The same stalls which sell galangal usually also carry lemongrass which is called ta-krai in Thai. The two end up together in a number of recipes. At the wholesale market, you will see large bundles of lemongrass on sale, bound together with string or strips of dried banana tree bark. The stall owners will sell the bundles whole for less than a dollar. You may also spot smaller bundles with just a few stalks of lemongrass bound together with a few slices of galangal and some kaffir lime leaves.
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.
Be Celeng Base Manis
Time to take a break from Thai food and try a little Balinese cuisine for a change. While Thai dishes tend to be quick light stir-fries, many Balinese and Indonesian dishes often take a bit more time and are a bit heavier.
Ginger (king in Thai) is perhaps the most recognizable and widely available of the spices used in Thai cooking, although many are surprised at the extent to which it is used. It's sometimes ground up in curry pastes, but the most common use of ginger is as a main ingredient in light stir-fries, where the ginger is shredded into fine julienne sticks. Along with black pepper, ginger was one of the main spices used in Thai cuisine before the chili pepper arrived late in the 16th century.
Credit where it's due: I got the idea for this dessert from Thai Airways. They served it on one flight, and I though it was a great simple idea that combined two of my favorites: sweet sticky rice and coconut cream topping. Sweet sticky rice is usually made with palm sugar, but I like the crisp whiteness that using fine white sugar gives this dish.
According to some sources, the people occupying the broad flat plains of what is now Thailand may well have been the first Asians to cultivate rice, if not the first in the world. Archaeological evidence unearthed in Thailand's north-eastern plateau definitively dates rice cultivation back to 4000 B.C. Recently, in the Pai district of Mae Hong Son province high in the mountains west of Chiang Mai, evidence of rice was discovered that was about 6,000 years old. It may in fact go back as far as 10,000 years ago.
"Jasmine pudding?" I hear you ask. Yes, well coming up with an English name for this Thai sweet was a little difficult. After all, the Thai name ta-goh doesn't have any direct translation, and it might be a bit confusing if I just used that. You might think I'd gone all Mexican on you. So, "pudding" seemed the best fit with the dish's consistency, and it is flavored with jasmine, if you can find it.
Along the banks of the Ping River, just outside Chiang Mai's main Wororat market, is the city's largest public flower market. The market operates 24 hours a day, although some stalls are open only at certain times. The market is perhaps at its most active in the evening, when the market is awash with the bright colors of orchids, roses, jasmine and a vast array of many other flowers. Flowers are a very important part of the Thais' everyday life. Almost every business and home will have an altar to the lord Buddha as well as the local spirits.
One of the first tastes a new visitor gets of Thailand is the mildly sweet flavor of fresh orange juice with their morning breakfast. Thai oranges are sweet and low on acid, which makes for a smooth and sweet drink.