Over the years I’ve come to have some favorite Thai soups that might not even be known to people who haven’t traveled in Thailand or taken Kasma’s Thai cooking classes. (She retired from the classes in 2020.) This blog looks at 4 of my favorites, soups I prefer to the better known duo of soups seen in pretty much every Thai restaurant, at least here in the U.S..
Those two soups are, of course, Hot-and-Sour Prawn Soup – Tom Yum Goong – and some iteration of Tom Ka – a coconut-based soup with galanga, such as Chicken Coconut Soup with Galanga (Tom Ka Gai) – perhaps the most common version in America – or Seafood Coconut Soup with Galanga (Tom Ka Talay) – perhaps the most common in Thailand.
Don’t get me wrong: they are delicious soups. It’s just that there are others that deserve to be just as well known. And in Thailand there are numerous versions of tom yum (hot and sour) soups; such as one that includes a whole, fried fish.
So in no particular order, here are four other Thai soups to enjoy.
(Click images to see larger version.)
Southern Thai Oxtail Soup (Soop Hahng Wua)
Hmm. Did I say in no particular order? Actually, I think this might be my favorite, especially for a winter’s day. It’s a fairly spicy dish, as Kasma once taught it in Advanced Set B-3. It’s quite easy to make: cook the oxtails with salt until tender; toss in the potatoes, tomatoes, onion and other ingredients and cook until nearly done; season to taste with fish sauce or light soy; finish the cooking and add some white pepper, a bit of lime juice and palm sugar as needed. It’s very tasty and, as a bone broth, it’s also very nourishing. (See the article Broth is Beautiful (offsite, opens in new window) by Sally Fallon Morell.) This is one I love to make in the winter; it’s pretty darn good in the summer as well. In Thailand you’ll see it at some of the truck stops in the south.
Southern-style Turmeric Chicken Soup (Tom Kamin Gai Bahn)
I don’t believe I’ve ever come across this soup in the United States, save in Kasma’s cooking classes: she taught it in Advanced Set F-2. I’ve had it at a couple of places in Thailand down south. Like the Oxtail Soup above, and many Thai soups, it’s a soup with the ingredients surrounded by a mostly clear broth. Again, you get a healthy bone broth, this time flavored with lemon grass, galanga, garlic, shallots and, as you might guess from the name, fresh turmeric; the turmeric gives it the lovely golden color. Kasma makes it with 10 to 15 crushed Thai chillies to give it a bit of heat. Again, add a bit of lime juice , finish off with fish sauce and sugar (both to taste) and you’ve got a delicious soup that lights up your taste buds. Kasma makes her version using whole quail: they make a really good broth.
Hot Galanga Beef Soup with Holy Basil (Neau Tom Ka)
When I’ve had this soup in Thailand, it’s slightly different than the version pictured here and which Kasma used to teach Advanced Set F-3. In Thailand the beef is stewed, so quite well-cooked. In Kasma’s version, beef slices (sirloin or skirt steak) are added at the end by bringing the soup to a rolling boil, adding the beef and then turning it off so that the beef is very lightly cooked. I have to say, I prefer her soup; we get different and better beef here in the U.S. This is a soup that can be incendiary – it has both dried red chillies and fresh Thai chillies. There’s also a sour component from tamarind juice and a quite noticeable flavor from the holy basil leaves. Just a delicious, fiery-hot soup.
Golden Pumpkin Coconut Soup (Kaeng Liang Kati Fak Tong)
I debated including this soup because it is really Kasma’s creation; I’ve never seen it anywhere else than in our own kitchen. This is a very rich soup: the base is 4 cups of coconut milk. One of the keys to the soup is making sure you have a very ripe squash/pumpkin; we prefer to use a ripe kabocha squash. Further flavor comes from ground shrimp, kapi shrimp paste and chopped jalapeño or Fresno peppers. At the end, fresh lemon basil is added for an added dimension. This is a very hearty soup: a little bit is quite satisfying. Kasma taught this dish in Advanced Set B-4.
If you’d like to try it yourself, Kasma’s posted her recipe for Golden Pumpkin Coconut Soup. Do use fresh lemon basil at the end, if you can: it adds a very tasty dimension (though Thai basil can be used if necessary).
Fried foods are found all over Thailand – as street food and in restaurants – in great variety and abundance. One of my first impressions traveling in Thailand over 2 decades ago was how skillful Thais are at frying food and how popular fried foods seem to be. This blog looks at and celebrates the Thai frying expertise.
Click images to see larger version.)
Thais are very inventive with their frying and it seems that they will fry just about anything: seafood of all kinds (shrimp, fish, squid), meats (pork in many forms, duck, chicken), kanom (bananas, bread, dumplings), appetizers (shrimp and fish cakes) and even leafy vegetables (such as holy basil – bai kaprao).
We’ve even come across Fried Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam Tod) while traveling in the northeast.
Thais fry foods so well: the foods seldom taste oily or greasy at all. When Kasma was still leading her small-group trips to Thailand (she retired in 2020), one of the tour members went into a MacDonalds in Chiang Mai: his main take-away was how much better the fried foods were there compared to those in the U.S. When a famous Thai chef says that “. . .Thais appear to remain ambivalent about it [deep-frying]. . .” I wonder if we’re talking about the same cuisine and people.
