The khaao ngohp goong (ข้าวงบกุ้ง) of Mom Chao Sai Ladawan (Princess Saisawali Phirom) is a dish of seasoned curried rice mixed with shrimp meat, shrimp tomalley, grated coconut, and herbs. The rice mix is then wrapped in banana leaves and grilled. Unwrapping the parcel reveals an intense orange- and russet-brown colored rice cake that is rich, savory and naturally sweet. It is served with a drizzle of thickened coconut cream and herbs.
The cooks in Southeast Asia’s rice-growing communities have used banana leaves in their kitchens for generations. The banana leaf protects its contents from burning or drying out while grilling or steaming. As well, the waxy coating of a banana leaf contributes a distinctive aroma to the food, and the leaves trap moisture and smoke. Thus this method ultimately served as an effective and accessible cooking technique. Although banana leaves are still deployed as wrapping materials for certain traditional foods, their use is diminishing, especially among city dwellers.
Just a century ago, in the kitchen of the Suan Sunandha Palace, elaborate efforts were undertaken by Mom Chao Sai Ladawan (HRH Princess Saisawali Phirom, พระวิมาดาเธอ หม่อมเจ้าสาย ลดาวัลย์) to devise new and exciting fillings for banana leaf-wrapped dishes, to please King Rama V and his entourage during the King’s frequent riverboat trips between his palaces.
These grilled rice dishes were popular and quick one-dish meals or snacks; travel food that could be easily carried and remain edible for extended periods.
The rice was pre-cooked before the trip or cooked while in transit; sometimes it was fried with deep-fried garlic to prevent spoilage (phat khaao gap grathiiam jiaao, ผัดข้าวกับกระเทียมเจียว). The rice was then packed in baskets (kheng, เข่ง) or wrapped in various leaves, such as lotus or banana leaves, and seasoned and grilled aboard the boat.
Some of these recipes were recorded by Princess Sadap Ladawan (เจ้าจอมหม่อมราชวงศ์สดับลดาวัลย์) and subsequently compiled and published by Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University in a volume dedicated to seasoned rice dishes and chili relishes.
Some of Mom Chao Sai Ladawan’s grilled rice dishes include:
ข้าวปิ้ง; khaao bping – Grilled banana leaf parcels filled with cooked rice seasoned with fermented shrimp paste relish, sweet pork, and crispy garlic.
ข้าวงบไก่; khaao ngohp gai – Grilled banana leaf parcels filled with butter-fried rice with chicken, chicken offal, and dried spices.
ข้าวงบกุ้ง; khaao ngohp goong – Grilled banana leaf parcels filled with cooked rice, shrimp meat and shrimp tomalley, grated coconut, phrik khing (พริกขิง) paste, kaffir lime leaves, spring onions, and coriander leaves.
ข้าวงบปลา; khaao ngohp bplaa – Grilled banana leaf parcels filled with cooked rice, snakehead fish meat, grated coconut, phrik khing (พริกขิง) paste, Thai basil leaves, kaffir lime leaves, spring onions, and coriander leaves.
ข้าวงบหมู; khaao ngohp muu – Grilled banana leaf parcels filled with cooked rice, minced pork meat, grated coconut, finely shredded cooked bamboo shoots, phrik khing (พริกขิง) paste, Thai basil leaves, kaffir lime leaves, spring onions, and coriander leaves.
ข้าวงบเนื้อ; khaao ngohp neuua – Grilled banana leaf parcels filled with cooked rice, minced beef, diced potatoes, boiled egg, coconut cream tinted with dried Indian spices, and fermented shrimp paste pounded with shallots.
ข้าวงบเป็ด; khaao ngohp bpet – Grilled banana leaf parcels filled with pork lard-fried rice with roasted duck, and seasoned with soy sauce and fermented soybean paste (เต้าเจี้ยว; tao chiao).
Phrik khing (พริกขิง) paste is a basic curry paste composition that contains rehydrated dried chilies and salt, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime zest, coriander roots, garlic, shallots, and fermented shrimp paste (kapi).
However, coriander roots are not used in the phrik khing paste deployed in the recipes listed above.
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- 2 cups cooked rice (ข้าวสวย)
- 1 cups minced shrimp meat (เนื้อกุ้งสับ)
- shrimp tomalley (มันกุ้ง) as much as you get
- 1/2 cup grated coconut (มะพร้าวขูด)
For the phrik khing paste (-coriander roots):
- 2 tablespoons dried red long chili (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแห้ง) deseeded and rehydrated
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- 1 tablespoon lemongrass (ตะไคร้) thinly sliced
- 1/2 tablespoon galangal (ข่า) thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon kaffir lime zest (ผิวมะกรูด) thinly sliced
- 1/3 tablespoon Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย) thinly sliced
- 3/4 tablespoon shallots (หอมแดง) thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon fermented shrimp paste (kapi)(กะปิย่างไฟ) increase or reduce quantities according to your kapi saltiness.
- fish sauce (น้ำปลา) as needed
- granulated sugar (น้ำตาลทราย) as needed
- 1/4 cup spring onion (ต้นหอม)
- 1/4 cup coriander leaves (ใบผักชี)
- 1 tablespoon kaffir lime leaves (ใบมะกรูด) sliced into hair-thin juliennes
- Banana leaf (ใบตอง)
- salted thick coconut cream (หัวกะทิเข้มข้น)
- fresh red long chili (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแดง) sliced into thin juliennes
- kaffir lime leaves (ใบมะกรูด) sliced into hair-thin juliennes
- coriander leaves (ใบผักชี)
Prepare the banana leaf wraps or containers:
- Lightly pass fresh banana leaves over an open fire until they soften. Choose a wrapping style, then cut the banana leaf to the appropriate shape. Set aside.
Prepare the paste:
- An overview of the paste ingredients. A typical phrik khing (พริกขิง) paste without coriander roots.
- Deseed and rehydrate the dried chilies in hot water. Pound the curry paste, starting with the chilies and salt, and gradually add the other ingredients from the driest to the wet.
- Pound the paste until it is smooth with a rounded aroma. Set aside.
Prepare the shrimp and grated coconut:
- Grate the white flesh of the mature coconut and set aside.
- Peel, de-vein, and cut the shrimp into small pieces. Wash and pat dry the sliced shrimp meat before transferring it into a mortar and pestle.
- Squeeze the shrimp tomalley from the heads; add it to the mortar and pestle.
- Add the grated coconut.
- Pound the shrimp together with grated peeled coconut until the meat turns gooey, but pieces of shrimp are still visible.
- Add the curry paste and pound to mix. Set aside.
Mix the rice:
- In a large glass or steel bowl, mix the cooked rice with the shrimp-coconut-phrik khing paste mix until it is evenly distributed and no lumps of rice remain.
- Taste and adjust seasoning to a salty-sweet profile.
- Season saltiness using fish sauce.
- Season sweetness using granulated sugar.
- Add thinly sliced spring onion.
- Add chopped coriander leaves and kaffir lime leaves sliced into hair-thin juliennes.
- Place two pieces of banana leaf on top of each other, keeping the waxy-shiny side facing out. Next, scoop out the rice mix and place it on the banana leaves. Wrap the rice in banana leaves into equal-sized parcels. I used the closed cone-shaped banana leaf wrapping style, but you can use any other wrapping style.
- Grill the banana leaf wraps over low heat on a charcoal grill until adequately cooked.