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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Myriads of Som Tam

Som Tam - a world in itself
Pic Left; Som Tam Thai
Som Tam (papaya salad), is a dish that has come to be known and loved by people all over the world. Although most Westerners who didn't get further than their local Thai restaurant in their countries, or the Bungalow/resort restaurant where they stayed whilst in Thailand will perhaps not have seen any of the myriad variations of Som Tam that are to be found in existence. Most tourism orientated establishments only serve Som Tam Thai, which is a sweet tasting concoction using green papaya, carrot, chili, tomato and peanuts with some cane syrup, dried shrimps, fish sauce, msg, lime juice, green beans and schallots. This is the easiest and most universal type of som tam available, as well as the most palatable to general tatses. But for the more adventurous, and most definitely Thai people, there are many other versions which are mostly preferred by the locals in Thailand. The number one preference must be i thing Som Tam Phu Kem Pla Ra (either both Phu Kem and Pla Ra, or sometimes just Phu Kem for those who cannot manage the pungent taste of Pla Ra). Phu kem means salted preserved freshwater crab, and Pla Ra is a kind of salted fermented raw fish, which is placed in salt water in a pot called a "Hai" for a period of up to 2 years to ferment.

Pic left; Pla Ra fermented fish in the Hai
The Pla Ra is then bashed into the Som Tam using the pestle and mortar. Isan people(Northeast Thailand) tend to love Pla Ra the most whereas central Thais cannot stomach it. I myself can't live without it and ask for a few pieces to be put into the som tam so i can chew on the salty raw fish (mmm its sooo good). Many people just ask for the juice from the Hai pot where the fish are preserved in as this in itself has a very pungent and spicy/salty taste. In isan country many people (if in familiar company) will not call it Pla ra, rather "Pla daek", but you shouldn't use this term unless you are with your closest family or intimate friends who can take the coarse speech. Daek means fooder, which is the verb for feeding used solely for animals and not for humans, but although central Thais will scold you for using this term, it is still actually used in general in intimate company or when joking by many Thai people. Not practising what is preached is anyway the norm in the land of smiles (??), so take your scoldings with a pinch of salt.

Picture left; Som Tam Phu Ma
One of my other favourites is Som Tam Phu Ma (Papaya salad with raw blue crab). Phu means crab and Ma means horse.. so; som tam with horse crabs it is. The meat of the horse crab is so fresh and the use of sweet sugar cane paste in the som tam serves to increase the juicy texture of the crab meat. the variations you will find with every single som tam recipe is perhaps as many as the amount of stalls in Thailand, due to the fact that every "Mae Krua" (cook) makes it a ddifferent way according to personal taste. In any case, in Thailand the person ordering always has the right to define exactly which "Soot" they want (soot means "formula"). So you can ask to drop a certain ingredient or exchange it for another. There are therefore almost limitless variations on the way you can have your som tam (sweet, sour, spicy, salty..) as well as the different ingredients which can be added.

tam pha
Tam Sua
I believe 'Tam Sua" (som tam with "Khanom Jeen" ) to be the favourite with the ladies, and you don't see men eat it so often. Khanom jeen is the fresh white string noodles which can be seen eaten early mornings with thin curry sauce and fresh vegetables. The papaya, tomato, green beans, pla ra chilis, nam tan beeb (cane sugar) etc are loosely mixed together with the fresh noodles and served with a slice of lime. This is really a staple snack for Thai ladies of the Northeastern provinces, and perhaps the staple diet of Thailand's "ladies of the Night".

Below Pic; Tam Sua (real hardcore style with lots of Pla Ra juice)

Personally i am unable to eat anything without rice or sticky rice, although central Thais eat som tam just on it's own, the real eater of Isan food should not go without sticky rice. I can put about 3 5 baht bags of it away to one plate of som tam, which i usually order with "laap" or "Hmoo nam tok" as an added dish ( i shall be presenting those dishes in a separate post).

Tam Pha (hunter/jungle style/wild style)

Tam Pha is a real rustical style using natural ingredients (aharn Pha in Thai means rustical or plucked from the wild - wild game is also Aharn Pha; such as cooked hare, wild bird or wild chicken, squirrel, wild boar meat etc) The one above has "Hnor Mai bai ya nang" in it (bamboo marinated in Bai Ya Nang leaf juice). This is a pretty earthy, gamy tasting kind of som tam and for hardcore style only. Not for the delicate palate. I love bai ya nang anyway with hnor mai, which can be eaten as a soup and with sticky rice
Below pic; Som Tam Phu Suk
Here are some more variations of som tam for you to relish visually
Som Tam Mua (Tam Mua)

Som Tam Pla Ra

Som TamPhu kem (this is visibly a good one! no holding back on the ingredients here! )
Som Tam Thai Pla Ra
Som Tam Thai Phu Ma

