som saa (ส้มซ่า, bitter orange or marmalade orange; scientific name: citrus × aurantium), this citrus fruit of Indian origin is in season from the beginning of the rainy months until winter. It is used as a flavoring agent or an herbal medicine that acts as a stimulant and an appetite enhancer.
Som saa’s juice, its essential oils and its rich unripe green peel were common ingredients in both the savory dishes and desserts in the culinary repertoire of Siamese society’s elite in the early- to mid-1900’s. It is used in recipes such as yam phiu sohm saa (ยำผิวส้มซ่า), phat mee kraawp (ผัดหมี่กรอบ), massaman curry (แกงมัสมั่น), sai graawk bplaa naaem (ไส้กรอกปลาแนม) and gaaeng jee juaan (แกงจีจ๋วน), just to name a few….
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.
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).