Practical and kitchen-tested recipes with a mix of theory, history, psychology, and Siamese culture tidbits.

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The Story of Gaaeng Buaan (แกงบวน) – The Oldest Siamese Dish?

With a history dating to the 7th century, gaaeng buaan (แกงบวน) is one of the oldest known Siamese dishes and a significant culinary treasure offering a fascinating glimpse into the eating habits of a bygone civilization. The dark, hunter-green broth of gaaeng buaan is replete with various large animal offal, including heart, lungs, liver, stomach and intestines. These ingredients are simmered with a brew of medicinal leaf extracts, aromatic herbs, and a rustic paste featuring roasted ingredients, along with an array of salted and fermented fish ingredients. These elements bestow the dish with a complex, savory persona holding a range of different flavor notes, depending on the specific type of leaves used. This distinctive dish reflects the Mon-Dvaravati culture, pre-dating the mid-16th-century culinary revolution precipitated by the introduction of the spicy red chili peppers that brought a red-tinted gloss to Siamese cuisine.
Rather than relying on the heat of chili peppers, the pungency in gaaeng buaan comes from peppercorns and astringent roots. The dish’s savoriness is derived from fermented and salted fish products, a staple of the Mon-Khmer cuisine. Remarkably, the recipe for gaaeng buaan has remained almost unchanged for centuries, providing an authentic experience of old-school Siamese cuisine.
If you’re captivated by the intriguing history and forgotten flavors of Thai cuisine, then you’ll find the story of gaaeng buaan (แกงบวน) absolutely riveting. This dish not only represents the deepest culinary roots – the heart and soul of the region – but also serves as a reminder today for us to exert our best efforts to preserve its thousand-year legacy.


The Secret Healing Powers of Siamese Curries – A Closer Look at Gaaeng Yaa (แกงยา)

According to ancient medical inscriptions found at Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho), a temple in Bangkok’s Phra Nakhon district, curry dishes were once prescribed to treat various ailments. These curries were formulated with nutritious proteins, medicinal roots, and healing herbs, each possessing unique curative powers.

Gaaeng yaa (แกงยา), which translates to “medicinal curry”, is a thick water-based dish that was advised in treating a specific group of conditions collectively referred to as grasai sickness (โรคกษัย). Its broth is based on a sharp and distinctive curry paste; drawing its profound savoriness from salted fish, the dish is thickened with grilled fish meat, while wild pepper leaf gives it a long-lasting peppery-herbal aftertaste.
In this Masterclass, we explore gaaeng yaa culinary and medicinal blending theories as reflected in historic medical documents inscribed in the early 1800s but reflecting nearly five centuries of knowledge and certainly preceding the earliest Siamese cookbooks. As well, we unearth centuries-old recipes and classical methods for combining ingredients for both culinary and medicinal purposes.


The Art of Siamese Duck Curries – Theory and Practice (แกงเป็ด – ศิลปะ ทฤษฎี และ การปฏิบัติ)

Duck meat is flavorful, hearty and full-bodied but, to create sumptuous curries, Siamese cooks first had to master the art of deodorizing the meat’s fatty, gamey aroma. In traditional Siamese cuisine, gaaeng phet (แกงเผ็ด) and gaaeng khuaa sohm (แกงคั่วส้ม) are two coconut-based curry styles that frequently include duck as the main protein. Each cooking style complements the duck meat differently: gaaeng khuaa sohm pairs the duck with sweet and sour fruits, while gaaeng phet uses a blend of carefully chosen dry spices.

This masterclass presents a unique opportunity to delve into the taste awareness and culinary trends of a bygone era, and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of traditional Siamese duck curries. By studying recipes found in some of the most reputable and trustworthy Siamese cookbooks from the early 1900s and by drawing on the teachings and personal cooking style of the authors – some of the greatest culinary masters of their time – participants will gain insight into the history and flavors of these dishes. As the culinary world continues to evolve, it is important for anyone who cooks Thai food to be attentive to the broader, more nuanced aromatic patterns conveyed by these recipes, so they may cook and imbue these dishes with a sense of longing for what their creators had envisioned.

