Gaaeng naawk maaw is a light and refreshing soup served at room temperature. The ingredients are meticulously sliced as if for a salad, placed in a serving bowl, and covered with a salty and naturally sweet shrimp broth. At the table, diners can adjust the soup to their preferred flavor profile using granulated sugar, lime juice, or pickled garlic brine; hence the name – gaaeng naawk maaw – which literally means “a curry dish outside the pot” or “to cook curry outside the pot”. (Note: The word gaaeng (แกง) in Thai is both a verb and a noun).
The ingredients added to the soup include hand-pulled shrimp meat threads and two types of hand-pulled smoky and savory grilled fish flakes, along with elongated slices of cooling and calming cucumber, thin strips of sour mango, and thinly sliced sweet and sour pickled garlic. Some versions also include madan (sour cucumber, มะดัน) (garcinia schomburgkiana), pickled Asian spiderflower (ผักเสี้ยนดอง), or crispy fried Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทยเจียว).
The broth is made by cooking whole unshelled shrimp heads-on in water, and then seasoned to a sharp-salty profile using fish sauce or salt. The broth should be salty enough to accommodate the other sour and sweet elements, yet clear and transparent so as not to mask the natural sweetness of the shrimp. In addition, the broth serves as a savory, cushioning canvas, with the dynamic, salad-like interactions between the ingredients playing on top.
Since, no heat is involved when bringing together the elements of the dish, the natural textures of the cucumber, mango and pickled garlic are preserved, and their taste remains unburst and contained. This paves a sensory path that begins with the soft, smoky umami of the grilled fish flakes, and continues through the sweet, orangey pieces of shrimp meat. It then progresses through the brittle cooling sensation presented by the cucumbers, and takes a turn into the crunchy, sour mango notes. The path culminates delightfully with the pickled garlic’s sweet and sour, fresh yet warming sensation.
Finally, the dish is garnished with brilliant stripes of greens and reds from thinly julienned fresh chilies and tender green coriander leaves, which contrast beautifully with the color of the other ingredients.
Gaaeng naawk maaw first appeared in Bpradtithin Bat Laae Joht Maai Haeht (ประติทินบัตร แล จดหมายเหตุ), a monthly journal published in 1889, containing recipes by Lady Plean Passakornrawong. Two decades later, Lady Plean published the same recipe in her book Maae Khruaa Huaa Bpaa (MKHP) (ท่านผู้หญิงเปลี่ยน ภาสกรวงศ์ตำราแม่ครัวหัวป่าก์) under the name Khmer-style dtohm yam soup.
Nevertheless, the first name, gaaeng naawk maaw, survived and appeared in subsequent recipe books describing dishes allegedly prepared for King Rama VI. Later, the dish was occasionally given new names such as gaaeng dtohm goong bproong soht (แกงต้มกุ้งปรุงสด). Gaaeng naawk maaw even survived the Siamese revolution of 1932, appearing in 1938’s Popular Modern Dishes under the alias of “Democracy Curry” (แกงประชาธิปไตย ตำราแม่ครัวทันสมัยนิยม; gaaeng bpra chaa thip dtai).
Since the 1950s, however, the dish gradually disappeared from the global consciousness of Thai cuisine.
Khmer-style dtohm yam soup (ต้มยำเขมร; dtohm yam khamaehn)
In MKHP, Lady Plean Passakornrawong begins preparing the dish by pulling the black vein from the backs of giant river prawns before cooking them, shell-on, in boiling water. When the shrimp are cooked, she seasons the broth with fish sauce, suggesting salt as an alternative for those who dislike fish sauce. She then removes the shrimp from the pot, peels the shells, and pulls the meat into small pieces.
Lady Plean continues, grilling the sun-dried semi-salted snakehead fish and snakeskin gourami fish; she refers to these fish by their Old Siamese names, bplaa haang (ปลาหาง) for the snakehead fish and bplaa bai mai (ปลาใบไม้) for the gourami.
After grilling the fish, she pulls their meat into small flakes. She then slices the green mango into thin elongated juliennes and the cucumber into equal-length long pieces.
Lady Plean uses less pickled garlic than the amount of mango and cucumber, which should be used in equal amounts. She peels the garlic and slices it thinly.
When all the ingredients are ready, she arranges them in a bowl and pours the shrimp broth over them.
She seasons it with lime juice and granulated sugar to a salty-sour flavor profile, and then garnishes the dish with fresh red long chilies and coriander leaves.
Similar to a salad, we can adjust the intensity of each ingredient’s identity through size and shape. Try thin and elongated juliennes for a tingled texture, or use small, diced cubes for an individual burst of textures – but whatever you do, be attentive to the visual rhythm, which, when cooking Central-style aristocratic Siamese cuisine, should always express a calmness.
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For the shrimp broth:
- 3 shrimp (กุ้ง) cooked whole in water
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce (น้ำปลา) or sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- 3 cups water (น้ำเปล่า)
Mix in the broth:
- snakeskin gourami fish, semi-salted and sun-dried (ปลาสลิดแดดเดียว) grilled and flaked
- green mango (มะม่วงเปรี้ยว) diced or thinly julienned
- cucumber (แตงกวา) diced or thinly julienned
- pickled garlic (กระเทียมดอง) sliced lengthwise into thin slices
- fresh red and green Thai bird’s eye chilies (phrik kee noo) (พริกขี้หนูแดง และ เขียว) optional
- 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar (น้ำตาลทราย)
- 1 tablespoon pickled garlic brine (น้ำกระเทียมดอง)
- 1/2 tablespoon lime juice (น้ำมะนาว)
- fresh red long chili (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแดง)
- coriander leaves (ใบผักชี)
Prepare the shrimp broth:
- Using a toothpick, remove and discard the black vein from the back of the shrimp.
- In a pot, bring water to a boil. Place the shrimp – whole, unpeeled and heads-on – in the water until they are almost cooked.
- Remove the shrimp; season the broth with fish sauce to be very salty.
- Peel the heads and squeeze the cooked tomalley from the shrimp heads. Whisk it well and dissolve it in the shrimp broth. Set aside.
Prepare the rest of the ingredients:
- Using your hands, pull the shrimp meat into thin threads.
- Grill the two kinds of semi-salted and sun-dried fish. When the fish are cooked, separate the meat into small chunks, using your hands.
- Peel and slice the green mango into thin juliennes (or dice them thinly).
- Peel and slice the cucumber into thin juliennes, discarding the seeds (or dice them thinly).
- Peel the pickled garlic and slice it finely lengthwise.
- Place the fish meat, cucumber, mango and pickled garlic in a bowl, pour the stock over it and mix.
- Season with lime juice, granulated sugar and pickled garlic brine to a salty-sour-sweet profile.
- Garnish with thinly julienned fresh red long chilies and coriander leaves.
- Add madan (มะดัน; sour cucumber), thinly sliced.
- Add fresh bird’s eye chilies, thinly sliced.
- Add crispy fried Thai garlic.