I'm on an extended visit to Portland, Oregon, where I grew up, and as luck would have it I'm here for the start of the farmer's market season, when local produce growers set up stalls in parks and lots around town in a revival of traditional markets. It was in one of these, on the campus of Portland State University, that I found a stall selling purple carrots.
Ever think about where the food on your table really comes from? Maybe not, but it is sometimes a very interesting story. The fact is that a lot of plants don't originate in the places that are most associated with them. I discovered this when researching a book about Thai food a few years ago (sadly, it was never published). I found out that, although the chili pepper is widely associated with Thai cuisine, the chili plant is not native to Thailand, or even Asia. That discovery, along with the ones that followed, form the basis of this web site.
“Traveling Chili” is the story of the journeys plants have taken around the world, to end up at our supermarkets and on our tables. The facts are sometimes stranger than fiction, and there are even one or two radical make-overs along the way. This site also shares some of the local knowledge I've gained about how some foods are used, and I might even share a recipe or two.
The most recent articles published to the site are listed below.
This pleasant and simple dessert is quick and easy to make, although it must be served warm.
Although, like Beef Rendang, this thick curry dish originated in Western Java, it's now one of those dishes you'll find in just about any Indonesian restaurant. This style is very similar to thick Thai curries, but the tomato base as well as turmeric mark out more western and South Asian influences than you see in Thai cuisine.
Rendang apparently has its origins in the Minangkabau ethnic group of west Java, but it can be found all over Indonesia as well as neighboring countries. In many ways, this is a very classic Southeast Asian curry, where meat is simmered in a spicy coconut stew until the liquid is completely reduced.
Indonesia is a really huge country. The foods and cuisines vary widely from one part of the country to another. However, there are a few dishes that are available in just about every corner of this nation of 10,000 islands. One of these is Soto Ayam, which simply means “chicken soup”. You'll find street stalls selling it just about everywhere, and it's a big hit with foreign travelers as well.
This is an old recipe that I've changed and adapted over the years to accommodate what was available in Bangkok. The original recipe called for dates rather than figs, but lately the dates you can get here, in addition to being very expensive, aren't really the kind suited to this dish.
Thai name: Khao moo daeng
This is one of the most universal of Thai dishes. You'll almost certainly find at least one stall selling this in any collection of street vendors or food court. I tend to think of this as a comfort food. It's a good dish for tourists to get to know, since it's almost universally available and is one of the most mild of Thai street foods.
Thai name: Moo daeng
Chinese: Char siew
A collection of food stalls in most parts of Thailand would not be complete without a 'red pork' stall. Most of the time, it's a basic rice with red pork outlet, but sometimes you'll happen on a stall selling ba mee noodles with red pork, and on occasion you'll even find green coloured noodles called ba mee yok, or 'jade egg noodles'. They taste the same but look prettier, especially with the red pork on top.
Thai name: Khao Pat Moo
Fried rice may seem like a common food across Asia, but like everything else the Thais bring their own special tastes to the style of cooking. Even something as seemingly simple as pork fried rice has a uniquely Thai twist.
Thai name: Khao pat amerigan
You don't have to be in Thailand too long or make too many Thai friends before one of them will eventually order khao pat amerigan at some food stall or restaurant. I frequently get asked about it by first-time visitors, who assume that the dish really is American in origin, even if they themselves are from the USA and have never heard of it.