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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Braised Duck Rice

My new Sukhumvit 101/1 neighbourhood is full of Chinese culinary gems, with khao naa phet, or duck rice, as one of my favourites. One particular restaurant, which has plump braised ducks hanging from steel rods at its front facade, always calls out to me whenever I walk by. A few weeks ago we finally walked in and gave it a try, and the meal turned out to be really delicious.

If you are an innards-eater—like me—you should opt for the stall’s signature dish: sai kaew, which means glass intestines. When the plates were served, we initially eyed the intestines with some suspicion; unlike the brown colouration commonly associated with braised intestines, the off-white appearance of these intestines looked rather unusual—and a bit off-putting. Nonetheless, we popped them into our mouth. They were slippery and chewy, with a bland taste that I’d associate with jellyfish. I think it’s a simply a matter of personal preference whether one takes to this dish (we didn’t).

But other parts of the meal are worth mentioning. The duck meat was soft and tender to the bite, and it slipped effortlessly off the bone. It’s best to drizzle the meat with some nam jim, a fiery green sauce served in a small dish. We also like the soup side dish, a rich brew with a subtle taste of herbs that we couldn’t stop savouring until the last drop. All parts of the duck are available, from the neck to the wings to the feet.

I’m usually not a fan of duck rice, but this experience has altered my perception. Now I can’t wait for my dad, a lover of duck meat, to come visit me so that we can check out this restaurant together.

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Doggie 711

In Thailand street dogs—just like Thais—simply love hanging out at 7-Eleven’s. And while the humans crave for the convenience—well, 7-Eleven’s in this country are are as plentiful as street dogs—these canine lads probably love the frequent blasts of cold air whenever the door opens. And that’s a pretty smart move, in my opinion, in a hot country like Thailand.

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Sweet Treats at After You

On Friday, my colleagues N and J asked me to join them for cakes at After You Dessert Cafe. It was a scrumptious offer best savoured with fellow girls—my husband often turns up his nose at desserts and things saccharine—so I readily accepted their invite. We headed to the outlet at Siam Paragon, and it was already packed with high school and university students on a late Friday afternoon. We had to wait around 10 minutes before getting a table, so I’d imagine that queues would get much longer once the office crowd knock off for the weekend.

We finally decided on a Tiramisu dessert as well as the signature Shibuya Honey Toast (THB165), which is a thick piece of toast that comes loaded with two scoops of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream (strawberries are optional). Drizzle some honey on top of the toast to make it an ultimate sinful treat. A word of caution though: the toast’s probably too big and sweet to eat by oneself, so it’s best to share it together with dessert-loving company. Overall, the desserts are yummy and once they arrive on the table, I think most people will have to exercise some self-restraint to not tuck in the desserts ravenously and say ‘after you’ to friends.

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Creative Price Tags

A cute, innovative way of displaying prices on products.
(Spotted at Buddhi Belly store in Bangkok’s CentralWorld)

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A good salted egg

“Salted eggs are my favourite souvenirs from Surat Thani! I always bring back a couple of boxes to give to friends as gifts,” declared M, my Thai friend.

I was one of the lucky friends who received a box of Surat Thani salted duck eggs from M. And boy, was I delighted when I received the eggs. Salted eggs from Surat Thani’s Chaiya district are famed in Thailand for their distinctly red yolks and having the right balance of saltiness. The ducks in this coastal province are fed on a diet of rice and seafood (what good life!). During the production process, local farmers coat the eggs with a black clay mixture made from a unique blend of salt, water, husk and soil harvested from termite mounds—apparently, this method isn’t just unique to Chaiya nor Thailand only; Filipinos are also known to deploy this method.

I first heard about Chaiya salted eggs when I watched the Taiwanese food program, “Mei Shi Da San Tong” (《美食大三通》), hosted by Zeng Guo Cheng. In one episode about Thai cuisine, Zeng headed to Surat Thani to find out more about these famous eggs, unveiling the production process and sampling a wide array of salted egg dishes along the way. Since then, I’ve been wanting to do a similar salted egg hunt in Surat Thani, and this may come into fruition when my family and I go on a planned vacation to Thailand’s south sometime later this year.

Anyway, back to the salted eggs back in my kitchen. Printed on the box  is also information that specifies the date until which the eggs can be fried, after which they are recommended to be boiled only. It’s probably not new knowledge to many others but I just learned that salted duck eggs, just like chicken eggs, can be fried too. And I also learned that it’s easy to make your own salted eggs at home: just store the eggs in a brine solution for approximately 30 days and voila, you’ll get your own salty creations.

As we were still within the frying validity, we did a quick fry of the salted eggs to create sunny-side-ups. After cooking, the yolks still retained their globular shapes, and were fresh and chewy to the taste. Just seeing it on top of my rice made me happy!

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Sompong Teochew Porridge

Wanting to skip an unsatisfying meal in Bangkok’s run-of-the-mill malls, P and I walked along Chalerm Prakiet Ratchakan Road after our visit to Suan Luang Ror 9 (Rama IX Park) to see which roadside restaurant would catch our fancy. We traipsed for a good 20 minutes before we stumbled upon Sompong, a shophouse-restaurant that sells Teochew porridge. P initially hesitated because Chinese porridge is like “bland food for the sick” to his strong flavours-inclined palate. I, however, was craving for Teochew muay. And of course, P gave in and into Sompong we went.

At the food display counter, we were excited by the many different types of fish available. It took us several minutes before we decided on plaa krapong neung si ew, or sea bass steamed in soy sauce, as well as braised pork intestines with tau pok (fried beancurd) and asparagus with mushrooms to accompany our porridge meal. I wanted to try chap chye (braised mixed vegetables) but decided against it as three dishes should be enough to fill our two bellies. P and I overeat very often so we’re currently trying to exercise restraint during our meals.

Though the sea bass wasn’t the best nor freshest we’ve tasted in Thailand, but it was quite delicious and worth the price (180B). We finished every morsel—me gobbling up the meaty bits while P scoured the cheeks and eyeballs—leaving behind a plate of cleaned fish skeleton. When I was younger, I didn’t like fish for I think it was very cumbersome to pick the meat from between the bones. But I’m very happy that, under the influence of P, I’m taking a liking to—and with a growing appreciation of—fish dishes. After all, I want to be a real food lover with a discerning and easy-going palate. 😉

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