You might be surprised to learn that – despite Thailand’s diverse, abundant produce – the basic pillars of Thai cuisine are quite simple: rice, salt, chili, and some proteins from freshwater fish. In the central and southern regions of the Kingdom, fermented shrimp paste (gabpi), which was originally devised as a preservative, is a fundamental base of Thai cuisine; in earlier days, rice and gabpi were essential elements in every traveler’s personal kit.
And so it happened that one night, during his second trip to Europe in 1907 and on his way back from Italy, King Rama V, Chulalongkorn the Great dreamed that his royal grandmother had prepared for him a very delicious plate of khaao khlook gabpi. Maha Sawek Ek Phrayaa Boorootrat Rachaphanlohp (มหาเสวกเอก พระยาบุรุษรัตนราชพัลลภ), a senior official and the King’s close aide at the time, recounts the King’s dream in his memoirs “Booroot Rat (บุรุษรัตน)”. The dream was so vivid, Booroorat notes, that the somewhat homesick King requested a plate of khaao khlook gabpi, which the aide dutifully prepared.
Eaten by poor and rich alike, khaao khlook gabpi is made from the very basic building blocks of Thai cuisine. For Thais, is a glue between the generations; a dish that might make one feel closer to parents and grandparents. Khaao khlook gabpi brings you back home.
In keeping with its status as a primary dish in Thai cuisine, khaao khlook gabpi is simply prepared with a sophisticated finish and a wonderful presentation.
Each of the dish’s components is separately prepared and set aside, and mixed individually for each serving. A pleasant harmony of several flavors is created – complex and profound in taste, the dish is a stunning display of confidence.
Fragrant jasmine rice is an excellent platform for the saltiness of the fermented shrimp paste, the sourness of the green mango (or ‘madan‘, guttiferae), which are blended further with the sweetness from sweet pork and the richness of the grilled and deep-fried catfish.
There are many variations of this dish: I have chosen to publish the version described by Princess Jongjittanom Dissakul (หม่อมเจ้าจงจิตรถนอม ดิศกุล) (1886-1978). This is the very same version prepared for King Chulalongkorn the Great during his unforgettable trip to Italy.
“ข้าฝันไปว่าเสด็จยาย (สมเด็จพระเจ้ามไหยิกาเธอ กรมพระยาสุดารัตนราชประยูร) ทรงปรุงข้าวคลุกกะปิให้กินอร่อยมาก ทำให้ข้าอยากกินข้าวคลุกกะปิ ให้เจ้าเตรียมกะปิและเครื่องต่างๆ สำหรับปรุงไว้ให้ข้า พรุ่งนี้ข้าตื่นนอนข้าจะคลุกเอง” (นวรัต ๒๔๙๗, ๘๒)
- 3 cups cooked rice (ข้าวสวย)
- 2 tablespoon fermented shrimp paste (kapi)(กะปิย่างไฟ)
- 3 cloves Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย) finely sliced
- 3 tablespoons sauce of sweet pork (น้ำหมูหวาน)
- 1 cup sweet pork (หมูหวาน)
- 1 grilled catfish (ปลาดุกย่าง) about 300gr
- 2 chicken eggs (ไข่ไก่)
- 1 green mango (มะม่วงเปรี้ยว) cut into julienne
- 3 fresh yellow chili (phrik leuang) (พริกเหลือง)
- 2/3 cup dried shrimp (กุ้งแห้ง) washed and dried
- 4-5 shallots (หอมแดง)
- 4-5 dried red long chili (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแห้ง)
- 2-3 yardlong beans (ถั่วฝักยาว)
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- neutral tasting cooking oil (น้ำมันพืช)
- Begin by preparing the shrimp paste. Roasting the paste wrapped with banana leaf serves two important purposes. First, this preparation method makes the paste fragrant, reducing the foul odor. Second, and perhaps more important, is that roasting the paste eliminates any parasites that might be lurking in it, making it safe to eat. If you do not have access to banana leaves and/or a charcoal grill, use aluminum foil and roast on a hot pan.
- Wrap the shrimp paste with the banana leaf.
- Secure both ends with wooden toothpicks.
- Roast the wrapped shrimp paste over a charcoal grill on low heat until fragrant.
- Remove the shrimp paste from the banana leaf; set aside.
- Cut the garlic into very thin slices.
- Fry the garlic in 2-3 tablespoons of a neutral-tasting oil until slightly golden.
- Add the roasted shrimp paste.
- Fry the roasted shrimp paste with the garlic oil until fragrant.
- Add the sauce of sweet pork.
- Continue frying until the paste becomes smooth; set aside.
- Fry the whole grilled catfish in oil over medium heat until the skin is crispy.
- Drain any excess oil and, with your fingers, break the fish meat into small chunks. Set aside.
- Oil a non-stick pan, and spread the egg mix thin and wide. Cook on medium heat until the surface is almost done.
- Roll and slice the crepe-like egg into thin shreds; set aside.
- While holding the mango in your left hand, tap it with a sharp knife, creating multiple scores.
- Using your knife, peel the scored mango, releasing julienne-like threads of the fruit. Set aside.
- Fry half of the dry shrimps until somewhat transparent; set aside.
- With a pestle and mortar, finely pound the remaining dry shrimps; set aside.
- Cut the shallots into very thin slices; julienne the yellow chilis and fry them until they are bright in color. Set aside.
- Cut the long beans into very thin slices; set aside.
- Place the cooked rice and the cooked shrimp paste into a mixing dish.
- Season with fish sauce.
- Add 4-5 tablespoons of sweet pork.
- Mix everything well, adjusting the sweetness to taste. It should be salty-sweet at this stage.
- Add to the rice half the allotted amount of the fried catfish meat, the julienned green mango and the yellow chilies.
- Mix well and taste again. Adjust the flavor by adding green mango to increase sourness, chili for heat, or catfish meat for richness.
- Add half the amount of the pounded dry shrimps; mix again.
- Arrange the rice mix in the center of the plate using a mold.
- Place the side servings around the rice. These include the egg threads, the long beans, green mango, fried dry shrimps, shallots, and the remaining sweet pork and catfish meat.
- Dust the dish with what remains of the dry shrimp, and garnish with fried dry chilies.