The Thai word for fry is ทอด – tod (pronounced “tawd”), as distinct from ผัด – pad – which means “stir-fry.” ทอด (tod) can refer to food that has been deep-fried or pan-fried. Everything shown in this article was deep-fried.
One only has to walk through a Thai market or anywhere that street food is being made or to look at the menu at most restaurants to realize that Thais love fried foods: you see them everywhere. They even fry leafy green herbs and vegetables. I’ll let the pictures below speak for themselves in celebrating the variety of fried foods that Thais enjoy.
Remember, these are only a few of the fried dishes available in Thailand. (I’ve included them all in a Slideshow of Thai Fried Foods at the bottom of the page.)
I’ll start with fried fish – one of the most common fried foods. There are at least dozens of different fried fish recipes in Thai cuisine, including many whole fried fish. The first time I had a whole fried fish in Thailand, typically prepared so that it was quite crispy, I loved it: you could eat virtually the entire fish, including fins and most of the bones. The crispy, crunchy feel in the mouth seemed to be an integral part of the whole experience. There was no oily feel at all – the fish might have been broiled crispy. It was quite clear that Thais know their frying.
I’ve heard many westerners (and 1 Thai) who thought that the typical crispy-fried fish was “over-cooked.” All of the Thais I know would disagree: they love the way the fish is cooked so that it’s crunchy and crispy and they devour nearly the whole plate (only the spine and a few other bones remain) with great gusto and enjoyment. I’ve had too many deep fried dishes in Thailand that were not cooked as crispy as the typical fried whole fish to believe that cooking fish in this manner is anything but a culinary choice based on preference.
The fish shown above left also includes fried lemongrass and fried kaffir lime leaves.
You may enjoy Kasma’s blog on How to Fry a Crispy Fish Thai Style. Scroll down on that page to see a Slideshow of Some Crispy Fried Fish Dishes with a dozen other whole fried fish dishes.
The picture above left shows a popular appetizer – Miang Pla – Tidbits with Fish Wrapped in a Leaf. Kasma has an entire Thai cookbook (in Thai) of miang – dishes with tidbits – of which the best known is undoubtedly Miang Kam (Tasty Leaf-wrapped Tidbits). This dish is essentially Miang Kam with the addition of fried fish. In Thailand a wild pepper leaf (bai cha plu), not betal leaf, is the leaf of choice; you take a bit of the fish, a little bit of each of the other ingredients, add a dab of sauce and pop the whole thing into your mouth for an explosion of flavors.
Above right we see Turmeric Fried Fish – Pla Tod Kamin – made from small fish that are fried (and eaten) whole. In addition to the fish, chopped garlic and turmeric are crispy fried to be served on top of the fish.
Although it sometimes seems as if the most popular way to fry fish is as an entire fish, it is also fried in chunks. To the right we see a dish popular in the northeast (in Isan, or Isaan) – Pla Som (Northeastern-style Soured fish). In this recipe, fish is cut into fillets or chunks, mixed together with salt and garlic and left out to ferment until it sours. After this, the fish is crispy fried and served, often with fried garlic or shallots (more fried food!), as shown above. In the dish above right, the chunks of fish are fried and then cooked with a spicy choo chee curry sauce. Delicious.
How much do Thais love fried fish? To the left is a simple dish you’ll come across at just about any Thai market or kao kaeng (rice-curry) shop, such as Raan Nong Pun in between Ayuthaya and Sukhothai on Asian Highway 1. Fish is skinned, butterflied open, salted and partially dried in the sun; it is then fried crispy and eaten with rice. It is cooked crispy and simply like this because people love it this way. Many times when I’ve been eating with a table of Thais, this was the first dish to be devoured.
Fried fish is also used as an ingredient in soups and curries. To the upper left we see Sour Tamarind Curry with Fish and Vegetable (Kaeng Som Pla). For this dish, which was taught in Kasma’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Class, #2, fish filets are cut into chunks, deep-fried and then added to the soup. The dish could also be made with smaller, whole-fried fish: on our travels in Thailand we often have a Hot-and-Sour Fish Soup (Tom Yum Pla) made with whole, smaller-sized fried fish.
No survey of Thai fried foods is complete without including Crisped Catfish Salad with Sour Green Mango and Peanuts or Cashews (Yum Pla Doog Foo). For this dish, a whole catfish is grilled until cooked through; it is then torn into shreds and the shreds are deep-fried until crispy and used in a salad, such as the one above right. There is a similar salad that shreds roasted duck and fries it as the basis for a salad. This is not a dish for anyone ambivalent about fried foods. The peanuts (or cashews) in the dish are fried as well.
Pork, Chicken, Duck
To the left above you see one of my very favorite fried foods – Fried Pork Leg (Ka Moo Tod). In this recipe, skin-on pork leg is first stewed with flavorful spices until it is tender; it is then deep-fried to get a caramelized, tasty outside to complement the succulent, tasty inside. It is served with a dipping sauce or two (to the lower left in the above photo) and often with pickled ginger. We now find it all over Thailand, from Korat (as above), to Trang, to Bangkok to Ayuthaya. Sometimes the pork leg is smoked (prior to frying) adding another flavor dimension.
