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Soybeans have been an integral part of Asian cooking since ancient times. The Chinese refined and disseminated the secrets of soybeans fermentation into savory food flavoring agents. From the Natto in Japan to the Indonesian Tempeh, Soybeans are in the roots of Asian cuisine.
In the northern parts of Thailand, the home of the gentle Lanna cuisine, we can find yet another type of fermented soybeans product called Tua Nao.
Tua Nao originated from the ”Tai Yai” (ไทยใหญ่ Shan people) and “Tai Leuu” (ไทยลื้อ) minorities, who inhabits the Burmese and Thai territories of the north-western part of the Kingdom.
In the Tai Leuu dialect Tua Nao refers to Tua Oh (ถั่วโอ่) which simply translate to as bad odor beans.
Two main types of Tua Nao exist:
- Wet (ถั่วเน่าเมอะ ; tua nao muh) (ถั่วเน่าเปอะ ; tua nao bpuh)
- Dry (ถั่วเน่าแข๊บ ; tua nao khaaep).
Making both types of Tua Nao starts with the boiling of soybeans in brine for 4-6 hours. The soft beans are than pounded smooth in a wooden mortar and pastel and let to ferment for 2-3 days.
At this stage, the paste is sometimes lightly seasoned with salt and chilies. The paste is than hand formed into flat cakes.
To make the wet type, the flat cakes are wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over open fire, whereas for the dry variety the cakes are left to dry in the sun.
Before using Tua Nao in food preparations the cakes are lightly grilled and pounded to a fine powder.
Khanohm Jeen Naam Ngiaao – Shan-Style Tomato Broth over Fermented Rice Noodles with Pork, Chicken Feet and Chicken Blood Cakes (ขนมจีนน้ำเงี้ยว)
A popular noodle dish originating from the Northern region of the Kingdom, khanohm jeen naam ngiaao (ขนมจีนน้ำเงี้ยว) is characterized by its light – yet profound – multi-layered broth. This hearty broth includes an assortment of proteins braised with the dried pollens of cotton tree flowers, and Northern Thai sour cherry tomatoes (มะเขือส้ม); the tomatoes infuse the broth with a subtle tartness that refreshes a full-bodied profile comprising a multitude of fermented ingredients.
The naam ngiaao broth is served over fermented rice noodles and features minced pork, and braised baby back pork ribs with their tender meat clinging to the bone. As well, there are succulent, slow-cooked whole chicken feet, and cubes of slightly bouncy, mauve-hued chicken blood cakes. Served alongside the soup are various toppings, which can include shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, chopped coriander leaves, and spring onions, while dark red chili oil and glossy, charred-fried dried bird’s eye chilies offer a fiery intensity dialed up to your preferred spiciness. In addition, I like to add wok-smoked sour cherry tomatoes and broom-like, crispy-fried dried cotton tree pollen for a surprising textural contrast.
Though the dish is often described as “Shan style”, the word ‘ngiao’ was a derogatory expression for the Shan people. As the disparaging – and outdated – label suggests, the recipe might reflect societal biases and prejudices; thus, at least from the culinary perspective, the ‘ngiao’ in the name of the dish may simply be a nod to the flavors or ingredients favored by The Shan, rather than a claim of authenticity – which could also explain why the dish is based on a Siamese curry paste.
A dish, like a smell or a color can be so evocative in their place or time. This dish always flys me back to the food stalls of Chiang Mai with its vivid color and tartly savor.
In this fast moving world, it is good sometime to pause for a moment, and to have a dish that emphasis relaxation, and allows you to enjoy a feast of textures and colors, because it is never eaten alone. It is served with a rich plate of accompanying vegetables pleasantly arranged, and with a group of good friends; all sharing the centrally placed bowl of the shiny red relish.
Tom Yum Goong Soup Recipe of Prawns and SaNoh Flowers Fried Cakes (ต้มยำกุ้งทอดมันดอกโสน ; tom yum goong thaawt man daawk sanoh)
Today’s tom yum goong soup recipe is a refreshing addition to the tom yum soup repertoire. The fried SaNoh Flower Cakes sensationally enhance the shrimp’s natural sweetness, while the flower’s bittersweet aftertaste is a superb tropical match to the citrusy and aromatic hot and sour tom yum goong soup.