The word ‘miang’ is often used to designate Thai hors d’oeuvre-like snacks consisting of various ingredients wrapped in leaves. To chew on a miang parcel delivers a delightful melee of flavors and textures, each triumphing over the other in a continuous transformation, creating a captivating and ever-evolving taste experience throughout the bite.
Miang sot is a fermented leaves dish that appeared in a cookbook published in honor of Thao Suphatigaanapakdee (also known as Prik Sirisamphan) (ท้าวสุภัติการภักดี (ปริก ศิริสัมพันธ์)), in 1928. Titled Gap Khaao Thai (กับข้าวไทย), the book features a collection of recipes that were once prepared and served to King Chulalongkorn Rama V. The author, Sohmboon Sirisamphan (เถ้าแก่ สมบุญ ศิริสัมพันธ์) a respected elder (known as thao gaae (เถ้าแก่) in Thai), was a distinguished businessman of Chinese origins.
The dish is composed of fermented tea leaves; it is perhaps the closest tea leaves wrap to the ‘miang’ style introduced to the Siamese court by Princess Dara Rasami in the late 1800s. The dish gives us a glimpse of flavor of what her household, which participated in the informal marketplace events within the palace, might have to offer.
The popularity of miang in Siamese cuisine is tied to the history of two kingdoms, Siam and Lanna, and the life of one princess, Princess Dara Rasami. The daughter of King Inthawichayanon of Chiang Mai and the fifth consort of King Chulalongkorn, the princess was selected at the age of thirteen, in 1886, to serve as a consort to King Chulalongkorn in the Inner Palace; the decision was shaped by both political strategy and personal transition. At the time, Siam was consolidating its power and extending its influence over neighboring regions, including Lanna. As the ruler of Chiang Mai, Princess Dara Rasami’s father, Intawichayanon, viewed the move as a strategic alliance. In return, King Chulalongkorn presented him with the medal of the Order of Chula Chom Klao, which is the Siamese equivalent of a knighthood.
Strategically, Dara Rasami’s arrival was carefully planned to coincide with the grand celebrations marking the appointment of King Chulalongkorn’s son, Vajirunhit, as Crown Prince. The journey to the Siamese Inner Palace as a foreigner was thus not merely a personal transition for Dara Rasami but also a diplomatic strategy aimed at strengthening the political alliance between the Kingdoms. As a consort to King Chulalongkorn, Dara Rasami served as a living symbol of the political bond between the two regions – her presence in the Inner Palace was a constant reminder of that alliance, serving both as a diplomatic link and a political assurance.
Life in the Inner Palace was complex, with a highly defined set of courtly manners, intricate customs and daily routines. The Inner Palace was the domain of the king’s female relatives, his children, his consorts and their entourages, including cooks, servants, officials and guards – all female. Dara Rasami and her attendants were assigned a space in the Phra Inang Damrong Sawat Hall, a prominent location that reflected her high status and the importance accorded to her as Siam’s political link to Lanna.
However, life in the Inner Palace was not without its challenges. Dara Rasami and her entourage faced hurdles due to their distinctive Northern-style food practices, which were unfamiliar to the Siamese women. Yet, Dara Rasami managed to turn this cultural difference into an advantage, selling Northern-style snacks in the palace’s informal marketplace and introducing the medicinal and nutritional benefits of her homeland’s cuisine to the Siamese court.
Young girls like Dara Rasami were sent to serve in the household of a senior royal woman in the Inner Palace, where they were trained in the myriad royal customs and manners that distinguished the phu dii (educated people) from their social inferiors. Dara Rasami, accompanied by her attendants, was under the patronage of Queen Saovabha Phongsri for three years. This was a world within a world, where political strategy, cultural exchange and personal relationships intertwined, often in the kitchen.
Dara Rasami and her household sold betel-chewing supplies and other dry goods from the rear of her residence. However, it was the exotic Lanna-style snack, miang, that captivated the palace women. These fermented tea leaves, wrapped around a savory filling of herbs, chilies, lime, dried shrimp and peanuts, offered a delectable addition to the palace’s culinary repertoire.
In Northern Thailand, the miang is a small shrub, cultivated and found in the wild, thriving at altitudes above 500 meters with a cool and humid climate. The young leaves are collected, steamed and then fermented. The fermenting process involves bundling and steaming the leaves, then soaking them in brine in wooden fermentation tanks. This process results in a caffeine-rich product with a sour and slightly bitter taste.
The fermented leaves are rolled into bite-sized wraps filled with a mix of shallots and ginger, and munched with a sprinkle of salt for energy. In Northern Thailand, miang holds great cultural significance and is commonly featured in various Buddhist ceremonies such as housewarmings, ordinations, robe offering ceremonies and funerals. It is customary to offer miang to guests who attend these events.
In Northern Thailand, miang also holds significance on the Horse Road trade routes, avenues of extensive cultural and commercial exchange. Fermented tea leaves were carried on these routes, as were other tangible commodities such as spices, silks, pottery and metals. As well, the traders and travelers of the Horse Road disseminated language, ideas, practices and culinary traditions.
Miang sot is a dish that initially presents its contents as a unified whole – the sweet and slightly bitter notes of crispy fried shallots and roasted peanuts combined with the saltiness of pork belly and dried shrimps centered in the flavor profile. Upon chewing, however, the tamarind balls, each rolled to a size of a peppercorn, gradually release their potent sourness, transforming the initial sweetness into a complex yet vivid tangy and puckering flavor. Finally, as chewing continues, the astringency, sourness and savoriness of the fermented tea leaves take over the palate, leaving a lingering, pleasant aftertaste and a consciousness of a delightful experience as the flavor gradually fades away.
- Miang kham – A royal leaf wrap appetizer เมี่ยงคำ
- Castro-Woodhouse, L. (2020). Woman between Two Kingdoms: Dara Rasami and the Making of Modern Thailand. Cornell University Press.
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- pork belly (เนื้อหมูสามชั้น) Cooked seasoned with salt, sliced into small elongated pieces.
- crispy fried shallots (หอมแดงเจียว)
- crispy fried garlic (กระเทียมเจียว)
- unsalted roasted shelled peanuts (ถั่วลิสงคั่ว) flaked.
- ginger (ขิง) diced into small cubes.
- tamarind flesh (เนื้อมะขามเปียก) rolled into small balls the size of peppercorns.
- deep-fried crispy dried shrimp (กุ้งแห้งทอด) halved and deep-fried.
- shallots (หอมแดง) roasted.
- fermented tea leaves (ใบเมี่ยง) raw or fried.
- Cook the pork belly. Ensure that it is cooked and seasoned with salt, then cut it into thin elongated slices.
- Prepare the crispy fried shallots, crispy fried garlic and fried dried shrimp. Roast and flake the peanuts. These ingredients should be ready to incorporate into the miang.
- Next, prepare the fresh ginger and tamarind. The ginger should be minced and the tamarind rolled into small balls, similar in size to peppercorns.
- Roast shallots whole in a hot pan or over charcoals until they are fully cooked. Let them cool, then peel and slice them into thin slices along their growth axis.
- Once all the ingredients are prepared, combine them in a large bowl. Ensure that they are thoroughly mixed.
- Serve as individual servings over fresh leaves, whole fermented leaves, or as a salad.