Cold Jasmine Rice in Hot Weather

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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:

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khao tang na tang – Fried rice cracker with a minced pork and peanut topping.

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khanom pang na gung – little toasts with shrimp pate and sesame seeds served with plum sauce.

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yam tua pluu – a spicy salad of wing beans and toasted shallots with a peanut and roasted chili dressing.

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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.

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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.

 

Brunch and Garlands

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This weekend we enjoyed a return visit by David and Chor Pharn, a Singaporean couple who make frequent visits to Bangkok and whose presence at our dining room table made for a very pleasant Sunday brunch and garland making exercise.

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We met the two (Chor Pharn is on the left, above, and David is on the right) through another couple we know from Singapore.  In fact, since I met my first Singaporean while in university I’ve learned that once you know one, you soon seem to know nearly all of them.  Sure enough, once I met Yuen Ping, I met Otto, then Han, then David and Chor Pharn, and the list cascades from there.  Not to mention another two strings’ worth of Singaporeans, most of whom seem to know each other or, at the very least, know of each other.  It’s a small island, after all.

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Having them over for brunch gave me a chance to try some new recipes, continuing to refine an easy-to-prepare brunch menu that doesn’t require me to slave away in the kitchen while guests are here.  Above, a beautiful loaf of homemade bread.

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As an amuse bouche, I prepared some homemade muesli, served with unsweetened Greek style yoghurt with a slice of canned peach and drizzled with some peach syrup. 

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Tawn insisted on using his ice cream goblets that he hand-carried back from Paris.  The coffee was some of the 100% Kona beans I brought back from our March trip to Hawaii.  Perfect for a French press.

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From there, we enjoyed plates with a trio of room temperature tastes: a couscous salad with mixed vegetables, pine nuts, raisins, and homemade preserved lemon rind; over roasted Japanese pumpkin glazed with Canadian maple syrup and a sprinkle of black truffle sea salt; and a mixed salad of rocket (arugula) served with a rice wine vinaigrette, shaved Parmesan cheese, and cherry tomatoes.

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The warm dish was individual baked egg souffles with sliced pork loin, onions, and jack cheese.

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For dessert, we had khao niaw mamuang – sticky rice and mango.  Mangoes are very much at the peak of their season right now.  The garnish is na gung – a shredded coconut that is flavored with shrimp, palm sugar, and kaffir lime leaves.  This may not sound so good, but once it is cooked it becomes the perfect, slightly savory counterpoint to the rich, starchy sticky rice and sweet mango.

Malai

After lunch, Tawn and Chor Pharn set up the table to try their hands at an activity that has caught CP’s curiosity: making floral garlands, called puang malai in Thai.  (Literally, “bunched together jasmine”.)  Used as objects of decoration as well as veneration and welcome – left at shrines or statues, given to teachers, parents, respected elders, and visitors – the puang malai are made of small, fragrant flowers threaded onto a string using a long and very sharp needle.  The above image is taken from Sakul Intakul’s book Dok Mai Thai: The Flower Culture of Thailand.  Khun Sakul is one of the masters of the Thai floral arts, an engineer turned floral arranger, and his book illustrates the beautiful designs he creates.

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Tawn and Chor Pharn get ready to start, while David and I try to document the occasion and stay far away from the long needles.

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A quartet of blossoms: in addition to roses there are, from the left, dok rak (love flower) which is a very sculptural form of jasmine, dok malik (the highly fragrant Arabic jasmine), and dok put (talk flower) also known as gardenia.

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Tawn starts arranging the jasmine blossoms in a rotating pattern.  After you get a group done, you thread it onto cotton string.  Traditionally, though, you would use a thread made of banana leaf.

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A close-up of the progress, with rose petals folded in half, speared by the needle, then trimmed into shape with scissors.

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The work ended up being quite a bit more tedious that expected.  When you watch the vendors at the side of the street you mistake their speed and dexterity for the task of making a phuang malai being easy.  It turns out their speed and dexterity is a result of their skill and experience and they make an intricate art look deceptively simple.