The Northern Fried Soured Pork Ribs (Naem See Krohng) from Chiang Mai pictured above is another widely available fried pork dish. First pork ribs are fermented until sour and then they are deep fried. They are then served with a number of different items: peanuts (often fried, as well), ginger, Thai chillies and shallots. You pop the rib plus the other items of your choice into the mouth and eat them together.
One item that is found in most of the markets is fried pork skin, such as that shown above left, where it is served with a Northern-pork-based dipping sauce – Nam Prik Ong. Another fried pork dish is Crisp-Fried Seasoned Pork(Moo Tod Kreuang Tod), where pork steaks or cutlets are marinated, “breaded”, then fried, then cut into bite-sized pieces and eaten with a dipping sauce. There’s also an Isan dish – Crisp-Fried Northeastern-Style Hot-and-Sour Chopped Pork Patties with Aromatic Herbs and Toasted Rice (Lahb Moo Tod) – with fried pork patties. There’s also fried sour sausage – naem tod – which is shown further on in the blog.
On the right above is Crispy Duck on a Bed of Shrimp Chips and Crisped Greens Served with Spicy Plum and Toasted Sesame Sauce (Ped Lon). This is actually a tri-fecta of deep fried items, with fried shrimp chips and crispy-fried greens in addition to the duck. This picture was taken at one of Kasma’s advanced Thai cooking classes.
Lately I seem to run across Fried Chicken in all of the markets, northern, central or southern. The delicious looking golden-fried chicken above is from outside of the Crystal Pool in Krabi. Most of the street-food chicken is similar in appearance: golden and crispy. Fried chicken in Thailand is some of the best I’ve ever had: one reason is that most of the chicken is deep-fried in palm oil. Also, the taste of the chickens in Thailand is better: when Kasma was developing this recipe for an advanced class, she found that the type of chicken made all the difference – the big-breasted chickens found in American supermarkets – just do not fry up as tasty.
In restaurants, you’ll often find fried chicken such as that in the above right picture: Crispy-Fried Turmeric Chicken (Gai Tod Kamin) from Bai Fern Restaurant in Mae Hong Son. After the chicken is fried, the various pieces are chopped into bite-sized pieces and served with a sweet-and-sour chilli sauce, such as that on the plate, and often some accompanying vegetables. You can see that the chicken is crispy on the outside and moist on the inside (click the picture for a larger image).
Thai frying enjoyment and expertise is not limited to the animal kingdom: they also are adept at creating delicious fried vegetables.
To the upper left is a salad at Vientiane Kitchen in Bangkok that uses long eggplants fried in batter as the main ingredient: it is quite delicious.
To the right, crispy fried greens (Kasma uses pak boong – morning glory – in her recipe) are pretty much the whole salad with the addition of a tart, sweet and hot pork sauce poured over it (Kasma’s version of this recipe uses shrimp): it is crunchy, spicy and delicious. The fried vegetable does not taste greasy or oily.
The picture on the left shows Fried Sour Sausage (Naem Tod). I’ve included it here under vegetables because the fried sausage is resting in an edible basket made from crispy-fried taro. It’s a fun dish: you get to eat the basket as well as the sausage.
Next to to it on the right we see Crunchy Taro Fritters, Served with Sweet-and-Sour Dipping Sauce (Peuak Tod). In addition to making taro fritters, you often see fried taro chips in the markets; they come in two varieties, sweetened and un-sweetened.
Is there another cuisine where fried leafy greens or herbs can form such an essential part of a dish? The Crispy Fried Cha-Om Salad (Yum Cha-Om Krob) above left is from A. Mallika Restaurant in Bangkok. Cha-Om is part of the acacia family – see Kasma’s blog: Cha-Om – A Delicious and Nutritious Tropical Acacia. The fried vegetable is topped with a yum-type salad, in this case pork and squid with a sour-salty-sweet-spicy hot sauce.
Holy basil (bai kaprao) is the leafy green I’ve seen crispy-fried most often. Above right it accompanies a Fried Soft-shell Crab dish at what was our favorite Pranburi restaurant – Sunni’s Restaurant; the soft-shell crabs are deep-fried as well. The same restaurant makes a Stir-Fried Basil Crab(Neua Poo Pad Kaprao) that also uses deep-fried holy basil. Crispy-fried basil is also often served with Fish Cakes (Tod Man) and we’ve also seen it in the Crispy Fried Duck above. I’ve also seen fried kaffir lime leaves on a number of dishes.
Other Fried Ingredients
It’s not enough to have dishes where fried foods are the main attraction: there are also various other fried items that provide an accent or an accompaniment to various Thai dishes.
Fried cashews are found in many salads, such as the Yum Mara (Bitter Melon Salad) above left. They also form the main ingredient of a spicy, limy Cashew Salad (Yum Med Mamuang) – once taught in Kasma’s cooking class Set A-2.
Both salads above feature fried shallots, as do many yum-type salads. It’s hard to describe how delicious this ingredient is: the frying seems to accentuate the sweetness of the shallots. Yummy.
The Eggplant Salad above also uses crispy fried shallots.
