My father’s side of the family comes from Laos and Thailand. And with them, they brought an interesting addition to the, already vast, world of Asian cuisine. My parents trained us to develop a Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese palate, and to this day, I’m still preparing myself for chicken feet at dim sum restaurants. Or even live octopus. Maybe if it was included in the final stage in one of those Fear Factor episodes with an open view of $5,000 in a briefcase, then… maybe.
It’s always interesting to visit other countries and see what they like to eat. Especially with snacks. When my sister and I were younger, we often got dumped off at the relatives while my parents ran errands. Because they were immigrants, they were obviously not going to be stocked with ‘safe’, American-made snacks for us to munch on. Not a single sight of Funyuns, Corn Nuts or candy. It was always something bizarre like, Calbee shrimp chips, cuttlefish jerky or dried salted prunes in a plastic, heart-shaped container. If you could just imagine the sour face I wore for a good amount of years. I actually grew to love these kind of snacks, but my elementary school classmates didn’t. My pack of seaweed, haw flakes, white rabbit candy, cuttlefish snacks and soy bean milk were never even considered for trade. I usually just got a lot of odd glares from them, as they lunched on Doritos, Fig Newtons and Capri-Sun. Bastards.
Well, when you’re stuck in a foreign land, you’ve gotta adjust somehow. Time to borrow MacGyver’s brain. A-ha. At my aunt’s house, there was an endless supply of Kung-Fu instant noodles – the ones that come with a beef-flavored packet that were strategically placed to give the noodles a ‘food-like’ taste. Brilliant. We’d then crunch up the noodles while the bag was still sealed and made sure the noodles were crushed into bite-sized morsels of crap. Sauce time. First went the food-flavored powder. Then the spicy powder. Shook it up and shared the wealth with everyone. I remember going thru a good three to four packs in one day.
Laos borders Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The languages are similar in tones, as with Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese. Almost all Southeast Asian countries shared the same ingredients in the kitchen. Fish sauce and shrimp paste being the most common. And let me tell you, this stuff is STILL pungent in my opinion. My palate has definitely grown but nothing can prepare you for the dual potency of fish sauce and shrimp paste -- combined. And you’ll be glad to know it’s in the ever-so-popular Thai Papaya Salad.
It was only recently, that I started to eat more and more Laotian and Thai food. For 20 years I stared at my relatives in disbelief as they ate fish mixed with coconut milk, eggplant with shrimp paste, etc. You get the picture.
So now that I spend a good amount of the week cooking, I thought I’d cook a sympathetic meal for the ones I gawked at. The Chinese partake in a ritualof presenting actual dishes of food in the backyard, called "Bai-Sun", for the ancestors to eat, as a gesture of respect. I guess I’m doing the same, only I don’t have any incense sticks on me at this time. It’s my way of saying, “Oops, I’m sorry I disrespected your food. Maybe I should’ve tried the food when I had the chance, because now, I love it.”
I started out with Thai chicken curry. A great dish that leaves a spicy, yet satisfying coat of heat inside your stomach. I used regular chicken leg meat and marinated that with fish sauce, white pepper, sugar, corn starch and rice wine. After 30 minutes in the fridge, I fried the chicken and added Thai curry powder (available at all markets. You can even use Indian curry.) I threw in some garlic, Thai chilies, red bell pepper, basil leaves, onions and sautéed them till they still had some bite to it. Then I added some coconut milk and fish sauce and let it simmer for 30 minutes. That’s it.
This next one is a take on the popular Chinese dish, Sauteed Green Beans with Garlic and Chilies. In Cantonese, it’s ‘gon-bean-say-gwai-dao’ (sautéed, four-season green beans). I deep fried the beans for about 30 seconds, took them out and patted them dry. I then sautéed some ground pork, Thai chilies, garlic and green onions. Instead of just using salt, the Thai recipe calls for fish sauce. Warning: turn on your overhead fan. Heat and fish sauce are not good.
Almost every country in Asia will have soup noodles. Thai cuisine is big on beef ball noodle soup. In most Thai restaurants, you can find the Thai Boat noodle soup. It got its name from villagers that would make a living by providing a kitchen on water. If you’re hungry, you simply flag down your ‘restaurant’ and they’ll pull right up to you and serve it right there. Kind of like a roach coach that is at your mercy. Here, I simply made a broth with fish sauce, chicken bouillon, sugar, white pepper and fried shallots. I used Vietnamese ‘banh pho’ rice stick noodles.
For appetizers, I made two types of salad: Papaya salad and Thai beef salad. Both of which use the same ingredients pretty much. Luckily at my 99 Ranch Market in SGV, I can buy pre-grated papaya. Only $0.79/lb! I’m not about to buy a machete and hack my way at the papaya. I mixed micro-planed garlic (if you’re a regular on my blog, you’ll see that ‘micro-plane’ term a lot. I love this tool.), lime, chopped-up Thai chilies, crushed red pepper flakes, fish sauce, shrimp paste and white onions into the grated papaya. Mix it up and throw it in the fridge. I personally think it tastes better cold. For the Thai beef salad, I used all of the fore-mentioned ingredients EXCEPT garlic and shrimp paste, and added green onions. I used round steak and cooked it in the oven till it was pink in the very center. I sliced it up and let it cool off and hand-squeezed any remaining blood. Mix it up and chill as well.
My last dish is a simple pork mixture that has fish sauce, pickled vegetable and one egg on top. Simply steam that for 30-45 minutes and devour.
By the way, I used way too many chilies. My stomach is KILLING me. Thanks for reading. Thai noodles such as pad kee mow, pad thai and laat nah (raat nah) are next on my plate.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Posted by e d b m at 1:31 AM