The names of Thai dishes usually communicate their main ingredient, their cooking technique or, at times, their origin. Yet, a large element in the charm of Thai cuisine are dishes bestowed with unusual – sometimes downright poetic names – such as “crystal dragon” (mang gaawn khaap gaaeo, มังกรคาบแก้ว), “galloping horse” (maa haaw, ม้าฮ่อ) and “fat horse” (maa uaan, ม้าอ้วน).
Early Siamese literature was produced, patronized and supported, as well as controlled and consumed, by the aristocracy; it reflected the life of the court elites. In contrast, Sunthorn Phu, the “poet of the people”, was the first classical Thai author who was not a member of the nobility. His humble origins and his use of popular language and simple forms of verse appealed to a wider audience.
Sunthorn Phu was born in 1786, in the days of the early Rattanakosin era, and 19 years after the destruction of the capital Ayutthaya by the Burmese army in 1767. It was also a mere four years after King Phra Phutthayotfa Chulalok (Rama I) of Chakri Dynasty came to power in 1782, bringing to an end a chaotic period of power struggles and revolutions in which Siamese, Burmese, provincial warlords and Chinese merchants, along with missionaries and soldiers, were fighting for dominance.
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As child from a broken family, Sunthorn was famous for his unstable temperament; some said he was a drunk, a vagrant, and a womanizer who spent quite a lot of time behind bars. And, indeed, it was in jail that he began to write his epic work, Phra Abhai Mani – a colossus that spans across 94 books, totaling about 30,000 lines of verse.
As a poet, Sunthorn spent much of his life under royal patronage, living to witness the reigns of four Kings. Respected by King Rama II, who commissioned literature, Sunthorn was disliked by Rama III; the resentment was generated by Sunthorn’s criticism of Rama III’s early poetry while the King was still a prince. Meanwhile, Rama IV appointed Sunthorn as a Poet Laureate, a position maintained until Sunthorn’s death in 1855.
Maa uaan is first mentioned in Sunthorn Phu’s “Phra Abhai Mani”, which suggests that the dish enjoyed a certain amount of renown before emerging in print. Due to the popular “market-like” nature of Sunthorn’s writing, we can safely assume that maa uaan was a dish consumed by commoners. But, since the dish is not typically Thai, it could also be that it was served in only during special occasions or ceremonies.
Maa ouan is a dish 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).
Sunthorn Phu also takes the time to note other dishes that are clearly of Chinese origin, such as steamed duck (bpet neung, เป็ดนึ่ง) and barbecued suckling pig (สุกรหัน). King Rama II, who respected Sunthorn Phu’s work, also refers to some favorite royal dishes of clear Chinese origin in his culinary poetry Gaap Heh Chohm Khreuuang Khaao Waan (กาพย์เห่ชมเครื่องคาว – หวาน), recited or sung during the procession of the royal barge. Those dishes included sohm choon, a lychee dish, as well as boiled pork spleen (dtohm dtap lek, ต้มตับเหล็ก), steamed bird’s nests (rang nohk neung, รังนกนึ่ง), and persimmons (luuk phlap, ลูกพลับ).
We will demonstrate today’s maa uaan recipe as recorded in Lady Plean Passakornrawong’s 1908 book, “Maae Khruaa Huaa Bpaa” (แม่ครัวหัวป่าก์). 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.
A slightly different version appears in Lady Gleep Mahithaawn’s book, “Recipes for Teaching Children and Grandchildren” (หนังสือกับข้าวสอนลูกหลาน), printed for her 72nd birthday celebration on January 7, 1949.
Lady Gleep Mahithaawn writes that minced chicken meat can be used; she also adds crushed roasted peanuts, and lengthwise-sliced pickled garlic.
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- 3/4 cup pork meat (เนื้อหมู) minced
- 1/2 cup minced shrimp meat (เนื้อกุ้งสับ) minced
- 2 tablespoons shrimp tomalley (มันกุ้ง)
- 4 tablespoons firm pork fat (มันหมูแข็ง) uncooked
- 2 tablespoons coriander roots (รากผักชี)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย)
- 2 teaspoons white peppercorns (พริกไทย) (S1)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- 1 duck egg (ไข่เป็ด)
- 2 duck egg yolk (ไข่แดงของไข่เป็ด)
- 2 tablespoons coconut cream (หัวกะทิ)
- coriander leaves (ใบผักชี)
- fresh long red chili pepper sliced into hair-thin juliennes
- In a pestle and mortar, pound together coriander roots, garlic, white peppercorns and salt. Set aside.
- Boil thin slices of pork fat until cooked. Strain, and cool to room temperature.
- Slice the pork fat into small cubes. Set aside.
- Place in a mixing bowl the minced shrimp meat, minced pork meat, the pork fat cubes, duck eggs and the garlic-coriander-white pepper paste.
- Mix well.
- Add coconut cream.
- Knead the mixture thoroughly, throwing the mixture into the bowl a few times to help condense the texture of the meats.
- Place small ceramic cups (thuay dta lai, ถ้วยตะไล) on a steaming tray.
- Spoon the meat filling into each cup, leaving a 0.5 cm gap from the rim.
- Steam the cups for about 5 minutes.
