Some people turn up their noses at sweet and sour stir fry because "it's not Thai". The dish is perceived as Chinese, although if you're going to quibble, Thai food is largely a mix of Chinese and Mon influences so a lot of dishes are Chinese to some extent. Be that as it may, the dish is popular at the curry stall. Its mildness forms a good counterbalance to spicier dishes.
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.
Although coconut milk is used as a base for many Thai curries, it's in desserts and sweets that the flavour of coconut really comes through. Coconuts are found in the tropics throughout the world. Some believe that the trees found their own way around the globe, by floating across the seas from one land to another, while others think that early seafarers took the versatile coconuts with them to eat and trade. Although the big commercial coconut plantations are in the southern part of Thailand, the trees are grown all over the country, including Chiang Mai.
This relatively simple recipe nonetheless provides an interesting "wow" factor. It's a quite simple idea, and I only recently found out that the great American traditional pumpkin pie is thought to have originated when the early colonists cut the top off a pumpkin (provided, like corn, by the Native Americans) and filled it with milk, spices and honey, then baked it in the coals of a dying fire.
This is a very common Thai stir-fry that makes a frequent appearance, with variations, at many food stalls. Thai cooks will almost always use what translates to "three story pork" for the meat. This is pork meat with a bit of fat and inner skin layer still attached. Since this probably won't appeal to western palates, I've suggested pork loin as an alternative.
It took me a while to recognize bamboo shoots for what they were in Thai markets. The raw shoots on display in the markets often look more like rhino horns than part of a plant. In western markets, you will usually only see small cones for sale, if you see fresh shoots at all. But in Thailand you will commonly see large horns a foot or more in length.
Pickled garlic is not called for in many recipes, but it can be substituted for fresh garlic in many dishes, and Thais enjoy it as an accompaniment to many meat snacks. At the Anusarn night market in Chiang Mai you'll find huge jars of pickled garlic among the many other preserved fruits. The single clove variety used may be pickled in honey, or a mixture of spices.
This "omelet" made with minced pork is a common accompaniment to many Thai meals. In Thai, it's called Kai Geeo Moo Sup. Its mild taste helps to balance a meal where many of the other dishes are quite spicy. You may wish to use a skillet instead of a wok to cook this recipe, since that will make it easier to make the omelette into a thin flat disc. It should be about the size of a dinner plate and about the thickness of your finger. The dish is invariably served with a spicy ketchup called Sri Racha sauce.
Red curry paste is one of the most basic in Thai cooking. You can make much more than is needed since, like most curry pastes, it will keep for quite some time in the refrigerator.
I put 'Korean' in quotes because I don't know how authentic this recipe is. Everything Korean is extremely popular in Thailand, as it has been for a few years, so I suspect a lot of things get 'labeled' Korean even if they're adaptations of Thai foods or whatever. Curiously, I got this recipe from a Thai cookbook that came with my new microwave oven (it was a Korean brand, I should note). It had the beef cooked by microwave, which didn't seem to be the best idea, so I just fried it up in a skillet. If you have a grill, it's probably even better.
Eggs have a somewhat unusual place in Thai food. At the curry stall, they're most likely to appear fried 'sunny-side up' as an optional add-on to your rice and curry selection. As a westerner, especially an American, I had always thought of fried eggs as strictly a breakfast dish. But in Thailand they're a common addition to rice dishes eaten for lunch or dinner.