Just in case you were thinking that every meal at my place is a gourmet feast, I thought I would post a recipe that represents a more typical lunch or dinner for me. Instant noodles have become something of a staple in modern Thailand, since they're quick and easy to make. During the big Bangkok floods of late 2011, it was instant noodles that supermarkets couldn't keep on the shelves, not rice.
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.
Freshly picked cabbages waiting to be taken to market
Chinese cabbage is a very popular vegetable in Thai cooking. It can be eaten fresh as a counterpoint to spicy foods such as red chili dip, or cooked in a variety of soups and stir-fries to add substance and flavor.
Chinese cabbage on display in a market stall
This meal was the result of having a lot of leftover ingredients from other recipes that I made for posting here. The main things I had filling up my 'fridge was a large chicken breast, a big packet of kaffir lime leaves and a half can of mushrooms. I decided to challenge myself to see what I could make.
You could easily get the impression that Thais are relatively unconcerned about their health. They often seem to eat so many things that – from a western perspective – don't seem very healthy. However, most Thais I have known have been very concerned about their well-being, sometimes even obsessively so.
Fried Pork Skins
I often think chicken and galangal soup (tom ka gai) is perhaps the best example of Thai cuisine. Unlike its more famous cousin tom yum the taste of this thick soup is more varied and sublime. The undercurrents given by the galangal, lime juice, lemongrass and pepper make this dish quite remarkable.
Chicken and Galangal Soup
Chinese chives, also called garlic chives or gui-chai in Thai, bear a strong resemblance to spring onions. They grow in dark green stalks from white bulbs. But where the stalks of spring onions and regular chives are round and hollow, the blades of garlic chives are flat. Chinese chives have more of the taste of garlic to them than spring onions. Spring onions can be substituted for garlic chives, but only as a last resort.
The Chinese bitter gourd might best be described as Thai cuisine's Brussels sprouts. Nobody really likes the taste, but they eat it anyway because it's supposed to be good for you. The taste truly lives up to its name, so much so that it's almost intolerable to most westerners. The plant has been known in Europe since the eighteenth century, although it is generally only used as a decorative vine. The gourd is a long light green squash relative with a curiously wrinkled outer skin.
This cooked sausage, called sai-ooa, is one of the foods that Thais associate strongly with Chiang Mai. You can purchase it fresh at most markets, and you'll see coils of it grilling on barbecues at stalls all around town.
Chiang Mai sausage meatballs
The Chiang Mai chili is a unique strain to the north. It is something of a combination between the relatively mild banana chili and the spicy spur chili. It has a curved shape like the spur, but the skin is more irregular like a banana chilli. When green, the chili has the lime color of the less spicy chili, but unlike the banana chili the Chiang Mai chili will turn red when fully ripe. However, the Chiang Mai chili is rarely allowed to fully ripen, since the primary use of the chili is to make one of Chiang Mai's most well known dishes, a fiery hot chili dip.