Monday, August 24, 2009

Nam Prik Long Ruea

Nam prik Long Ruea - น้ำพริกลงเรือ (dip sauce with raw and cooked veg, and/or fried rice)


Nam Prik Long Ruea (meaning "nam Prik dip in the Boat)has many variations depending on the cook and the taste of the person ordering. The basis of the recipe of course, is the "nam prik" (dip sauce), used to either flavour the fried rice or to be the main dip sauce in the case of no rice being used in the recipe. As a dip sauce with fresh crunchy vegetables it is a classic summer dish with a refreshing and healthy aspect. The various fresh vegetables are fascinating to test out mixed with the taste of the nam prik, because each of the different vegetables maintains it's own taste, giving a different result when eaten with the dip sauce. My favourite thing to dip in the nam prik is "Camin" (fresh cumin root), which has an amazing perfumed aroma to it, and a juicy crunchy texture in the mouth. The crunchiness of the vegetables balances perfectly with the smushy smooth dip sauce leaving your taste buds in heaven as you ascend through the realms of flavour sensations and the taste in your mouth gets hotter from the fresh chilies as you munch.

below pic - Madan (Garcinia schomberciana)

Ingredients for the recipe in the version shown in the pic above

dried shrimps ponded to a mash, 20 small Thai garlic cloves, 3 tablespoons of kapi (shrimp paste). Half a cup of Madan (Garcinia schomberciana see pic left), or grated green mango, 5 finely sliced "ma-erg" (hairy eggplant, Solanum ferox)
2 tablespoons of lime or lemon juice
25 small "Prik Khee Hnoo" Thai chilies
4-5 tablespoons of "nam Tan beeb" (sugar cane paste)
half a cup of "Hmoo Hwaan" (sweet pork)
one salted egg (called "khai Khem"), 5 Rakam fruits (see below pic)

half a cup of "Pla Duk foo Krop" (crispy fluffed shredded catfish meat - this is made by frying the finely shredded fishmeat, sometimes with breadcrumbs). One tablespoon of vegetable oil or sunflower oil. 3 or 4 lettuce leaves for decoration on the plate. You can choose whichever vegetables you want as your preferred dipping stuff; some good examples are fresh baby bamboo shoots, green beans, white eggplant, boiled okra, baby sweetcorn cobs, carrot and cucumber, and coriander leaves.

mash the garlic, shrimp paste together to a fine paste, add the finely sliced Madan (Garcinia schomberciana) and mix it finely together - add the "rakam" fruit and the "ma-erg" and mix it with your hand or a pestle and mortar to a fine mash.

Below pic; "Ma-Erg" (hairy eggplant, Solanum ferox)

Mix it all finely again and add the chilies and bash them in the mortar just enough for them to break up a little bit. Add the sugar cane puree and the lime juice.
Put the oil into the "grata" (frying wok), and bring it to a high heat. Add the Nam prik mixture and sautee it, adding the dried shrimps, and sweet pork. Stir whilst frying until all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Test the mixture constantly to make sure there remain 3 different flavours separated. Then put the Nam Prik into a bowl, break the salty egg into smaller pieces and place them on top of the bowl of Nam Prik, and sprinke the sweet pork and crispy shredded catfish on the side on the plate . Serve with fresh crude vegetables such as cucumber, cauliflower, carrot, cabbage, baby corn cobs, bamboo shoots, dok kae flowers, , string beans, boiled okra....

Khaw Nam Prik Long Ruea (Special fried rice with nam prik and dipping ingredients)

Another way often seen served in restaurants is "Khaw nam prik Long Ruea"
This can be served using the rather complex classic traditional version of nam prik shown above, or oyu can simly buy some of the wonderful and varied versions of "nam Prik" seen in Thai markets in a bag for 10 baht or so (see below pic), and use that to save time..

these dips are delicious and hand made so are in mo means inferior to your own fresh made version, except that when you make it yourself perhaps you might add more of your favourite ingredients such as shrimps etc, than you might get in the purchased nam prik. The Nam Prik in the pic with the vegetables below is with a simple "Nam prik Num" (young green chili dip) which you can buy in most fresh markets. Easy to make simply grill some young chilies with garlic and lemon some msg powder fish sauce (nam pla) and presto! The Nam Prik Num is not too spicy so people who are a little averse to spicy hot sauces will be able to join you in eating this dish if you use nam prik num. The young chilies are not yet hot, rather have a mild flavour. the garlic lends a really tasty appetizing taste to this one, which i love to eat on it's own with just sticky rice even. i often buy it in 5 or ten baht bags on the markets and sit on the street dipping my sticky rice in the bag.

Here are some pics to instill you with ideas of how to vary the ways you can serve this dish

Thanks to

Thaifood Recipes and Cookbooks

thaifood products


All receipes are on Petitchef

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