Fried peanuts are an ingredient that frequently accompanies certain dishes, such as fried naem sausage or ribs, where it is eaten with the sausage (along with ginger and Thai chillies). Above left we see them with the Crispy Rice & Sour Sausage Salad (Yum Naem Kao Tod) from Ton Kreuang Restaurant in Bangkok; the base of the salad is cooked rice, which is mixed with various ingredients, including a chilli paste, formed into rounded balls and deep fried until the outside is brown and crispy.
Both of the above pictures feature fried dried red chillies. You are meant to bite off a bit of the fried chilli to go with some of the salad or fish: it provides added heat, flavor and texture.
Dried chillies, in the form of dried red pepper flakes, are also fried in oil along with a bit of salt to make a chilli-oil that is served with Kao Soi – Northern Style Curry Noodles.
Fried foods are found at pretty much every open-air market or street-food scene in Thailand. You’ll typically find many woks bubbling away with oil.
Fried Dough, such as that above left from the Sukhothai Market is fairly common, particularly in the morning at breakfast time.
Fried Rice Cakes such as the ones above right from the Sunday market in Nakhon Si Thammarat are also fairly common. The swirls most visible on the green rice cakes (they are green from pandanas leaf – bai toey) is palm sugar, to add a bit of sweetness. (The purple color on the other rice cakes comes from butterfly pea flower.)
Another common market food consists of small, fried shrimp in batter, such as the picture above left from the Takua Pa Market.
Fried Fish Skin, such as that shown above right, is one of the tastiest fried snacks. Click on the picture from the market at Wat Yai Chaimongkhon in Ayuthaya – in the larger version you’ll see that there are several different kinds of fried fish skin, varying in size and texture. The fried fish skin is sold with one or two different dipping sauces as accompaniments. When Kasma was doing her tours, she always bought a few varieties for her tour-group members to taste: often skeptical at first (“You want us to eat fish skin?!”), they usually ate up everything she bought.
I was somewhat surprised the first time I tried fried insects: they are actually pretty tasty. In much of the world, insects are a legitimate food; after all, they contain fair amounts of protein and fat. The variety of insects shown to the left are from the market at Nakhon Pathom and as you can see (click on the image for a larger version) there are many different varieties: all fried.
I’m including the Fried Naem Sausage (seen above right) here, though this picture is from the restaurant Kaeng Ron Baan Suan in Chiang Mai, because it is often found as a street food. You select any of the other items on the plate (chilli, ginger, fried peanuts, cabbage) and pop them in your mouth with a piece of sausage. When you buy it on the street, you get a log bamboo stick, which you use to spear a sausage bite, with the accoutrements in an accompanying plastic bag.
In the fried fish section above, the dish Miang Pla is often served as an appetizer; also the Fried Naem Sour Sausage directly above.
If I was told that Fried Fish cakes (Tod Man Pla) are the most popular appetizer in Thailand, I would not be surprised. You see them everywhere: in nearly every market (I could have included this is the Street Food section above) and in many restaurants. These are nearly always served with the sweet dipping sauce shown in the picture above left and a cucumber relish/salad, which is not pictured. This photo was taken at Don Wai Market in Nakhon Pathom province. The very first picture in this blog shows a young woman frying these fish cakes at the same market.
The second photo above right shows another type of Tod Man, which is fried after being “breaded.” It is Tod Man Goong – Fried Shrimp Cakes – from the restaurant at Koh Poda in Krabi province. These are served with just a sweet dipping sauce.
Tod Man is characterized by a rather “bouncy” texture.
The above left picture shows Glazed Crispy Noodles – Mee Krob – once taught in Kasma’s First Intermediate Thai Cooking Class. Thin rice sticks (a type of noodle – sen mee in Thai) are fried until golden and crispy at the edges and then crumbled in a bowl and coated with a sweet sauce (also slightly sour and salty). It is typically served with egg shreds, slivered red chillies, bean sprouts, garlic chives or green onions, to help cut any oiliness left on the noodles. In restaurants this dish is often too sweet for my taste.
The second picture shows Crispy Shrimp Toast, Served with Cucumber Relish – Kanom Pang Na Goong – from Trang. In this recipe, a shrimp mixture made from ground shrimp, more like a paste really, is spread over bread and then deep-fried until brown. Kasma’s version uses both shrimp and crab and is served with a sweet-and-sour plum sauce; in the version above right, it is served with a slightly sweet cucumber relish. There’s also Crispy Pork Toast and Crispy Crab Toast.
Another appetizer, above left, from Ubon Ratchathani, is Crispy Fried Won Ton. I include it here even though won ton are really more Chinese than Thai.
I’ve included the second picture because I love the presentation. it shows Deep-fried Fish Sausage presented in-between the (fried) fish head and tail; it comes with the sour/spicy dipping sauce shown on the plate to the upper right. We had this at the restaurant Kai Mook in Mae Hong Son.
Fried Bananas – Kluay Tod – are one of the most common street foods. It is also a fairly common dessert in restaurants. The picture above left actually is from the Mae Sa Resort above Chiang Mai: it’s a bit puffier than most of its street-food variety counterparts. You’ll also find fried banana chips in nearly any market or kanom shop.
