Articles on Thai Food and Culture

Maa ouan is a Thai appetizer with clear Chinese characteristics. It resembles the filling of khanohm jeep dumplings (ขนมจีบ), the crab and pork meat fillings of haawy jaaw (ฮ่อยจ๊อ), or the shrimp and pork meat mix of haae geun (แฮ่กึน). Minced pork and shrimp meat are seasoned with garlic, coriander roots, white peppercorns and salt, then mixed with duck egg and a bit of coconut cream, placed in small ceramic cups (thuay dta lai, ถ้วยตะไล), and steamed. It can be served either as a starter, an hors d'oeuvres, or even as a side dish to curries.

Tom yum soup from the late 19th-century Siam to present days. Including a step-by-step recreation of tom yum soup with snakehead fish (dtohm yam bplaa chaawn, ตัมยำปลาช่อน) as recorded by Maawm Sohm Jeen (Raa Chaa Noopraphan) (หม่อมซ่มจีน, ราชานุประพันธุ์) in her book “Tam Raa Gap Khao” (ตำรากับเข้า), published in 1890 (2433 BE, 109RE).

Fish fermentation consists of a simple salt-curing process: mixing or coating a whole fish, sliced fish or minced fish meat with salt and rice husks (or ground roasted rice). The mixture is then allowed to rest and ferment for few months. This fermentation process creates deep, intense umami flavor agents accompanied by a strong stench. It is only with culinary sagacity and skill that cooks are able to harness and direct these powerful flavors within the context of an appetizing dish, and to constrain the odor to an agreeable intensity.

Green curry, with its mellow, creamy green color and rich coconut base, has both fresh and mature flavors. Like new growth on plants, it brings brightness, youthfulness, spring and rebirth to the meltdown of flavors created in the curry paste.

The green curry paste uses mainly the same standard ingredients as Thai spicy-red curry paste: lemongrass, coriander roots, kaffir lime zest, galangal, garlic, shallots, white peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, salt and kapi.

Considered by some to be the most famous, and the most delicious, dish in Thai cooking, the story of Massaman curry is interwoven with trade, politics and religion in 17th-century Siam. The story is filled with mighty kings, legendary explorers and unsolved mysteries, adding an air of magic and power to this already-heavenly perfumed dish, and thickening the plot of this full bodied, coconut-based curry’s birth.

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.

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.

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