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).
Yam sohm choon is a sour green mango salad served with grilled fermented shrimp paste; roughly chopped shallots; sweet pork condiment, deep-fried fluffy grilled catfish and seasoned with fish sauce, palm sugar and lime juice and topped with deep-fried dry chilies cut into small pieces.
If you follow Thai movies and TV dramas, you probably remember Sohm Choon, the adorable boy ghost character from the period romance movie Reun Mayura (1997), which was a love story between a beautiful woman and a handsome man living in different periods of time.
This salad recipe is adapted from the book “Maae Khruaa Huaa Bpaa” (แม่ครัวหัวป่าก์), published in 1971 as a memorial for Jao Jaawm Phit (เจ้าจอมพิศว์). Jao Jaawm Phit was the daughter of Thanpuying (Lady) Plean Passakornrawong, who was a pioneer of noble Thai cuisine.
Each leaf-wrapped parcel is a kaleidoscope of flavors and richness, textures, aromas and sensations. Fresh green-earthy-chlorophyll-herby-tobacco-peppery wild betel leaves enfold bursts of flavor from nutty roasted peanuts and crispy roasted coconut matches, the umami of savory dry shrimp, pungent-sweet diced shallots, small ginger cubes with a warm bite, sour and bitter unpeeled lime cubes, citrusy perfumed diced bitter orange (som za), naughty whole fresh tiny bird’s eye chilies, and small slices of the sharp and sour dtaling bpling (Averrhoa bilimbi, a relative of the carambola/starfuit). All of which is blended with a thick paste of sweet-sour and salty palm sugar and tamarind sauce.
The miang kham takes every taste bud on a fascinating pleasure trip through sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness, and umami, piquancy, sharpness and spiciness, with an array of textures that slowly subside as the journey ends, leading to a familiar post orgasmic expression, a smile and the desire for more.