The Golden Trails of Curry Powder – เรื่องราวของผงกะหรี่

The Golden Trails of Curry Powder – เรื่องราวของผงกะหรี่

Over the centuries, the Siamese culinary identity was shaped by foreign influences, absorbing and reflecting the culinary codes and gastronomy cultures of neighboring countries with more sophisticated gastronomic traditions such as Jambudvipa (India) and China. Then, on April 18, 1855, the Bowring Treaty was signed. This agreement between the British Empire and the Kingdom of Siam liberalized foreign trade in the Kingdom, opening Siam to the western world, Indian labor, opium – and curry powder.

Siamese cuisine is precise in terms of the aromatic profile of its curries, relying on complex pastes that contain a large number of aromatics, both fresh and dried. The culinary literature is rife with efforts to understand how to gauge the magical ratios for Siamese curry pastes, which are the secret behind the complexity of the curries.

Conversely, the Anglo-Indian cuisine favored dishes with a low body of heat, diluted broths, and a washed, singular aromatic profile. The curry powder condensed the entire diversity of the Indian subcontinent's cuisine into a single blend of spices that could be stored in a bottle – a one-stop solution for the curry needs of the English. Their growing infatuation with curry powder-based curries, along with the flourishing foreign trade and the importance of Indian labor in the empire economy, resulted in the introduction of curry powder worldwide. Curry powder eventually became a timeless symbol of Anglo-Indian cuisine, much like the Taj Mahal was the symbol of undying love.

The Siamese aristocracy also hurried to embrace the curry powder; after all, it was a spice mix said to be imbued with the most authentic fragrances of Indian curries, transported directly from the civilized world. This chapter examines the dishes created along this culinary suture line, where the two different cooking styles interact.

Into the woods - the story of jungle curry

Into The Woods – The Story of Jungle Curry (แกงป่า; gaaeng bpaa)

Printable recipes

For the Siamese aristocracy of the 19th century, leaving behind the safety of the city's picturesque gardens, lively canals, and bustling streets to venture into the vast plains – beyond the mountains and into uncleared forests and dense jungles – was a risky affair that few were willing to undertake. They did not enjoy the untamed wilderness nor did they wish to cook outdoors, like hunters, near a stream or a river, and these nobles preferred to use gold-patterned porcelain rather than bamboo or banana leaf utensils.

This Masterclass explores the path of Jungle dishes from their first appearance in Siamese culinary literature and investigates the emergence and culture of jungle restaurants.


Old-Fashioned Phat Phrik Khing, Yesteryear’s Travel Food (ผัดพริกขิง อาหารคนเดินทาง)

Phat phrik khing (ผัดพริกขิง) is a dried, fried dish made by frying curry paste in pork lard. It is seasoned with fish sauce and sugar and contains no additional ingredients. As the dish evolved, however, other ingredients such as pork fat cracklings, dried shrimp, smoke-dried fish or fried, fluffy, crispy fish were added. Other examples include the addition of crunchy elements such as fried lotus seeds and fried golden beans; crispy vegetables like morning glory and yardlong beans are also common.

Made to last, an old-fashioned phat phrik khing uses only common pantry ingredients and is relatively simple to prepare. Furthermore, similar to relishes and condiments, it is an adequate accompaniment for rice since it is flavorful and satisfying even in small quantities.

These characteristics – and the fact that it can be stored for many days – make phat phrik khing the perfect food for a long journey. In fact, we learn from the writings of ML Neuuang Ninrat (หม่อมหลวงเนื่อง นิลรัตน์), that the dish was an essential component in the royal travel gear, ensuring that the King and his entourage would not sacrifice a great dining experience, even while traveling.

Phat phrik khing no longer serves as a travel companion nor is it associated with royal cuisine. Instead, the dish has settled into the national food consciousness as a wet, stir-fried dish, similar to phat phrik gaaeng (ผัดพริกแกง), with slices of meat cooked in a curry sauce and yardlong beans, served in curry shops and fast-fry-to-order restaurants across the Kingdom.

This Masterclass follows the path of phat phrik khing from the era of its royal glory and explores its contemporary assimilation into stir-fries and street food.

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Have a look at some of our favorite articles and recipes.

Fermented rice noodles with multi-sour aromatic chicken sauce by Lady Gleep Mahithaawn (ขนมจีนน้ำพริกไก่ อย่างท่านผู้หญิงกลีบ มหิธร พ.ศ. 2492; khanohm jeen naam phrik gai)
Grilled banana leaf parcels with shrimp curried rice (ข้าวงบกุ้ง)

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