Hot, sour, sweet, salty and bitter, Thai cuisine is renowned for its balance of all five in every mouthful.
Last year, several members of our roving dinner party group, Stomachs Eleven, jumped at the chance to travel to the hometown of Thai local, the G-Man. Unfortunately I wasn't able to make it, as I was on my own fooding adventure around Malaysia, but everyone came back with photos and stories, most of them involving food.
The G-Man's father - let's call him The Big G - is a man who loves his food and loves to cook. As a child, the G-Man recalls being sent on wild chases to track down specific spices and ingredients, narrowed down to a country of origin, and many of them hard to source in a small Isaan town in Thailand. His dad is inventive and industrious, and I was regaled with stories of an impressive kitchen and dining room filled with homemade contraptions, including a motorised lazy susan! No need to turn the lazy susan by hand! "But my Mum makes him turn it off because the noise gives her a headache!" the G-man laughed.
From one passionate cook to another, Pig Flyin was quickly taken under The Big G's wing and shown secret family recipes, and the art of preparing traditional Thai dishes. Pig Flyin came back so enthused, he themed his next dinner on Isaan cuisine, from the north-east region of Thailand.
Thai vegetable chips: beetroot, corn and yam
We arrived to find the coffee table already bearing Thai snacks for nibbling on before dinner. Pig Flyin had come back with dried vegetable chips which were made from beetroot, corn and yam, fried until puffy and light. It was hard to taste much of the vegetable flavours in these, apart from some starchiness in the yam chips, but the natural colouring was very pretty.
I may have clapped my hands with glee at the sight of miang kum, one of my favourite Thai snacks. This do-it-yourself package involves folding a betel leaf into a funnel and then adding a personalised combination of shallots, roasted shredded coconut, fresh coconut, roasted peanuts, fresh lime, fresh ginger and dried shrimp.
It's covered with a dollop of sauce made from roasted shrimp paste, galangal, shallots, roasted coconut, peanuts, fish sauce and palm sugar, the entire lot pounded together and then heated and reduced to a thick slurry.
Miang kum ready to eat
This is a taste of the tropics in one mouthful, an explosion of crunchy peanuts, zingy lime, salty fish paste, spicy ginger and sweet coconut, a harmonious collision that is fiercely addictive.
Tom yum and coke? Oh yes it is. This non-alcoholic cocktail was discovered during a stay at Rest Detail Resort in Hua-Hin and was pronounced a winner. Pig Flyin used slices of galangal and homegrown lemongrass and lime leaves that were pounded and bruised then topped up with coke.
It's amazing stuff. The lemongrass, lime and galangal take the saccharine sweetness edge off the coke, and it really does remind you of tom yum goong. Mixed with coke.
Som tam mamuang
Green mango salad with fermented fish dressing
Ho mok pla steamed fish curry [see pic at top] was an impressive start to dinner, a sweet and creamy mousse steamed in the most delicate of parcels. Mrs Pig Flyin did admit that making these was arduous - there's a technique in there somewhere.
We moved on to two types of salad, the som tam mamuang green mango salad and the som tam papaya salad, both sweet, crunchy and fiery.
Pork crackling on sam tam
Tom yum goong
The tom yum goong was made to a recipe taught by The Big G, the hot and sour tamarind soup enhanced by specially roasted spices and the use of fresh coconut juice and young coconut meat. The recipe is supposed to use white galangal but as this could not be found in Sydney, normal galangal was used instead.
Gang kaew wan gai green curry chicken was also made to a Big G recipe, using green curry paste homemade by a family relative, and a famous supplier to discerning customers in Bangkok. The green curry chicken is cooked with Thai eggplants - slightly bitter - and cubes of jelly made from chicken blood.
The curry was finished with Thai basil and slivers of homegrown kaffir lime leaves.
We enjoyed our curry served khanom chin -style, where curry is eaten with noodles and raw green snake beans. The noodles should actually be fermented rice noodles, but as this could not be sourced, rice noodles were used instead.
Larb ped duck larb was a bright and fresh stir-fry of duck mince cooked with lemongrass, coriander, sawtooth coriander, mint, chilli and dill - an addition that is commonly found in northern Thai dishes.
Koa niew guy yang sticky rice steamed in the proper northern Thai style
Stuffed chicken wings peek gai yad sai ปีกไก่ยัดไส้
Filled with a stuffed of finely chopped lemongrass, vermicelli and kaffir lime leaves
After hoeing through grilled Thai sausages and stuffed chicken wings, we filled in the few remaining spots left in our stomach with ladles of rich Massaman curry, a darker and more fragrant version than most versions you will find in Sydney, made with beef shin and tendon cooked to a mouth melting consistency. The Massaman curry was cooked to a Big G recipe using homemade curry paste supplied by relatives.
Pumpkin custard khanom maw geang
For dessert we savoured spoonfuls of the smooth, rich and eggy pumpkin custard, a dish they tried in Petchaburi near Hua Hin, a town that is famous for their sweets. Pig Flyin says "like many desserts in Thailand, this one was introduced to Thai Royalty by Maria Guyomar de Pinha, a Japanese-Portuguese woman who brought this dish and other egg-yolk centric desserts to the Ayutthaya Royal Court."
Usually this pumpkin dessert is served with deep-fried shallots but Pig Flyin forgot to add this on the day (and to be honest, I prefer my pumpkin custard without the flavour of deep-fried onions).
Tab tim grob red rubies
Last but not least, my favourite Thai dessert, red rubies. Chunks of water chestnuts are coloured red, dusted with tapioca flour and then boiled. Biting into these jewels is a contrast of chewy coating and crunchy water chestnut. Pig Flyin was excited to find fragrant candle coconut milk, a smoking technique that imparts a sweet aroma, and is used in many Thai desserts.
Red rubies, icy cold coconut milk and sweet palm seeds - we couldn't have finished our incredible meal on a better note.
And as this meal made us the appreciate the importance of friends and family, we can only watch in horror as the floods in Queensland wreak unimaginable devastation.
If you would like to help, you can make a donation to the Queensland Government flood relief appeal.
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Stomachs Eleven: Christmas Dinner 2010 (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Teochew feast (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Mole poblano and pulled pork tacos (Me)
Stomachs Eleven: Pizza and friends (Miss Rice)
Stomachs Eleven: Ten kilograms of mussels (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Shanghainese banquet (M&L)
Stomachs Eleven: Wagyu shabu shabu and dessert sushi (Silverlily)
Stomachs Eleven: Stuffed deboned pig's head + nose-to-tail eating (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: French feast (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Whole suckling pig and Chinese banquet (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Hotpot night (M&L)
Stomachs Eleven: Crackling roast pork and black sesame cupcakes (me)
Stomachs Eleven: No ordinary steak dinner (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Polish feast (Miss Rice)
Stomachs Eleven: Christmas feast (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Char siu and Hainan chicken (me)
Stomachs Eleven: Amazing impromptu dinner party (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Dumplings and Shanghai soy duck (M&L)
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1/12/2011 02:58:00 a.m.