Thailand’s hot season, which felt hotter than normal this year but according to the weather service was not, is just winding up. One of the few positives to the hot season is that many restaurants serve a seasonal specialty known as khao chae (ข้าวแช่). Tawn and I joined a few friends to sample this delicacy.
We dined at Lai Rote, a old-timey restaurant located on Sukhumvit Soi 39 across from Samitivej Hospital. It is a traditional Central Thai restaurant and its name means “many flavors.”
Making khao chae is a three-day process. The rice is parboiled, which leaves it with a “toothier” texture than is typical for jasmine rice. It is then soaked with jasmine petals in a container that has lit jasmine candles floating in it. The delicate floral flavor permeates the rice. Finally, the rice is served in ice water, a cool treat during hot season.
The side dishses are the real attraction, though. They vary depending on the house’s specialties but what you see above is pretty typical. It includes (working clockwise) elaborately carved green mangoes, cucumbers, grachai (fingerroot), hua hom yat sai (fried stuffed red onion), prik yuan sod sai (young banana peppers stuffed with pork and wrapped in a crispy, eggy shroud), muu wan (sweet dried shredded beef), plaa wan (sweet dried shredded fish), pad hua chai po (thin strands of dried pickled radishes stir-fried with egg), and luk kapi pad (fried fermented shrimp paste balls).
Unlike most Thai food, the khao chae side dishes are quite bland and not spicy at all. It derives from so-called “palace cuisine,” the types of elaborate food traditionally served in the Thai royal palace. In addition to the khao chae, we ordered some other dishes:
khao tang na tang – Fried rice cracker with a minced pork and peanut topping.
khanom pang na gung – little toasts with shrimp pate and sesame seeds served with plum sauce.
yam tua pluu – a spicy salad of wing beans and toasted shallots with a peanut and roasted chili dressing.
For dessert, I had a less-common dish called khao maow grob. It features grains known as meang lak (hydrated lemon basil seeds) served with syrup and crushed ice, topped with toasted rice grains coated with palm sugar.
Here’s a close up of the palm sugar coated toasted rice grains. Just like very crunch Rice Krispies. One of the more interesting Thai desserts I’ve had.
The meal was a refreshing break from our hot weather. Thankfully, by the time I’ve gotten around to writing this, rainy season has started to arrive and the heat is breaking.