The second picture is from a market at Wat Yai Chaimongkhon in Ayuthaya. It shows Fried Peanut Crunch (Tua Tod Paen), a tasty fried kanom that you’ll see in some of the markets around the country. They are slightly sweet (not overly so), crunchy and tasty.
Slideshow of Thai Fried Foods
As you watch this, reflect on the fact that you are seeing a fraction of the fried dishes available in Thailand.
Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.
One of the favorite ways to prepare fish in Thailand is to fry it until it is thoroughly crispy – head, tail, fins and all – but not greasy. To get it this way, the fish is fried with the skin on in plenty of hot oil for longer than what is normally recommended in western cooking, so that it is not just cooked through and still moist with juices inside the flesh but until it is completely dried through. When no moisture remains oil molecules do not have any place to attach themselves to on the dried-out surface of the fish; as a result, the crisped fish is not heavy, soggy and oily. Fish fried this way does not lose its crispiness soon after it comes out of the oil from juices inside being sweated out, but remains crunchy crispy even after it cools.
(Click images to see larger version.)
Of course, the kind of oil used for frying the fish is important. It should be one that can be heated to and kept at high temperatures without burning and breaking down, such as peanut oil or palm oil. The oil should be heated very hot before adding the fish, so that it sears the outside of the fish and does not penetrate it. This also reduces the likelihood of the fish sticking to the pan and yields cooked meat that is more fluffy rather than dense and compacted.
To help the fish cook and crisp faster, make a series of slanted (45°) cuts about one-and-a-half inches apart through the thickness of the flesh to the level of the center bone on both sides of the fish; or score with a diagonal criss-cross pattern.
Make the cuts with the knife blade positioned at a 45° angle to the surface of the fish; the flesh overlaps the cuts so that when it shrinks with frying the bone is not exposed, giving a better presentation.
In brief, to deep-fry a fish, fill a wok about half full with oil, or enough to submerge at least two-thirds of the length of the fish, and heat over high heat until it is smoking hot. While waiting for the oil to heat, coat the fish thoroughly inside out with a thin layer of flour, preferably tapioca flour or starch, which sticks better to the fish, does not get washed out in the oil and contributes a light, crispy texture when fried. Tapioca starch also dries up the surfaces of the fish, eliminating splattering from the interaction of liquid and hot oil. [Note: in Thailand tapioca starch is seldom used. It is recommended for use here because it helps to keep the frying fish from making a mess with splatters.]
Holding the fish by the tail, gently slide it into the oil, letting go along the side of the wok as close to its surface as possible so that the oil doesn’t splash up on your hand – letting go too soon is more likely to hurt you.
If your stove is not a very hot one, the fish can be fried from start to finish over high or medium-high heat. For a very hot stove, reduce and fry at medium heat to keep the surface of the fish from burning before it is cooked and dried through.
While frying, occasionally tilt the wok from side to side, so that the head and tail get submerged and crisped along with the mid-section of the fish. This is easy to do if the wok is well-balanced on a wok ring; it is even possible to leave the wok tilted on its own in one position for a minute or two before shifting to another position (see Kasma’s blog Adapting the Wok to your Stove). Oil may also be ladled continuously over the fish, which will cut down on the time needed to fry the second side when the fish is turned over.
When the first side is well-browned, well-crisped and dried through, nudge the wok spatula under the fish from its top edge and gently roll it over on its belly, taking care not to break any fins. Fry the second side the same way until it is as brown and crispy as the first side. It takes a few minutes less time than the first side. For a one-and-a-half pound whole fish, the first side usually takes twelve minutes to crisp while the second side about eight minutes. For smaller or flatter fish, like pompano and white perch, less time is required.
When the fish is thoroughly crisped, again nudge the wok spatula under it from its top edge. Tilt it up against the side of the wok above the oil for a few seconds to allow the oil to drain from the body cavity. Then lift it out onto a wire rack. Let drain and cool a few minutes before transferring to a serving platter.
Not all fish should be so thoroughly fried and crisped as described. Use soft- to medium-firm-flesh fish, no larger than two pounds and preferably varieties with thin fins and tails that crisp up nicely for crunching on. Delicious fried this way are snapper, rock cod, grouper, catfish, pompano, white perch, tongue sole and other small and flat fish. Because of their size, smelts, fresh anchovies and whole sand dabs can be fried completely immersed in oil. Firm, meaty fish with thick, dense flesh are not good fried so long and should only be lightly crisped to retain some juices – cut down on the frying time by one-third to one-half.
The wok is a very safe utensil to use for deep-frying, so if you are afraid to fry fish in such a large quantity of oil, read the my article Using Your Work. The deliciously crunchy results produced are worth the try.
If you’d like to see a slideshow of Kasma making Crispy Fried Whole Fish Topped with Chilli-Tamarind Sauce (Pla Rad Prik) from start to finish, check out Michael’s Blog on Kasma’s Intermediate Class #1.
I would hate to estimate how many different fried fishes there are in Thailand. This slide show is limited to a dozen dishes that we’ve come across while traveling in Thailand. It should begin to hint at the variety of delicious dishes that are available.
Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.
Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.
Among highly salted fish, my personal favorite is salted mackerel – pla kem. If you like preserved anchovies, you will most likely fall for salted mackerel, too.
