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Miang kham is a leaf-wrapped hors d’oeuvre that, in addition to its ingredients, binds together the history of two kingdoms, tea culture and the life of one queen.
Pouches of Goodness
Miang kham is made from wrapping various ingredients into wild piper leaves (chaphlu, ชะพลู, Piper sarmentosum, wild betel), composing a single bite parcel.
Each leaf-wrapped parcel is a kaleidoscope of flavors and richness, textures, aromas and sensations. Fresh green-earthy-chlorophyll-herby-tobacco-peppery wild betel leaves enfold bursts of flavor from nutty roasted peanuts and crispy roasted coconut matches, the umami of savory dry shrimp, pungent-sweet diced shallots, small ginger cubes with a warm bite, sour and bitter unpeeled lime cubes, citrusy perfumed diced bitter orange (som za), naughty whole fresh tiny bird’s eye chilies, and small slices of the sharp and sour dtaling bpling (Averrhoa bilimbi, a relative of the carambola/starfuit). All of which is blended with a thick paste of sweet-sour and salty palm sugar and tamarind sauce.
The miang kham takes every taste bud on a fascinating pleasure trip through sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness, and umami, piquancy, sharpness and spiciness, with an array of textures that slowly subside as the journey ends, leading to a familiar post orgasmic expression, a smile and the desire for more.
This desire for more is most likely what underlay ML Neuuang Ninrat’s (หม่อมหลวงเนื่อง นิลรัตน์) version of the leaf rolls she calls miang yaak, (“desired for” miang, เมี่ยงอยาก). In a memoir describing her life in the royal courts of Kings Rama V and VI, ML Ninrat utilizes pork crackling, palm sugar, fermented shrimp paste and other common ingredients found in every traditional Thai kitchen to compose the ultimate bite.
Even HM King Rama VI (1880-1925), renowned as both an accomplished writer of numerous poems, songs and plays and a translator of many foreign works into Thai, noted in his literary work:
“miang kham makes me hungry, and so do miang sa maaw and miang bplaa thuu”
(sa maaw: sour fruits of the myrobalan wood tree, bplaa thuu: mackerel)
If you have yet to taste miang kham, we promise that you will never forget your first bite. If you are already familiar with it, we’d bet that you can remember your first time.
Pouches of Energy
The habit of chewing on leaf parcels is still a common practice along the winding Horse Road trade routes, which carry dry and fermented tea leaves from Yunnan in southwest China, crossing Laos and Burma on their way to the west.
Tea leaves are steamed and then left to ferment in large baskets. They are rolled into small balls, and put into the mouth; tucked between the cheek and the tongue, these pouches of energy are sucked and chewed, delivering doses of caffeine and liveliness into one’s bloodstream.
It is not uncommon to see rolls where dry shallots, chilies, peanuts and lime are added, perhaps to offset the rough, unripe bitterness.
In Burma, fermented tea leaves have gained the status of a national dish, lahpet, considered a gesture of hospitality and ancient symbolic offering of peace.
Queen Dara Rasamee (เจ้าดารารัศมี พระราชชายา)
Harmony and close relationships between ancient kingdoms were often generated via marriages among royal families. Such was the arranged marriage between the Northern princess and the King of Siam, King Rama V, seven years before Lanna was fully annexed into Siam.
Queen Dara Rasamee arrived with her father, King Inthawichayanon of Chiang Mai, to the Siamese court in 1886. Her Northern manners and long hair were unfamiliar to the other queen consorts.
She was appointed by King Rama V to oversee the Court’s internal affairs, and through her direction, the culture of eating miang grew popular among the royal circles. The recipe for miang was subsequently adapted and improved, and published in the old cookbooks of Thai cuisine.
Miang kham was officially mentioned in the literary work of King Rama VI, which indicates that it was one of the royal snacks served in the palace at the time; and very likely unknown before the arrival of Queen Dara Rasamee. A new term was used for the snack: “bite-size snack” or miang kham.
Cook it yourself
One of the reasons for the dish’s popularity these days is that its ingredients are readily available.
There are two important stages in the preparation of the dish: cutting and roasting the coconuts, and making the sauce.
So, get your family and friends together, because making miang kham is a fantastically fun activity. Relaxing, perfect for the summer time, it brings every member of the family closer in a delightfully delicious pastime.
- Try eating miang kham with young thaawng laang leaves (Erythrina orientalis; ใบทองหลางอ่อน)
- For the roasted coconut, select a semi-mature coconut that is not too tough and still easy to slice. Select a coconut with a golden-brown shell.
- Wild piper leaves (chaphlu, ชะพลู)
- Young thaawng laang leaves (Erythrina orientalis; ใบทองหลางอ่อน)
- Roasted peanuts
- Dry shrimp
- Bird's eye chilies
- Shallots, cut into small cubes
- Lime, cut into small cubes
- Bitter orange (som za), cut into small cubes
- Ginger, cut into small cubes
- (optional) Dtaling bpling, sliced (ตะลิงปิง Averrhoa bilimbi)
- 1/2 cup Roasted coconut
- 1 tablespoon Granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoon Fermented shrimp paste, grilled
- 1 1/2 cups Palm sugar
- 4 tablespoons Granulated white sugar
- 5 tablespoons Tamarind paste
- 5 tablespoons Dry shrimp powder
- 5 tablespoons Ground roasted coconut
- 5 tablespoons Ground roasted peanuts
- 1/2 teaspoon Grilled galangal juice
- 1 teaspoon Grilled ginger juice
- Cut the coconut into thin strips, stack 3-4 strips at a time, and cut diagonally at 45 degrees for thin match-like sticks.
- Roast on low heat until golden.
- When almost done, sprinkle the coconut with granulated white sugar.
- Continue to roast until the coconut is golden and crispy. Let the sticks cool, and store in an air-tight container.
- Roast or grill whole ginger and galangal root until charred.
- Pound the ginger and galangal separately, and strain the juices of each through fine cheesecloth. Set aside.
- Over low-medium heat, dissolve the palm sugar, tamarind paste, kapi and a spoonful or two of water.
- Stir constantly, cook the syrup until nice bubbles appear. It will thicken as it cools.
- Add ground roasted peanuts, ground roasted coconut and dry shrimp powder.
- Add grilled galangal and ginger juice. Taste.