When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Having arrived at Saiphin’s house in Khao Kor district in Petchabun province, Thailand, I found myself surrounded by the laughter and joyful smiles of Saiphin’s friends and family. It had been a year since she last visited her hometown, so we all were greeted by over 40 people from her local area.
Being known as the best chef in town, Saiphin took no time to wind down; she headed straight to her mother’s kitchen at the back of her house. Excited to get to learn to cook with the locals and for the locals, I helped her sort out and wash all the fresh ingredients we got earlier at the most well-known market in the area, Lhom Sak Market. (To view amazing images of vibrant, fresh and organic fruits, vegetable and other essentials and read more about this food-oriented trip of ours on my previous post, click HERE.
And just to give you a rough idea of the general atmosphere of our cooking sessions there, here is a quick video:
The full video of this cooking sessions (3 dishes) is at the bottom of this blog post
We started making breakfast for everyone, but trust me this was nothing like your average everyday-life breakfast. The long ingredient list includes exotic vegetables and spices–eg. climbing wattles, laser galangal–as well items not for the faint-hearted: raw minced pork, sun dried fish, ant eggs….
But hey, like I said, When in Rome! So bring it on! Saiphin was the head chef in the kitchen and she decided we were making 3 main dishes: “Larb Moo Dib”, “Miang Hua Toon”, and “Kaeng Pak Waan”.
So let’s get into brief detail of these Thai-Laos dishes shall we?
First dish, Larb Moo Dib. If you are a fan of Thai food, you might be familiar with Larb or Larb Tod. Seasoned with fish sauce, lime juice and a bit of sugar, Larb usually consists of boiled minced pork mixed with shallots, spring onions, coriander, kaffir lime leaves, mint leaves, roasted rice with lemongrass and a generous amount of dried chili flakes. However, since “moo dib” means “raw pork”, this version of Larb consisted of raw minced pork as opposed to boiled minced pork. Saiphin explained that it wasn’t unusual to throw in some boiled pork liver as well for some added texture and aroma.
I myself am not a big fan of liver and so I didn’t try the dish, but everyone included the 2 very brave visitors from England said this Larb Moo Dib was an explosion of flavours in your mouth. Dominated by the fragrance of various herb and spices, this dish was a fine balance of extreme tastes: sweet, sour, salty and spicy.
Second Dish: Miang Hua Toon.
I can say this is a truly exotic dish. I am fully Thai and have spent over 20 years in Thailand but I had never ever heard of this dish. That was of course until I sat down with Saiphin and helped her make it. Apparently most Thai people don’t know of this salad too, as it is a rare delicacy from this local area. The main ingredients are the usual ingredients for “Miang“, which is a special kind of Thai salad. Miang salad is not eaten with fork and spoon or knife–each bite is wrapped with some vegetable leaves and is eaten with one’s hand.
Hua Toon is a very rare root vegetable only found in very few areas of Thailand, if not only around Khao Kor district. It tastes very similar to taro, but the colour is more creamy and yellowish. Here is how the plant and the shredded roots look like:
We started with added shredded ginger, sliced shallots and “Som” tomatoes (see my previous blog post) to the shredded Hua Toon.
Now, here comes the adventurous part: adding Thai anchovy sauce for saltiness and added fishy aroma. Never in my life had I wanted to try Thai anchovy sauce before, but I thought I’d give it ago (once this dish was finished). Trust me, it tasted a lot better than it sounded (and smelled!). It was because we added quite a large amount herbs, spices and ground sesame which helped to town down the pungent smell of the preserved salted fish sauce.
After mixing everything rather vigorously by hand, the dish was ready. We were all pretty chuffed to try our first bite of Miang Hua Toon made then and there by Saiphin. It was fantastic!
Lastly, Kaeng Pak Waan. This dish was a little less unusual, even with the addition of ant eggs…
A direct translation of the name of this dish makes a lot of sense. “Kaeng“ in Thai means soup or curry; “Pak” means vegetables; “Waan” means sweet. Soup vegetable sweet–sweet vegetable soup! Making it wasn’t much of a hassle either (as long as you had gotten used to the pungent smell of various forms of fish…).
Boil water in the pot. Add chili and garlic (preferably smashed with passion in a pestle and mortar), followed by sun dried fish to make the perfect broth. Add wild mushrooms. Take a deep breath then season the mixture with our good ol’ fish sauce and Thai anchovy sauce for saltiness. Then, finally add a big portion of Pak Waan as they do shrink just like spinach. Guess what? Voilà–The dish is done!
Of course if you would like ant eggs for breakfast (like we did), you may throw in some fresh ant eggs. As I have a massive fear of insects, I do not have any photographic evidence. Maybe try to imagine pale, white caviar which comes in a plastic bag (accompanied by crawling enormous ants) being thrown into the boiling soup. Apparently it tasted great! But! Being so considerate of others I volunteered to be less adventurous and took the portion without ant eggs.
And that was our first meal of the day! Spicy raw minced pork salad, Hua Toon salad with herb and spices, and Sweet vegetable soup–all with an unexpected twist! The locals there didn’t have exact measurings of ingredients for the dishes, but I believe their secret recipe involved a lot of instinct, heart and soul.
For those who are interested to see how each dish was cooked briefly, here are the videos:
Stay tuned for my next post on our Rosa’s Road Trip ultimate Thai dinner cooking session. If you haven’t heard of Rosa’s Road Trip before, you might enjoy reading about it at the bottom of my previous blog post.
As for now, ciao! And thanks for being a part of my journey! 🙂
For those who live in London and are keen to try some amazing and authentic Thai food, visit Saiphin’s restaurant Rosa’s Thai Cafe. You won’t be disappointed! 🙂