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We featured Thai food many times so far: one of the world's best chefs, David Thompson, shared with us his tips; we brought you to a special Southeast Asian cooking class and introduced you the young and talented chefs of the Bo.Lan restaurant, interviewed about the future of Thai food.
But it's still not enough: here is a list of gourmet foods and ingredients from Northern Thailand we suggest you to try if you're planning a visit.
Abundant, cheap, aromatic and virtually flame retardant, banana leaves are less ingredient and more an indispensable cooking and eating tool throughout much of south east Asia- wrapping meats on the barbeque, steaming pockets of fish with coconut juice and calamansi, packaging for sweets, banana leaves also serve as disposable plates. In Northern Thailand, banana leaves are used to make khao kan chin, a rich and full flavour dish that mixes rice with pig’s blood and lemongrass before being steamed inside a banana leaf and served with a side salad of raw onion and dried chili.
Egg, flour, salt, water: The basic recipe for pasta is also used throughout Asia to make egg noodles. In fact it’s widely believed it is egg noodles that form the basis of pasta; travelled from China to Italy with traders in 1 AD. Thick cut egg noodles form one of Northern Thailand’s best known, and loved, dishes- Khao soi. The name khao soi means “cut rice” in Thai, but it’s believed the name is actually a bastardisation of the Burmese word "khao swè", where it is a common dish, especially in the Shan state. In Northern Thailand itself, khao soi is a popular street snack; a pillow of egg noodles swimming in rich curry gravy made with coconut milk and then topped with Chinese style pickled cabbage, shallots, chili and lime.
While hardly unique to Northern Thailand- or a lot of the world for that matter, the one ingredient above all others that defines Northern Thai cuisine is pork. The skin, or rind, is cured in salt and cooked to create khaep mu, a deliciously decadent crackling eaten with beer or dipped into a spicy sauce like nam phrik ong – a dip made with tomato, dried chili and minced pork. Pork belly is grilled or used for spicy salads, the meat for curries, the blood for khao kan chin, and the fat for the sausage of all sausages: sai oua, seasoned with kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, chili, garlic, salt, coriander and sometimes fermented rice for added sourness, cooked over coals for added smokiness and eaten with a fist full of kneaded sticky rice and raw chilies: this is pork lover’s heaven.
Young jack fruit
Thai cuisine is well known for using fruit to prepare main meals; son tam, or raw papaya salad, which hails in from the north-east province of Isarn, is one of the Kingdom’s most ubiquitous and most unique dishes. In the north, jackfruit makes an appearance; a large fruit with a spiky crust revealing sunflower yellow segments of fleshy triangles which is native to southern India and whose flavour could oddly be described as a blend between a banana and pineapple, but nicer than that may sound. It is most commonly used to make gaeng khanun, a feisty and sour soup with similarities to tom yam, but with fruity overtones. Even better is tam khanun, a salad that uses smashed and fried young jackfruit with minced pork and chili and is eaten with sticky rice and khaep mu, that heinously delicious pork crackling.
Although thought to be indigenous to the equatorial belt of Africa, and believed to have reached Asia with early Portuguese colonists, alongside potatoes, chili and tomatoes, tamarind has become a mainstay in South East Asian cooking, its long brown pod like fruit which produces a sour, caramel like pulp used in dishes from Chiang Mai to Chennai. In Northern Thailand, tamarind is used to season and add sour notes to nam phriks (dipping sauces), candy, drinks and curries, the decadent gaeng hanglay being the most popular one. Make with shallots, garlic, and plenty of fatty pork belly, the tamarind sauce gives it a sweet, sour and salty edge.