I'm not a very consistent chef. I will cook according to the recipe once or twice, but then I'll most likely start fiddling with it. I can't help wondering if a dish would taste better with more of one thing, or this instead of that. Cooking for me is a constant process of experimentation. Sometimes the results of my experiments are good. Sometimes, not so much. And sometimes, the experiments work very well, surprising even me.
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.
I've never been able to find out exactly how this dish got its name, which in Thai is kwiteeo pat kee mao. Unlike Chinese 'drunken' recipes that I have known, there's no alcohol used in this dish, ever. The basic ingredients are similar to those used in stir-fried meats with garlic and holy basil, called pat krapao in Thai. It does appear that the name actually refers to the diner, rather than the dish. In other words, the name should be translated as 'drunkard's noodles' but that just doesn't have quite the same ring.
In Thai, this dish is simply called kwit-teeo pat see-eew, or rice noodles stir-fried with soy sauce. You'll not it uses all three kinds of soy sauce commonly used in Thai kitchens. I think this dish goes best with pork, but you'll also easily find it on the street with chicken. Seafood is less common due to the over-powering tastes of the sauces.
Thais use a number of different seasoning sauces in cooking, especially in stir-fried dishes. One of the most basic and universally used sauces is soy sauce. In their development of the humble fermented soy beans, Thais have gone well beyond their Asian neighbours. Soy sauce - see-eew in Thai - in Thailand is like vinegar in European cooking, in its variety.
This simple dish, called rat nha in Thai, is widely available throughout Thailand, where for many it's a 'comfort' food. In stalls, the gravy is usually prepared in a large pot and ladled out over bowls of noodles and kale. If you can't find Chinese kale, broccoli is a good match for the colour, crunchiness and taste of Chinese kale. Likewise, cornstarch can just as easily be used in place of tapioca flour (cassava starch) as a thickening agent.
Marian plums are an interesting fruit. They are certainly plum-sized, but their dusky yellow-orange color is unlike any other plum you may be familiar with. In fact, these tropical fruits are a relative of the mango.
Thailand has long enjoyed its own special style of fried chicken, made with their very own blend of 'secret' herbs and spices. Fried or grilled chicken is found throughout the kingdom with regional variations. For me, fried chicken always makes me think of the beach. Just about any stretch of beach in Thailand that is well visited will have a string of shacks selling fried or barbecued chicken, along with som tam and sticky rice. It's the perfect beach food, since you can eat it all with your hands and not care about how sticky your fingers get.
When visiting a Thai products festival in the parking lot of a local shopping centre, I happened on a booth selling deep fried insects. This isn't the kind of thing you find on the street every day, although in Bangkok they're pretty easy to find. They normally appear at temple fairs or other festivals, and then move on.
Creepy crawlies on sale in a bug buffet
Most of the busy morning markets all around the north seem to have at least one stall selling deep fried twists of dough that would best be described as fritters, which in Thai are called patong-go. The dish and its name are apparently both of Chinese origin. Fritters are a popular snack throughout Thailand, although the specific style and accompaniments vary between the different regions. In Bangkok, these bits of deep fried dough are mostly eaten in the morning with a soya milk dip, while in the south they prefer a sweet syrup.
I must have heard that old Christmas song, “Chestnuts Roasting Over an Open Fire” thousands of times when growing up. It was on my mother's favorite “Andy Williams Sings Your Favorite Christmas Songs” albums. The funny thing is that I had never seen chestnuts being roasted until coming to Thailand.
Chestnuts roasting in a pot in the market