Moving To Thailand | Discovering Thai Food Again
Moving To Thailand | Learning To Eat Like A Native
If you haven’t figured it out by this point, I’ll say it clearly: I love food. I love all kinds of food, every type of cuisine and nearly all types of meat, fish, fowl, fruits and vegetables. Never to be labeled a picky eater, I will try everything at least once. Paul goes out of his way sometimes to challenge me with my self-imposed motto. Recently he steered me towards some fried insects at the local night market, and I sadly admit that I turned down his offer.
Bugs aside, I have immensely enjoyed the food in Hua Hin thus far. With the exception of an occasional pizza night or sushi lunch, we have almost exclusively been consuming Thai food. When in Rome…, right? Before arriving in Thailand, I hubristically thought that I had seen almost everything this country had to offer from a culinary standpoint. And back home in the United States, there are many restaurants that do a pretty good job of replicating the most famous and most obscure Thai dishes. But I have found so many new foods–from the most complex dish to the simplest item–that I am humbled every day by the abundance and variety that Thailand has to offer.
Moving To Thailand | Visiting The Fresh Markets
For anyone who has not been to a fresh market in an Asian country, you have no idea what you’re missing–it is truly a feast for the senses. One of the first thoughts that invariably creeps through my mind as I walk through the markets is, wow, this would never pass a health inspection in the states. There is stall after stall of raw meat displayed on tables, heads of pigs staunchly staring glassy-eyed to the sky, limp chickens hung by their scrawny necks from dirty strings, large sides of purple beef powerless to flick away the feasting flies. I tend to steer away from the protein and focus on the colorful views from the produce stalls and the prepared food areas, better known to Thais as kanom (snacks) and kanom waan (desserts). There is every sort of kanom imaginable, from savory soups, curries, satays, and stir fries to the aforementioned deep fried insects. Paul’s new favorite kanom waan is a beautiful custard baked inside a squash called fok tong. We were assured by P’s mom that this dessert is incredibly laborious to prepare, so we savor it even more, knowing how much work someone dedicated to making the thing. We also like the savory hamok souffles of fresh coconut milk, red curry and steamed fish; they come wrapped in banana leaves and are as delicate as they are tasty. However, while I appreciate the incredible complexity of these snacks and all the time that goes into preparing them, I still prefer the clean, simple flavors of an impeccable piece of fruit.
Moving To Thailand | Devouring The Best Fruit In The World
The fruit here is by far the best I’ve ever had. Sure, any foodie who’s worth their fleur de sel will tell you they’ve tasted the usual suspects in the Thai repertoire: durian (turian), mango (mamuang), jackfruit (ka-noon), mangosteen (mang-kut), rambutan (saa-gai), and pomelo (sam-o). I tried durian a few times back home (I love it, by the way, to the surprise and horror of my in-laws), and I’ve also eaten some good mangoes and a decent jackfruit or two. But tasting something that’s been picked when green and flown thousands of refrigerated miles before arriving at your supermarket just isn’t the same. Case in point: I tried pomelo once from an Asian market in Portland, and was thoroughly unimpressed. I thought it was a pathetically large, tasteless imitation of a grapefruit.
Boy, what a difference a few thousand miles make. Pomelo is now my favorite fruit. When allowed to ripen on its own, pomelo is incredibly sweet, delicately plump and full of flavor. I eat it at breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I’m not the only one–Paul and his parents are pomelo addicts, too. There is a constant supply of enormous green orbs sitting on our kitchen counter, and the floor is strewn with peels from our voracious consumption. Anytime anyone goes out to the open market, someone from the house invariably calls out, “don’t forget to bring back some sam-o”. The reminder is not necessary–no one in this household would forget to buy the precious fruit.
The other day I was talking with my mother-in-law about making a pomelo salad. I had seen various recipes online and had even made a knock-off version with pink grapefruit at our restaurant years ago, but I was never that crazy about the dish. I saw one recipe from David Thompson’s Thai Food cookbook (my bible and foremost authority on Thai food) that piqued my interest. After discussing with my mother-in-law, however, I realized that while it was indeed authentic, that specific recipe may not please the western palate. The ingredients call for crab paste (naam bpuu), an overwhelmingly strong paste made from fermented (i.e. rotten) crab–it’s even stinkier and more pungent than shrimp paste, which is a hundred times stronger than fish sauce. In addition to bugs, I also have to admit that I am sadly not a fan of crab or shrimp paste. I decided to make up my own version of this salad, which is a hodgepodge of various ingredients that I happen to like a lot, and which, coincidentally, happen to all meld very well together in this particular dish. The recipe is below, and you can let me know what you think (you can also substitute pink or white grapefruit for the pomelo, which may be a wise choice if you reside outside of Asia).
