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The end of the Buddhist Lent and the rainy season is a time for festivity: young men who have completed their three-month monkhood period return home and rejoin their families, and the entire community is looking forward to the rice harvesting season.
While the monks elevated their spiritual strength and gained merit for themselves and their families during their retreat, the rice plants flourished undisturbed and are heavy with the weight of newly formed rice grains.
As the harvesting season approaches, farmers collect some of these unripe rice grains, which are still green with a milky, undeveloped starch.
In a collective effort, everyone in the community gets together to prepare khao mao (ข้าวเม่า) – a fragrant pounded unripe rice – from these unripe rice grains. The labor-intensive work serves as a social glue that primes the group and readies them for the rice harvest.
Pounding the khao mao (dtam khaao mao, ตำข้าวเม่า) is customary in every rice-producing community throughout the country; it is particularly established in the central region and northeastern plateau, among the Thai-Laotian Tai Phuen (ชาวไทพวน) ethnic group inhabiting parts of the Singburi, Chai Nat, Uthai Thani and Nakhon Sawan provinces.
Making khao mao starts with the separation of the unripe greenish grains from the rice ears by manually threshing, beating and kneading the rice plants. The grains are then sorted by hand to remove any dirt or foreign objects.
To allow the starch to set, the grains are then slowly dry-roasted over low heat in large-sized round-bottomed cooking bowls until they give off a nutty scent (raang khaao mao, รางข้าวเม่า).
While the elders are slowly roasting the grains and carefully mixing them to prevent any from burning, the children are goofing around; the kids throw whole coconuts into the fire – which explode in a big boom – and giggle uncontrollably, while the men try to catch the coconuts and the women sing and dance.
Back in the preparation process, the warm rice grains are pounded in a large pestle and mortar, separating the husk and flattening the grains. Before the khao mao is ready, the husks are blown away.
Khao mao is made both from regular rice or sticky rice. It comes in various colors, from a charming green to a shade of white, depending on the age of the rice.
Also known as khao mao song kreuang (ข้าวเม่าทรงเครื่อง), or by its royal name khanom khao mao rang (ขนมข้าวเม่าราง), khao mao mee (ข้าวเม่าหมี่) is a delicious snack. It is an unorthodox use of the unripe rice grains usually employed towards making desserts. The following recipe describes an ancient and difficult-to-find version of this dish: These days, there is a tendency to add other ingredients such as peanuts, or to deep fry the unripe rice grains until they are fluffy and crispy.
In the 1950’s, this was still a popular snack. It was kept at home in large glass jars (away from the grabbing hands of the kids), or sold in the streets from banana leaf-cones.
Kids love it, adults crave it.
The snack holds a subtle balance between its buttery saltiness and the touch of sweetness that follows; the deep-fried dried shrimp and crispy tofu add a satisfying crunch along with the pleasant scent of good quality fish sauce.
- 2 cups pounded unripe rice (khaao mao, ข้าวเม่า)
- 3/4 dried shrimp
- 1 cup firm yellow tofu
- 8 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons naturally-flavored vegetable oil for frying
- Choose khao mao made from sticky rice; the green flakes indicate that it’s made from young unripe rice grains and will produce a better result.
- Slice the firm yellow tofu into pieces that will match the size of the dried shrimp.
- Wash the dried shrimp, and sun-dry all the ingredients for 30 minutes.
- Roast the khao mao grains on low heat until they are fragrant and crispy.
- The khao mao grains will change color as they are roasted.
- Deep fry the dried shrimp until it is crispy.
- Deep fry the firm yellow tofu until it is golden and crispy.
- Remove from the oil.
- Place the fried ingredients on a kitchen towel to absorb any excess oil.
- Place a wok, on low heat and add about 2 tablespoons of oil.
- Add the roasted khao mao, the deep-fried shrimp and the tofu to the wok.
- Add sugar.
- Add salt.
- Mix all the ingredients together continuously, roasting on low heat.
- Add fish sauce to the side of the wok. Let it generate an aromatic steam without moistening the khao mao.
- Continue to roast and stir until the khao mao is dry.
- When the khao mao is ready, let it cool down. Store in an airtight jar.