Monthly Archives: May 2011

Something Fishy

Have you heard of the fish with two eyes on one side? Well, I just learned—okay, ignorant me—there’s indeed such a fish and it’s commonly known as a flatfish.

I discovered this piscine creature by chance. Mr. P and I were having dinner at The Aunty’s, our favourite neighbourhood haunt, one evening when I spotted a queer-looking fish on the display. Intrigued, I probed him about it.

“Oh, it’s plaa taa diao,” said Mr. P all-knowingly. In Thai, it means “one-eyed fish”, and although that’s a misnomer, the flatfish certainly looks like it has just one eye (refer to above photo) from certain angles.

With sharp, threatening teeth and tight, compact scales donning its flat, sole-like body, the flatfish looks primitive and reminds me of those deep sea species that never see the light of day. Its unusual, asymmetrical form, however, is a superb work of evolution and natural selection: As bottom-dwellers, with one side facing the seabed, the flatfish’s two eyes have evolved to be on the exposed side to maximise its chances of spotting prey or hiding from predators while lying camouflaged in the sand.

Despite its awkward-looking form, flatfish has a romantic association in Chinese. Since ancient times, Chinese poets have pay homage to the flatfish (比目鱼) with beautiful, expertly-crafted lines like “得成比目何辞死,愿作鸳鸯不羨仙,” which loosely translates as “death is inconsequential if we stay together like flatfish, and we rather be mandarin ducks than envy the gods”.

Now, isn’t it interesting that different languages and cultures interpret a fish in such myriad ways?

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Vietnamese drip coffee

During a recent visit to Saigon, I bought this filter set, together with Trung Nguyen coffee powder, as trip souvenirs. I look forward to more aromatic brews at home on weekends!

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Khao Chae: A Cool Summer Treat

Each summer, when temperatures soar and the weather turns humid, many Thais look forward to cooling off with khao chae, a traditional rice dish served in iced jasmine-scented water. (In Thai, “khao” means rice, and “chae” means to immersed in water.)

Despite its association as a royal delicacy, khao chae actually boasts of Mon provenance. The Mon people of Thailand’s Central Plains first cooked khao chae to mark the onset of their lunar New Year; this Mon treat was then adopted into the royal Thai court to become a palatial favorite (King Rama V was known to be extremely fond of this dish). Since then, khao chae has grown to become a beloved specialty of Thailand.

Preparing khao chae is highly time-consuming and arduous, but luckily, eating it is not. Simply enjoy this cool dish with an assortment of (mostly sweet) condiments: luuk kapi, deep-fried shrimp paste balls; hom daeng yut sai, shallots stuffed with minced fish; neau waan, thin shreds of caramelized beef; phat hua chai po, stir-fried Chinese radish; and phrik yuak sot sai, green peppers stuffed with minced pork.

Although khao chae is more readily available during the Songkran period, several restaurants in Bangkok serve this specialty year-round. Good places to try khao chae are Patara Bangkok and Benjarong at Dusit Thani Bangkok, or for someplace more rustic, head to Koh Kret, an ethnic Mon enclave along the Chao Phraya River north of Bangkok.

Accustomed to the strong, piquant flavors of Thai cuisine, I found khao chae rather bland and strange—rice in chilled water? I wondered—on my first try. It is definitely an acquired taste—just like durians, fermented fish sauce—but a classic that provides an insight into Thai culture and cuisine.

Go on, try it.

This article was first published on April 18, 2011 on Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia Blog.

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