Among the various curries that can be poured over khanom jeen fermented rice noodles, this broth, known as Chinese-style “naam yaa,” is unique in that it is a water-based curry that does not have chilies. As such, rather than the typical reddish-rust color of most coconut-based naam ya dishes from the Central Plains of the Kingdom, the sauce glows with a soft, light ivory hue, beautifully reflecting the dish’s natural sweet-savoriness, which is derived from slow-braising three proteins – chicken, pork and shrimp – along with a curry paste galvanized by smoke-dried fish and aromatic roots like galangal, fingerroot and sand ginger. The naam ya broth is served over a bed of fermented rice noodles and garnished with toppings such as delicate pulled chicken breast threads, golden-crispy fried shallots and garlic, and vivid green fresh coriander leaves and spring onion. All these elements add a visual grace and a hint of freshness to the robust broth – the signature dish of Prince Krom Luang Pitak Montri (กรมหลวงพิทักษ์มนตรี).
His Royal Highness Prince Krom Luang Pitak Montri was born in 1760, to an aristocratic family with roots in Ayutthaya. In the aftermath of the city’s catastrophic destruction by the Burmese, the prince’s family, like many other affluent families of the time, sought refuge, safety and a new beginning in the emerging Thonburi Kingdom. Prince Krom Luang Pitak Montri lived during a period of revival and transition, marked by the cultural fusion propelled by Chinese influences and the determined recovery after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1765.
This cultural synthesis, paired with the resilience of the Ayutthayans, eventually led to the fall of the Thonburi Kingdom and the rise of the Rattanakosin Kingdom. As a young man, the prince would have witnessed Bangkok rise upon the opposite bank of the Chao Phraya River as Siam’s new capital city in 1782. He lived through the reigns of three kings, and when he died in 1822 at the age of 62, he left behind an impressive legacy in the arts, the theater, dance and engineering. Among his numerous contributions is this recipe, preserved by his descendants and ultimately shared with us by Lady Plean Passakornrawong in her 1908 book Maae Khruaa Huaa Bpaa (MKHP) – and echoing the ancient culinary traditions and taste awareness of the Siamese aristocracy as far back as the Kingdom of Ayutthaya.
The prince deployed three meats, a cooking technique that indeed fits the dish’s name. Cooking multiple proteins is prevalent in Chinese cuisine and also a common Siamese technique. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, different ingredients have varying natures and flavors that, when cooked together, can produce a synergistic blend of nutritional benefits, energies and medicinal properties, thereby promoting general health and well-being.
As well, the slow simmering used in this dish is an acclaimed Chinese cooking technique – one that helps to gently draw out the nutrients of the ingredients, their deepest essences and profound flavors, thus facilitating digestion and the absorption of nutrients in our bodies, providing a steady and gentle source of energy and fostering a sense of well-nourishment.
In the note section of the recipe, Lady Plean Passakornrawong describes the taste of the broth to be “usual”. It uses a chili-less paste that highlights garlic over shallots, substitutes fermented shrimp paste (kapi) with smoke-dried fish (ปลาย่างรมควัน), and incorporates medicinal roots such as galangal, fingerroot and sand ginger.
In typical phrik khing (พริกขิง) pastes, ginger-like rhizomes are used in equal or lesser amounts compared to that of the galangal; here, however, sand ginger dominates, bestowing upon the dish robust and distinctive jungle curry-like characteristics, and suggesting a culinary connection between naam ya dishes and medicinal curries such as gaaeng yaa (แกงยา).
To cook the dish, Lady Plean Passakornrawong fills a pot with water and brings it to a boil. She prepares the primary proteins, which consist of a whole chicken, pork meat and shrimps. The chicken is cut into chunks and cleaned thoroughly; the pork is also cut into big cubes; and the shrimps are peeled and deveined. Lady Plean places the meats in the pot, covers it, and allows it to simmer for relatively long time, “to draw out the chicken’s natural sweetness”, while stirring occasionally.
When the broth is ready, she removes the meat from the pot, saving the chicken breast to be served later in thin pulled threads as part of the toppings. She cuts the rest of the meats into smaller, square-shaped pieces. She then dilutes the curry paste in the broth, adds it back into the pot with the sliced meats and allows the paste to properly cook.
Lady Plean then seasons the dish with fish sauce and palm sugar to a salty-sweet flavor profile. She recommends serving it over fermented rice noodles or khohn ma rang rai (ขนมรังไร) with toppings of crispy fried shallots, crispy fried garlic, coriander leaves and the chicken breast threads.
For The Paste:
|Smoke-dried fish (all varieties) (ปลาย่างรมควัน)||Chilies|
|Roast the galangal, shallots and garlic||Kaffir lime zest|
|Use more shallots than garlic|
|Use more sand ginger than galangal|
|White peppercorns (S1)|
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For the broth:
- 600 g whole, free-range chicken (ไก่บ้าน) cut into relatively large pieces.
- 200 g pork meat (เนื้อหมู) cut into relatively large pieces.
- 300 g shrimp (กุ้ง) peeled and deveined
- 2 stalks lemongrass (ตะไคร้)
- 2 liters water (น้ำเปล่า)
For the paste:
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons galangal (ข่า)
- 2 tablespoons fingerroot (krachai) (กระชาย)
- 2 tablespoons sand ginger (เปราะหอม)
- 2 teaspoons coriander roots (รากผักชี)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย)
- 1 tablespoon shallots (หอมแดง)
- 2 tablespoons smoke-dried fish (all varieties) (ปลาย่างรมควัน)
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorns (พริกไทย) (S1)
- 1 part fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 1/2 part palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว)
- Prepare the shrimp: peel and devein the shrimp.
- Prepare the meat: cut one whole chicken and the pork into relatively large chunks. Clean them thoroughly.
- Fill a pot with water and bring it to a boil with a stalk of bruised lemongrass.
- Place the chicken, pork and shrimp into the boiling water. Cover the pot and let it simmer on low heat, allowing the water to draw out the “sweetness from the meat.” Stir occasionally.
- Once the meat is tender, remove it from the pot and cut it into small, square pieces.
- Set aside the chicken breast, for shredding.
- An overview of the curry paste ingredients.
- Roast the smoke-dried fish. Collect its meat, discarding the bones and abdomen. Pound the smoked fish meat in a mortar and pestle into a powder.
- Pound the curry paste; start with the coriander roots and salt.
- Add the galangal, fingerroot and sand ginger.
- Add the garlic and the shallots.
- Pound all the paste ingredients into a smooth paste.
- Return the shrimp, pork and chicken to the pot. Stir carefully to prevent clumping.
- Add the paste to the pot.
- Season with fish sauce and palm sugar at the ratios indicated.
- Let the sauce simmer until it is well mixed, then remove from the heat. Serve the broth over fermented rice noodles.
- Garnish with pulled chicken breast threads, golden-crispy fried shallots and garlic, and coriander leaves and spring onion.