Northern Thai Cuisine (Lanna)

Generally speaking, laap is made from minced meat, raw or cooked, to which – depending on the type of laap and the region in which it is being created – different ingredients and seasonings are added. Laap is prepared much like a salad, by mixing together all the ingredients, including minced meat, internal organs, other meat cuts, spice blends, seasonings and herbs. It is served accompanied by a diverse assortment of vegetables, young leaves and herbs. There are two main styles of laap – laap from Lanna, and laap from Isan. The Lanna version, known as laap muang (ลาบเมือง), features a rich blend of dry spices, resulting in a mildly spicy, pungent, salty and aromatic dish. Neither lime juice or ground roasted rice is used in laap muang. The seasoning blend for laap muang is called naam phrik laap (น้ำพริกลาบ), and contains sought-after spices that were originally imported to the region by trade caravans from India and China.

Dtom Jeaw Pla is a rustic and spicy fish soup that is far from being unsophisticated. There is something humble, genuine, and unpretentious about it, which makes you fall in love with it.

Its humble countryside charm and surfeit of tastes quickly placed it high on my personal list of favorite dishes.

The fresh essence of fish cooked to perfection melds with the earthy tones of the grilled ingredients, the eggplants, shallots, chilies and garlic. It has a heavenly silky broth with a scent of lemongrass, which is generously lifted up by a handful of fresh herbs, lemon basil, saw coriander and spring onions.

This dish (Khao Soi Recipe) takes us back in time to the mid-19th century. The trade caravans were trailing the jungles of northern Thailand along the ancient routes between India and China. Those long caravans were carrying wealth of exotic goods, leaving rich aroma of spices and the sweet scent of opium as they passed.

The men on this long line of between fifty and one hundred mules would be Yunnanese Muslim Chinese, who dominated the trade routes and began to settle in Chiang Mai and the main towns of north Thailand at that time.

This recipe comes all the way from India through the northern Burmese border. The masala spice mix is still sold in small packages with retro looking prints that seem to forever exist.

There is no way in a recipe to communicate what’s going on in here; a thick red chili paste marinate, that bursts in orange turmeric color, provides the perfect seen to the tender, almost falling apart, pork meat.

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.

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.

Naem is a fermented sausage made with pork, pork skins, cooked sticky rice (glutinous), fresh garlic, salt, sugar and bird’s eye chilies. The sausage is wrapped in banana leaves or synthetic casings, and fermented for 3-5 days at about 30 degrees (C) and 50% humidity. The fermentation process enables the growth of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts, mostly lactobacilli, which accounts for the sourness of the sausage. The salt acts as an inhibitor – preventing the meat from going rotten, allowing the lactic acid bacteria and yeasts to feed on the rice and sugar, and fermenting the meat to perfection.

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