(Click images to see larger version.)
Look for narrow oval steaks of salted king mackerel either vacuum-packed in plastic and either frozen or in a refrigerator, or stuffed in glass jars covered with oil. Pan-fry in a small amount of oil for a couple of minutes on both sides until well-browned and flaky. Drain from oil and sprinkle with thinly sliced shallots, thin rounds of Thai chillies and fresh lime juice. Because it is very salty, only a small bit of the mackerel is mixed and eaten with plain steamed rice. My mother and I share a fondness for salted mackerel and just a tiny piece can help us polish up a big pot of rice, feeling very satisfied!
Salted mackerel is also used as a flavoring ingredient, such as in the Chinese steamed chopped pork with salted fish. Use it as you would salted anchovies. It makes a particularly tasty flavoring for stir-fried Asian broccoli, or broccoli rabe (see recipe below). Flake the flesh of pan-fried salted mackerel and toss in with the greens. Instead of salted mackerel, small pieces of fried, dried salted mudfish may also be used.
When working with any kind of dried and salted fish, beware of the strong fishy odors likely to be released during cooking, especially frying. Make sure there is plenty of ventilation in the kitchen to disperse the lingering fumes.
Asian Broccoli with Salted Mackerel (Ka-nah Pla Kem)
Recipe by Kasma Loha-unchit
1 bunch Asian or Chinese broccoli (ka-nah)
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 small piece (about 2 oz.) salted mackerel (pla kem)
10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3-4 Tbs. Thai oyster sauce
2-3 tsp. fish sauce (nam pla), to taste
Starting from the stem-end, cut the Asian broccoli at a very sharp slanted angle 1/2 inch apart to make pieces about 1 1/2 inches long. Peel the bottom of the larger, more fibrous stems before cutting. For pieces with leaves attached, cut the leaves into 2-inch segments. Do not make it a point to detach the leaves from the stems; there should be pieces of stem with some leaf attached. Keep the pieces from the bottom half of the stems separate from the more leafy upper half.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok over medium-high heat until it begins to smoke. Fry the salted mackerel in the oil for 2-3 minutes on each side until well-browned. Remove from wok.
Increase heat to high and swirl in the remaining oil. When it is smoking hot, add the chopped garlic, stir for 10-15 seconds, then toss in the bottom stem pieces. Stir-fry half to one minute before adding the leafy pieces. Continue to stir-fry until the leaves have mostly wilted. Sprinkle with oyster sauce and 1 tsp. of fish sauce, stir and mix well.
Break the mackerel into small chunks and toss in with the vegetable.
Stir-fry a little while longer until the broccoli is tender, but still crisp, and a vibrant green color. Taste and add more fish sauce as needed to the desired saltiness. Stir well and transfer to a serving dish.
Serves 6 with rice and other dishes in a shared family-style meal.
Notes and Pointers:
A very nutritious bitter green vegetable readily available from most Oriental produce markets, Asian or Chinese broccoli has insignificant flower buds and is prized for its deep green leaves and firm, crisp stems.
Select a bunch with small tender stems. If the stems are large, the bottom half may need to be peeled to remove the tough fibers. Cutting the stems at a very sharp slanted angle helps break up the fibers that run the length of the stalks, giving them a more tender texture. The sauce can also penetrate the vegetable better through the longer cut that exposes the interior of the stems.
Slideshow on Salted Mackerel
Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.
Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.
This blog is about class #4 in a series of 4 evening classes previously taught by Kasma Loha-unchit. This final class focused on noodles and taught that American favorite – Pad Thai. In the class, Kasma, who taught for 34+ years before retiring in 2020, introduced 3 of the many varieties of noodles used in Thailand.
I’ve already blogged on the first three classes in the series:
When the classes were in the evening, beginning with the second class in the series Kasma introduced the students to an Asian snack at the start of the class. Once the classes were taught in the afternoon right after lunch, she no longer served the snacks. This particular snack, mochi with a black sesame seed filling, was a particular favorite. The Yuen Hop Noodle Company on Webster Street in Oakland’s Chinatown, where we used to purchase the snack, no longer carries it. Yuen Hop sells freshly made rice noodles, the wider variety called kway teow sen yai (ก๋วยเตี๋ยวส้นใหญ่) – kway teow (ก๋วยเตี๋ยว) referring to the rice noodle itself, and sen yai (ส้นใหญ่) referring to the size. It’s the sort of noodle called chow fun by the Chinese. Their fresh noodles are amazing – Kasma used them in all sorts of noodle dishes in this class and in her Advanced cooking classes.
This is a package of kway teow sen yai (ก๋วยเตี๋ยวส้นใหญ่) aka chow fun noodles. In this class, Kasma introduced three different type of noodles (there are many more) for use in the dishes. These particular noodles were used in the Pan-Fried Fresh Rice Noodles Topped with Chicken and Asian Broccoli Sauce – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวราดหน้า (Kway Teow Rad Nah). These noodles are added direct from the package to the wok.
She’ll also introduced the noodle known in Thai as ba mee (บะหมี่), a thin Chinese egg noodle made from wheat, used in the Garlic Noodles with Barbecued Red Pork (Thai-Style Pasta Salad) – บะหมี่แห้งหมูแดง (Bamee Haeng Moo Daeng). These noodles are cooked in boiling water.
