay Fai


On the menu at Jay Fai

It was an interesting proposition: turn out some recipes inspired by my favorite street food stalls. Of course, I would never get the exact recipes from these folks, however lovely they are; in the street food world, recipes are family heirlooms, to be guarded as insurance for the next generation.  Instead, the recipes we end up with would be approximations, wild guesses, stabs in the dark — love letters to the originals in the hope that imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery.

To aid my on my quest, I enlist the help of my friend Chris Schultz (http://christao408.xanga.com), one of the best home cooks I know. We would do a total of 15 dishes over the course of three months. Some would be simple, chosen for their (expected) ease. Others would take more work refining. All would, eventually, hopefully, fingers-crossedly, be delicious.

There is no question that Jay Fai (327 Mahachai Rd., 02-223-9384) is one of my favorite street food vendors. A middle-aged lady in a woven beanie and a slash of lipstick, Jay Fai plows through an extensive repertoire of made-to-order favorites, solo and with the help of two searing hot woks. Her fried noodle dishes are to die for: punters frequently argue over which is her best, wavering between her “drunken noodles” (guaythiew pad kee mow, so called because the grease and spice are good hangover remedies) and her crispy noodles in seafood gravy (guaythiew lard na talay). Her crabmeat omelet, currently holding at 900 baht/serving, is a Japanese-inspired eggy roll stuffed with mammoth chunks of white, juicy crabmeat; hers is the only kitchen in town to serve a “dry” congee (jok hang), a gelatinous splay of broken-in rice grains topped with a tumble of shredded ginger and scallion. I could go on.

But it’s possibly her spicy lemongrass soup with prawns (tom yum goong, priced at an astronomical 1,500 baht/bowl) that intrigues me most. It’s a dish that everyone knows, but I suspect few bother to tinker around with. Have you ever made a tom yum? I ask because, despite the “infusion”-style broth that simply calls for throwing a handful of bruised herbs into water at a rolling boil, this soup is hard to excel at.

Boil 6 cups water, toss in a handful of bruised galangal, 7-8 kaffir lime leaves, 4 bruised lemongrass stalks , a shallot or two, a couple of green peppercorn branches and 4 chilies; a few minutes later, throw in 3 Tablespoons fish sauce and at least 3 limes’ worth of juice, take your pan off the heat, and add your 8 cleaned and shelled jumbo shrimp; stir around in the muck until your shrimp blush a deep red, then garnish with coriander leaves — this is tom yum made the traditional way. Yet the flavor is … underwhelming, warmed-over Lean Cuisine after two days in the refrigerator. Where is the heat? Where is the tart? I was missing the fireworks, but without sticking an entire forest of dreck into the broth, what was I to do?


Jay Fai’s tom yum goong

The verdict: I can’t hope to replicate even half of the flavor Jay Fai gets with her tom yum by doing a straight-up infusion. There is a chili paste in there somewhere. In the coming days, I will pound fresh chilies, garlic, shallots and herbs with my mortar and pestle and see where that gets me; I’ll also roast the chilies, garlic and shallots before pounding a second batch and compare the two. I’ll try another with roasted chili paste (nam prik pao), and in yet another, I might even add a dash of coconut milk. What do you think? There is a grocery store’s worth of places where this can go. 

Until then. The leftovers beckon.


My tom yum


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