- Mix the shrimp tomalley with the duck egg yolks.
- Drizzle the yolks, filling each cup completely.
- Steam for additional 2 minutes.
- Decorate with coriander leaves and julienned fresh red chili pepper. Serve.
Galloping horse & Crystal Dragon – Fruits Served with Sweet and Savory Peanut Sauce (มังกรคาบแก้ว กับ ม้าฮ่อ ; mohng gaawn khaap gaaeo + maa haaw)
Sweet and sour fruit slices are served with a nutty, sweet-savory peanut sauce condiment that balances the fruits’ natural tartness, and decorated with coriander leaves and julienned fresh long red pepper for a sophisticated finish. The paste-like condiment is typically made from the Three Kings of Thai cuisine (coriander root, garlic and ground white pepper) fried together with chopped shallots, minced pork belly and shrimp meat, along with crushed roasted peanuts, and seasoned with fish sauce [or salt], and palm sugar.
Rice Seasoned with Young Tamarind Relish, Sweetened Fish and Pickled Morning Glory (ข้าวคลุกน้ำพริกมะขามอ่อน ผักบุ้งดอง ปลาแห้งผัดหวาน และ ปลาดุกย่าง; Khaao Khlook Naam Phrik Makhaam Aawn Phakboong Daawng Bplaa Haaeng Phat Waan Lae Bplaa Dook Yaang)
Seasoned rice dishes have been a staple of rice-consuming societies almost since the first grains were cultivated. Adapted according to local resources, traditions and individual preferences, seasoned rice dishes are relished and savored across all walks of life. Within Siamese society, these dishes offer insight into the flavor instincts and eating habits across all demographics, revealing which food items were locally available and valued.
In this delicious seasoned rice recipe from the kitchens of the daughter of King Chulalongkorn, Princess Yaovabha Bongsanid (พระเจ้าบรมวงศ์เธอ พระองค์เจ้าเยาวภาพงศ์สนิท) (1884-1934), the Princess uses a variety of common preserved and inexpensive ingredients, clearly drawing inspiration from the cuisine of the Central Plains with nods to the rural and coastal living atmosphere.
Spiced Skewers of Grilled Pork Neck and Firm Pork Fat with Fresh Pineapple (หมูปิ้งสัปปะรด; Muu Bping Sapbparoht)
Known as muu bping sapbparoht (หมูปิ้งสัปปะรด) and translated as grilled pork with pineapple, this dish showcases cubes of grilled pork meat and firm fat with fresh pineapple. The pork meat is marinated in light soy sauce and an array of dry spices, giving it earthy and slightly spicy notes. The cubes are then threaded onto skewers, interspersed with evenly sliced pieces of firm pork fat. When grilled, these pieces of pork fat introduce an additional layer of richness and juiciness to the meat. The preferred cut of choice for this dish is pork neck, a cut highly valued for its optimal ratio of lean meat to fat, culminating in a pleasingly succulent texture when grilled.
In Thai cuisine, it is common practice to sprinkle grated coconut over glowing charcoal while grilling. The heat-induced combustion of aromatic fats within the coconut introduces an additional dimension of sweet, smoky richness to the dish. Meanwhile, the charring of the edges of the meat catalyzes the caramelization of its natural sugars, yielding a delightful sweetness that further enhances the smoky undertones of the meat.
Slices of firm pork fat and pork liver are alternately layered on top of one another and tied into bite-sized bundles using green threads made […]
Khanohm Jeen Naam Ngiaao – Shan-Style Tomato Broth over Fermented Rice Noodles with Pork, Chicken Feet and Chicken Blood Cakes (ขนมจีนน้ำเงี้ยว)
A popular noodle dish originating from the Northern region of the Kingdom, khanohm jeen naam ngiaao (ขนมจีนน้ำเงี้ยว) is characterized by its light – yet profound – multi-layered broth. This hearty broth includes an assortment of proteins braised with the dried pollens of cotton tree flowers, and Northern Thai sour cherry tomatoes (มะเขือส้ม); the tomatoes infuse the broth with a subtle tartness that refreshes a full-bodied profile comprising a multitude of fermented ingredients.
The naam ngiaao broth is served over fermented rice noodles and features minced pork, and braised baby back pork ribs with their tender meat clinging to the bone. As well, there are succulent, slow-cooked whole chicken feet, and cubes of slightly bouncy, mauve-hued chicken blood cakes. Served alongside the soup are various toppings, which can include shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, chopped coriander leaves, and spring onions, while dark red chili oil and glossy, charred-fried dried bird’s eye chilies offer a fiery intensity dialed up to your preferred spiciness. In addition, I like to add wok-smoked sour cherry tomatoes and broom-like, crispy-fried dried cotton tree pollen for a surprising textural contrast.
Though the dish is often described as “Shan style”, the word ‘ngiao’ was a derogatory expression for the Shan people. As the disparaging – and outdated – label suggests, the recipe might reflect societal biases and prejudices; thus, at least from the culinary perspective, the ‘ngiao’ in the name of the dish may simply be a nod to the flavors or ingredients favored by The Shan, rather than a claim of authenticity – which could also explain why the dish is based on a Siamese curry paste.