The third type of noodle was the thin dried rice vermicelli called sen mee (ส้นหมี่) that Kasma used in her “Thai-style” Stir-fried Noodles – ผัดไท (Pad Thai). To use, soak the dried rice noodles in cold or lukewarm tap water for 40 minutes to one hour, or until the noodles are limp but still firm to the touch.
Kasma introduced other new ingredients in this class, one of which was Tianjin Vegetables – a type of pickled cabbage (basically cabbage fermented with salt) from China, though there is an equivalent version of preserved cabbage made in Thailand. Kasma uses this ingredient in her Garlic Noodles.
She taught her students how to roast dried chillies in a cast iron skillet; they will subsequently were ground up to be used in Pad Thai and also to fill one of the dishes in a noodle condiment set. In Thailand, all noodles are accompanied by a condiment set, which typically includes sugar (for balancing flavors), green chillies soaked in vinegar (for sour), fish sauce (for salty) and roasted ground chillies. The diner uses the condiment set to balance the flavors to his or her liking. The chillies are roasted with salt in the pan to help mitigate the fumes.
In addition to the noodles (and cucumber salad), Kasma demonstrated how to make both Thai tea – ชาเย็น (cha yen) – and Thai coffee – โอเลี้ยง (oliang). In Thailand, both of these drinks are made using a “tea sock” – the tea or coffee is put in the “sock,” which has a metal handle, and then hot water is poured through and then steeped to the desired strength. Condensed and evaporated milk are added to finish them off. Thai tea and coffee are often available at noodle shops in Thailand.
As with other classes, the final cooking was done in front of the whole class. Sometimes a student did the cooking (as in the Pan-Fried Fresh Rice Noodles) to the above left; other times, Kasma did the cooking. She usually cooked the Pad Thai herself because there are a couple of tricky points – namely getting the eggs right and making sure the noodles are thoroughly mixed with everything else.
Beginning Thai Series Class #4 Menu
Pan-Fried Fresh Rice Noodles Topped with Chicken and Asian Broccoli Sauce – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวราดหน้า (Kway Teow Rad Nah):
I think of this as rice noodles with sauce. It’s a somewhat soupy dish and I like it only if the noodles, the kway teow sen yai (ก๋วยเตี๋ยวส้นใหญ่) are very, very fresh. It is best when eaten piping hot from the wok and is typically eaten with green chillies pickled in vinegar (as in the picture to the right), which provides a bit of sour to cut the gravy (sauce). Be sure to get both some (soaked) chillies and some of the vinegar.
Garlic Noodles with Barbecued Red Pork (Thai-Style Pasta Salad) – บะหมี่แห้งหมูแดง (Bamee Haeng Moo Daeng):
I’ve never had this particular dish in Thailand – it’s a recipe of Kasma’s creation. It’s the first noodle dish I ever made. I had been invited to a potluck soon after initially taking the Beginning Series (back in 1992 – 2+ decades ago). I decided to bring this dish: it can be served cold or at room temperature and made in advance – perfect for a pot luck. It was the first dish to disappear; people loved it. As the name implies, it has a garlicky flavor – mildly addictive, I would say.
This picture of Kasma’s Pad Thai noodles shows the dish plated, and ready to serve. It’s surrounded by limes so that each person can take a lime to squeeze over their portion and add sour flavor. The next picture below shows one individual serving of Pad Thai. Often in Thailand this dish often is served accompanied by green onions; the idea is to take a bite of the green onion along with the noodles to add an extra dimension of texture and flavor. They go surprisingly well together.
Many students told Kasma tat her version was the best they had ever eaten. Often in U.S. restaurants the noodles are softer and mushier whereas in Kasma’s version, they are firm and chewy. She told students that if they prefer the version from U.S. restaurants, they can make the noodles softer, add ketchup and more sugar.
Cucumber Salad – ยำแตงกวา (Yum Taeng Kua): In the United States, I’m not much of a cucumber eater. I find the vegetable not very interesting. The one exception I make is for Kasma’s Thai cucumber salads, such as this one. Add some shallots, serrano peppers, cilantro leaves, vinegar, lime, fish sauce and sugar to cucumbers and it makes them a lot more interesting!
Written by Michael Babcock, September 2012 & May 2020
For 34+ years, Kasma Loha-unchit taught a beginning series of 4 Thai cooking classes several times a year. This is my blog on the third of those four classes, exploring how the classes took place and what delicious Thai dishes were served. Kasma retired from the classes in 2020
I’ve also blogged on the other classes in the series:
Kasma’s initial series of 4 classes was designed as a sequence of classes to introduce the basics of Thai cooking. This, the third class, continued on from the first two, including more basic information about Thai ingredients and cooking techniques while introducing 5 new recipes.
Learning more about rice was an important part of the third class.
(Click images to see larger version.)
