This is one of my old favorites. The taste is rather unusual and quite extraordinarily spicy. I must admit to taking a bit of perverse pleasure in watching western visitors not familiar with Thai cuisine dig into moo manao on the assumption that a 'salad' - especially one served cool - will not be too spicy.
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 the name of this dish implies that the main ingredient is chilies, it's really the onion that provides much of the taste and flavor of the recipe. This is one of the first Thai recipes that I ever learned to make, way back when I lived in the USA. I've shown the traditional pork as the meat component, but it works just as well with beef. You can easily get thinly sliced pork loin in any supermarket in Thailand, but elsewhere you may have to slice it yourself. It helps if you partially freeze the meat first.
In Thai, this dish is called Gaeng Hungleh, and it's also called "Chiang Mai Pork Curry", this dish is a specialty of northern Thailand. It originated in the foods that the Burmese bought with them when they occupied the Lanna kingdom, which had its capital in Chiang Mai, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. Unlike most Thai curries, it uses only the tiniest bit of coconut milk, and some versions of the recipe use none at all.
Minced meat salads called larb are a very popular "country" food among the Thais. The dish is mostly identified with the regional cuisine of north-eastern Thailand, which the Thais call Isan, but Chiang Mai has its own variation, which can be a bit more like a soupy curry than the Isan style, which is usually rather dry by comparison.
Pat krapao, as it's called in Thai, is a rather 'standard' dish that you'll find available in just about every restaurant and road-side stall in Thailand. My Thai friends sometimes smile at my frequent orders for this dish, since many Thais consider it a bit pedestrian - what they order when they just can't think of anything else. I like to order pat krapao frequently not only because I like the flavor, but also because it's a remarkably flexible recipe. Every cook seems to have their own variation. Some put in more garlic, some more holy basil.
The Thai name krapao seems to aptly describe the punch the leaves of this plant give to stir-fries. This relative of the well known herb central to Italian cuisine is used in a large number of Thai dishes, lending its unique fragrance and taste to every kind of meat. Holy basil is found in Thailand in two varieties. The more common 'red' kind (pictured) has dark green leaves and reddish stems. The 'white' strain has lighter green leaves and nearly white stems. The taste of the red variety is stronger and the preferred ingredient for chicken, pork and beef stir-fries.
Black rice pudding is a relatively common dessert in Thailand as well as Indonesia. It is a very warming dish, so it is usually more easily found in the cool season. The naturally sweet taste of the rice is why you find it used in desserts rather than served with main courses. Black rice has a well deserved reputation for taking forever to cook, since it's a more 'natural' grain with a strong husk. However, I've found that if I soak the rice for much longer than just the 'overnight' usually recommended, it reduces the cooking time considerably.
Black rice is an ancient variety that isn't very popular except for desserts. That's probably because it takes so long to cook compared to most other types of rice. As you can see in the photo, the color isn't really completely black, nor is it uniform. When you soak the rice, as you must do long before you cook it, the water will turn dark purple.
This recipe is my own creation, although it's simple enough I wouldn't be surprised if something very similar already existed. My inspiration for this dish came from a small side salad I had a few years ago, I think on a flight. It was just corn and a little diced capsicum with a balsamic dressing. It was quite easy to reproduce, and while it was fine for a side dish, I wanted to create something a little more substantial I could use for a light meal or snack.