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.
Thai name: Pat mee chao neua
Fried bamee noodles are less common in Thailand that they are in other parts of South-east Asia. The exception seems to be Chiang Mai, where pat mee is quite easy to find. For this dish, ham is used most of the time. Use thinly sliced ham, such as you can get pre-packaged for sandwiches in most supermarkets. Cut the ham into very narrow strips, making it a sort of “meat noodle”.
This recipe is based on a sweet I've had from time to time in Thailand. It's traditionally a leaf-box dessert like Ta-goh, only with tapioca pearls instead of the jasmine pudding.
Pumpkin is one of the few “cross-over“ ingredients in Thai cooking that can be found in both sweets and main dishes. While the eye-catching custard-filled pumpkin dessert often gets a lot of attention, you can also find this simpler sweet dish as well.
Among Thais as well as expats around Thailand, this dessert called Bua Loy in Thai is definitely a favorite. It's surprisingly simple to make, although it does take some time.
“Floating Lotus” or Bua Loy in Thai
This is a rather basic recipe that will allow you to experiment with tapioca pearls. This dish is best served relatively warm. If refrigerated, the pearls will become dry and hard.
Sweet green tapioca pearls with coconut
“Black beans for dessert?” I hear you asking incredulously. Yes, as I've mentioned before, Thais don't follow the same “rules” about what is sweet and what is savory that westerners do, although they can be just as rigid about their ideas. I've never seen black beans used in a Thai main course, but this dessert dish is quite common.
Tapioca, or cassava as the plant is more properly known, apparently originated in South America, but it is now an important agricultural crop for many countries around the world, including Thailand, where the fresh roots are known as mun tet and the processed 'pearls' used in desserts are called sagoo. The plant itself is rather unprepossessing in looks. It's the large tuberous roots, looking something like an oversize yam, that are the cash crop.
This recipe for Nam Prik Ong makes a small portion suitable as an appetizer for about four people. For larger groups, simply scale it up. Some versions of this recipe call for the addition of a small portion (1 teaspoon) of shrimp paste, a tofu sheet or fermented soy beans. I think the dish does fine without them, as they are difficult to find and the quantities needed are so small.
One type of Thai food is rarely seen outside of Thailand, and that is the chili dip. Even tourists to Thailand rarely get exposed to all its variety. In many regions, and especially in the North, 'dips' of various sorts are a quite common snack or appetizer. These dips generally use raw chilies as their main ingredient, and then add shallots, garlic and other herbs and spices. The dips typically use little, if any, meat.