Having already covered cooking of jasmine rice (ข้าวหอมมะลิ – kao hom mali) in the first sessions, in class #3 Kasma introduced brown jasmine rice. Over the past few years, in part because of the support of the Royal Family, whole grain rice has been growing in popularity in Thailand. (See Kasma’s Blog Whole Grain Rice Makes a Comeback in Thailand.) To bring out maximum nutrition, whole-grain rice should be soaked for at least 22 hours prior to cooking. (For more details see Kasma’s blog How to Cook Brown Rice for Maximum Nutrition.) She also taught how to cook white sticky rice (ข้าวเหนียว – Kao Niow) using the traditional bamboo basket that is found throughout northeastern Thailand (อีสาน – Isan), where, traditionally, it is the daily rice eaten with all meals. (See Kasma’s recipe for Steamed White Sticky Rice (ข้าวเหนียวนึ่ง – Kao Niow Neung.)
Another thing that Kasma taught in this class was how to clean whole squid; everyone got an opportunity to clean a couple. It’s one thing I appreciated about the classes: Kasma taught you to use ingredients (such as shrimp or squid) as you would purchase them in any Asian market, where they are more likely to be sold whole and not cleaned. Cleaning squid is not difficult to do and the reward is that a whole squid, frozen or not, is likely to be more fresh than one that has been pre-cleaned.
As always, the students did all of the prep work themselves; the chopping, mincing and dicing, cleaning the squid and more. We had students who had taken cooking classes in Thailand who told us that typically, all of the ingredients were already prepped for them. Kasma had the students do the prep because when they cook at home, they would have to do it themselves. She taught how to cook all of these dishes from start to finish by oneself.
Final assembly and cooking of the dishes in the beginning series was done by Kasma and by the students. The picture to the above left shows Kasma deep frying the Garlic Peppered Shrimp. This would have been the first time that many students had deep fried anything at all, so she started out by demonstrating what to do; after her initial demo, she would ask for volunteers and students finished off the cooking. She had already gone over stir-frying in previous sessions, so she had one of the students cook the Stir-Fried Long Beans with Roasted Chilli Sauce and Thai Basil. All of the students watched the final assembly/cooking so that they could learn how to cook every dish in the class and not just the one they worked on.
After the food was plated and ready to serve, we came to the very best part of class: the feast at the end. What’s best of all was knowing that you could go home and cook everything yourself.
Beginning Thai Series Class #3 Menu
Garlic-Peppered Shrimp – กุ้งกระเทียมพริกไทย (Goong Kratiem Prik Thai): Although this is a common item on Thai menus, both in Thailand and here in the U.S., I’ve never had a version quite like Kasma’s. Her recipe uses a lot of garlic (1-2 heads per pound of shrimp) and black pepper to coat the shrimp, which, with the shell still on, is deep-fried until crispy. It makes a crunchy, peppery, garlicky snack that is delicious, indeed. Some students were, at first, reluctant to eat a shrimp with the shell on: they soon found that it had been rendered crispy and that it added a needed dimension to the dish. They usually came back for seconds. And thirds. And even fourths!
Hot and Sour Calamari Salad – ยำปลาหมึก (Yum Pla Meuk): The very first Thai dish I ever ate was a Squid Salad at Siam Cuisine on University Avenue in Berkeley (long out of business); this must have been back in the early 1980s. This salad has lots of fresh herbs (lemon grass, galanga, mint and cilantro) and a hot and sour dressing consisting of chillies, garlic, fish sauce and lime juice, with a bit of sugar to pull all the tastes together. Kasma’s version is as hot as I remember my first attempt but now I can eat spicy. This is a terrific, prototypical Thai salad.
Stir-Fried Long Beans with Roasted Chilli Sauce and Thai Basil – ถั่วยาวผัดพริกเผา (Tua Yao Pad Prik Pow) : Vegetables is one area where Asian cooking excels. I can’t think of a single Western vegetable dish as interesting and tasty as this one dish. It uses “long beans” – ถั่วยาว (tua yao) – which are somewhat similar to green beans but thinner around – they can be dark green, light green or purple in color. Although they are cooked with garlic (of course), fish sauce and Thai basil (ใบโหระพา – bai horapa), the defining taste of this dish comes from roasted chili paste – น้ำพริกเผา (nam prik pao). This paste is one of the most commonly used seafood-based pastes in Thai cooking; the roasted flavors give a fragrant backdrop to a paste that is hot and shrimpy as well as sweet and tangy. This is a flavorful, delicious vegetable dish. (Read Kasma’s information on Roasted Chilli Paste – (Nam Prik Pao).)
Sticky Rice and Mango – ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง (Kao Niao Mamuang): This is perhaps the best known Thai dessert outside of Thailand, though in Thailand it is more of a snack (a kanom – ขนม) that would be eaten by itself at any time of the day. White sticky rice is given a sweet coconut sauce and then served with mangoes. In Thailand, it is also served with durian, in season. (See Michael’s blog on Thong Lo Mangos (and Sticky Rice).)
Black Sweet Rice Pudding – ข้าวเหนียวดำ (Kao Niow Dahm): Another sweet sticky rice dessert, topped with toasted coconut and sesame seeds. Some students like this even better than the White Sticky Rice and Mangos. The black sticky rice is a whole grain with a nutty flavor. See Kasma’s recipe Black Sticky Rice Pudding (ข้าวเหนียวดำ Kao Niow Dahm).
Slideshow – Garlic Peppered Shrimp Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.
Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.