It really helps to have Thai people go to Thai restaurants with you when it comes to ordering the food. At least the people we’ve met so far have fabulous taste in food, and we’ve had the good fortune of sharing a few amazing meals with them. It also helps if you like the people that you are sharing a meal with, and it just so happens that we found some people who fit the bill. Having a child is a wonderful way to meet new people, and through our daughter’s new friends, Paul and I have also made new friends. They graciously invited us to dinner at a wonderful seafood restaurant a couple of weeks ago. They did all the ordering, and we had no idea what kind of wonderful surprises were in store for us. When the food arrived, Paul and I couldn’t have been more pleased. There was thom yum goong (hot and sour shrimp soup), kow phad bpuu (crab fried rice), daa dieuw (dried, fried squid), bplaa tot (fried fish), hoi talay naam prik pao (stir-fried sea scallops), and moo juum, a delicious “hot pot” of broth in which you add your own raw meat, seafood and fresh vegetables to a steaming pot set over live coals to make a rich and delicious stew. It was heavenly. And at the end, as if we weren’t stuffed to capacity already, we sauntered over to the night market where we sampled homemade sweets that were the perfect complement to the loveliest of evenings.
The other recipe I’m including is actually a dish that Paul and I made with his mom before we left Portland. P’s parents were given a few dungeness crabs as a gift, and we decided to use them in an Indian style curry with turmeric and cumin. The dish was simple but excellent, and Paul’s been bugging me to include it in the blog post for a couple of months now. Our meal the other night with our new friends reminded me of this meal that we shared with our very special friends on one of our last nights in Portland. It feels right to share this recipe now.
Pomelo Salad (Yum Sam-O)
2 Tbsp lime juice
3 Tbsp fish sauce
3 Tbsp tamarind concentrate
2 Tbsp palm sugar (or granulated sugar)
1 pomelo or two pink or white grapefruit, peeled and sectioned
2 Tbsp cilantro, leaves only
2 Tbsp shallot or red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp dried shrimp (if available)
3 Tbsp roasted peanuts
1 long red pepper or red jalapeno (optional)
2 Tbsp roasted coconut
Make the dressing by stirring all ingredients together until sugar is dissolved. If using palm sugar, you may need to heat the dressing slightly for the palm sugar to dissolve. Taste for balance and adjust if necessary–the dressing should be sour, sweet and salty and will taste very strong on its own.
Peel and section the pomelo or grapefruit and put in a large serving bowl. Add the remaining six ingredients and pour the dressing over. Toss lightly and serve immediately.
Crab with Curry Paste (Bpuu Phad Pong Galee-Thailand style)
2 Tbsp red curry paste
2 Tbsp madras yellow curry powder
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 cups or more water
1 white onion (preferably walla walla), sliced
4 kaffir lime leaves
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp palm sugar (or granulated sugar)
3-4 raw crabs (dungeness or any kind)*, legs separated
1/2 cup green onions, sliced about 2 inches
1/2 cup Thai basil leaves
1/2 cup whole baby celery stalks (the tender inside stalks with leaves)
Cook red curry paste and madras curry powder in deep frying pan with oil until aromatic (about 5 min), add water and simmer for flavors to meld (about 5 min); add onion and kaffir lime leaves and simmer for about 8-10 more minutes. Add soy sauce, fish sauce, palm sugar and crab bodies. Cook until shells turn pink (about 10 min). Remove crab bodies and add crab legs; cook until crab legs turn pink (about 10-15 min). Transfer to a deep serving platter and sprinkle green onions, Thai basil and baby celery stalks over and serve immediately.
*Note: can substitute and/or add shrimp (shell-on), squid or fish
Post: Moving To Thailand | Pomelo Thai Salad | Yum Sam-O | Crab with Thai Curry Paste | Bpuu Phad Pong Galee