The longan seems to be the most loved of the many litchi-like fruits available in Thailand, and the area around Chiang Mai is the primary growing region for these small brown berries. The fruit comes in season a bit later than the litchi. Longans are small, almost spherical fruits with a mottled light brown to beige colored skin. Like the litchi, the skin of a longan is thin and leathery.
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.
The litchi, or lichee, is perhaps the most well known of several fruits from northern Thailand, all having a similar general structure and taste. Without their woody stems attached, the litchi fruit could almost be mistaken for a strawberry. The color and texture of the outer skin is quite similar, although the skin of the litchi is somewhat leathery and inedible. Peeling the skin reveals a white juicy flesh with a single large seed in the middle.
The jackfruit has to be one of my favorite Thai fruits. It has a completely unique taste and texture that is unlike just about any other fruit. It's also definitely high on the list of the world's strangest fruits. You have to keep a sharp eye out for it, as it doesn't make a regular appearance on the street. The best time to find it is around the end of the rainy season in October or November.
Guavas are one of the most common fruits you'll find on the street. They are always in season and always popular for afternoon snack. Thai guavas are about the size of an apple, or slightly larger. The thin skin is light green while the meat of the fruit is white, with a very similar texture to an apple. At the center of the fruit is a cluster of small hard seeds about the size of a peppercorn.
Towards the end of the rainy season, around September, the markets around the north are filled with piles of the oddly shaped dragon fruits. This relative new-comer is now a common sight in the markets and on the table when it is in season. Dragon fruit always attracts attention with its bright pinkish-red skin that has green tinted scales protruding. It easily brings to mind what dragon's eggs might look like, hence the common name. Even the Thai name roughly translates to "glass dragon".
The rambutan gets my vote for the world's strangest fruit. It is spherical or oblong with a bright cherry red skin. What makes it so strange are the green 'hairs' that extend about an inch out from the skin and sometimes end in tiny leaves. These stems are not stiff, like spines, but soft and pliable. The fruit looks more like a children's toy than something edible. I keep expecting to see them show up on some science fiction show standing in for alien food, but perhaps the look is too unbelievable even for television.
No discussion of Thai fruits can be complete without the durian. This odd fruit is like truffles to the French, or perhaps haggis to the Scots would be a more apt comparison, since it is hard to think of a more objectionable edible product. Although there are many varieties, most durians are larger than an adult's head and covered with very sharp spikes about an inch long.
This simple dessert is often served with crushed ice, like many Thai sweets. The gem-like quality of this dish makes it a rather elegant finish for a dinner party. Although red is the traditional color, you can try other colors to suit your mood, or match the décor of your dining room.
Mock Pomegranate Seeds
(4 - 6 Servings)
I noticed that a few visitors coming here were looking for a "jade" sticky rice recipe, so as it's December, even here in Bangkok, I thought I'd make a nice "Christmassy" version. The green color ostensibly comes from the addition of pandan flavoring to the sticky rice layer, but you will probably need to add a bit of green food coloring to get a good color.
This recipe marks a significant departure for me. Not only is it my first Khmer / Cambodian dish, but this is also the first recipe I've had to "reverse engineer" from a couple of tastings of the dish. Although I've been to Cambodia several times now, I haven't had many opportunities to sample Khmer cuisine.