This eel curry includes a greater-than-usual quantity of aromatics used over three stages. First, the eel is cleaned and sliced into segments; then it is fried with a generous amount of lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and shallots. These help to counter its muddy and somewhat iron-like odor, which disappears along with the liquids and the aromatics.
This eel curry recipe is adapted from the vintage book: “Gap Khaao O:H Chaa Roht” by Ging Ga Nohk) (กับข้าวโอชารส โดย กิ่งกนก – กาญจนาภา พ.ศ. 2485). This rare book was written in 1942 during WWII, a period of global turmoil in which Thailand was invaded by the Japanese. That same year marked a decade from the ending of absolute monarchy rule in 1932, and one generation away from the peak of the Siamese culinary renaissance that flourished in the court of King Rama V (1868-1910): a nostalgic era for its children who are still with us to remember and reflect on those times.
This profoundly spicy, chestnut-colored pork curry radiates a pungent slow-burning heat from generous amounts of roasted black pepper, along with long peppers and naughty charred dry chili peppers. The curry’s aroma is concentrated even further by roasting the ingredients prior to pounding them - a process that shaves the high notes of the curry and provides a low-pitched intensity that lasts far beyond each bite.
If we could strip away the spices, the seasonings, the vegetables and the herbs from savory dishes we could uncover their naked flavor profile core. There, we would encounter a strong savory-umami, sometimes coupled with other basic elements of smoke and fat. This flavor core is, for us humans, the sought-after taste of protein; our first sip of mother’s milk, and the primal experience of burned game meat on the fire.
Today we would like to highlight a powerhouse for umami creation: the fermentation process. We will focus on fermented fish innards from southern Thailand (dtai bpla ไตปลา), one of about a dozen fermented products used in the country. We will show you how chefs for the capital’s elite, as early as or, before the reign of King Phra Phutthaloetla Naphalai (Rama II, 1767-1824), harnessed its wild nature and created a dish similar to what we present today - a salad with infused fermented fish innards dressing.
Yellow sour curry (gaaeng leuuang, แกงเหลือง) is considered a comfort food for the people of Thailand’s southern region. Lavish amounts of fresh turmeric give this spicy, sour and salty curry its rich yellow tint, as well as its earthy aroma and a pleasantly bitter taste. The curry also contains generous portions of the southern dark fermented shrimp paste, resulting in a cloudy, ochre-colored dish.
Southern yellow sour curry is primarily made with saltwater fish, and with either water spinach (phak boong ผักบุ้ง), bamboo shoots (fresh or pickled), green papaya, the stems of the giant elephant ear plant (Colocasia gigantea) (aaw dip อ้อดิบ or thuun ทูน), winter melon (fak khiaao ฟักเขียว) or lotus stems. But versions of the curry that include freshwater fish, shrimp, salted threadfin fish (bplaa goo lao khem ปลากุเลาเค็ม), or even beef or pork belly, are not rare.
Tom kha is a well-known and much-loved Thai soup: a creamy, soothing coconut blend, a warm, silky broth in which chicken, mainly, is simmered with young galangal, mushrooms, and, at times, charred-grilled banana blossoms. In other versions, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves are added, blurring the boundaries between tom kha and the coconut-based tom yam soup (tom yum kati; ต้มยำกะทิ).
However, in the late 19th century, tom kha was not a soup at all: it was a dish of chicken or duck simmered in a light coconut broth with a generous amount of galangal. The coconut broth added sweetness to the meat, and the galangal helped to mellow the meat odor. It was then served with a basic roasted chili jam as a dipping relish seasoned along the salty-sour-sweet spectrum.
Also known as: gaaeng jeen juaan (แกงจีนจ๊วน), or gaaeng juaan (แกงจ๋วน).
Gaaeng jeen juaan is a coconut-based red curry. With primary ingredients of chicken, light green banana chili peppers and peanuts, it is similar to Massaman curry (matsaman); and scented with the sweet aroma of dry Indian spices such as cumin, mace, nutmeg, clove, star anise and cinnamon. Pineapple adds sweetness and a thin layer of tartness. The sweet and sour flavors are echoed by the addition of fresh sugarcane juice and a squeeze of bitter orange juice (sohm saa). To enhance the aroma and texture of the curry, roasted grated coconut is added to the curry paste.
The first reference to sohm choon as a dessert appears in in the early 1800s, in the culinary poetry of King Rama II gaap heh chohm khreuuang khaao waan (กาพย์เห่ชมเครื่องคาว - หวาน). The poetry was sung during the royal barge’s procession, and this verse refers to sohm choon as a dish made of lychees. A closer look at other foods that are mentioned in the verse also reveals other dishes that are clearly of Chinese origin, such as boiled pork spleen (dtohm dtap lek ต้มตับเหล็ก), steamed bird’s nests (rang nohk neung รังนกนึ่ง) and persimmons (luuk phlap ลูกพลับ).