Current Top Ten Thai Dishes

In this blog I talk about my current “Top Ten” favorite Thai dishes. I have to say “current,” because this is an ever-changing list, based on current tastes and on what recipe Kasma has just created. Sometimes a new dish just has to be included, though many of these dishes are on the list on a permanent basis.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Pork & Tofu
Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu

Kasma estimates that restaurants in the U.S. typically serve maybe 5% of the number of different dishes available in Thailand. If you had taken all of Kasma’s Thai Cooking classes (she retired in 2020) you would have learned somewhere around 250+ different Thai recipes, many of which are seldom found outside of Thailand. My list of top ten dishes is composed of dishes that I’ve eaten both in Thailand and as Kasma’s creations.

I think the best characteristic of a top ten dish is the delight that you feel when you eat it. Often such a dish will light up all of your taste buds, your entire palate. It will be almost impossible to describe: although you’ll be able to point out flavors that come into consciousness, listing or talking about them is never enough because the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. Even a strong flavor that jumps out can be eaten only in context with the entire backdrop of flavors. To use an overworked analogy, it’s like trying to describe a color to a blind person: this is true even trying to describe this taste to someone who knows what good Thai food should taste like. The only way to really experience the dish is to eat it.

Thai Salad
Wilted Green Salad

Many of the dishes here taste so good, are so delightful, that it’s hard to stop eating. With others, particularly the curries, you can’t really eat a lot because they are so rich. In both instances, even with just a few bites, you feel satisfied and happy to have eaten such a delightful dish.

With two exceptions, recipes are not included. Kasma has developed nearly all of her recipes for teaching in her Thai cooking classes. In these dishes the flavors come together in a startling, stupendous harmony: there’s no way to give a listing of exact ingredients that will give the exact balance of the dish – they must be cooked “to taste” and you have to know what you’re looking for – you need a supremely (Thai-) educated palate. Kasma has written about this process and included a tasting exercise:

Eggplant Salad
Roasted Eggplant Salad

It really takes someone who knows exactly what they are doing and what they are looking for: Kasma, for instance. Once you’ve tasted the dish as it is, then, maybe, you’ll be able to use your expertise to duplicate it.

Before retirement, Kasma used to teach all of these dishes in her advanced cooking classes. Also, three of the dishes are in my blog from October 2012 on Five Favorite Thai Dishes.

A Note on Rice

Hunglay Curry
Hunglay Curry

In Thailand, when it’s time to eat, what you say is taan kao (or kin kao), which literally means “eat rice.” The real food of a meal, traditionally was the rice – kao; everything else was grouped under the heading gab kao – literally “with rice.”

As a westerner, I was used to thinking of rice as an accompaniment to a meal. Many (probably most) dishes in Thai cuisine (not noodle dishes) traditionally are meant to be eaten with rice. When you serve a curry (such as the Goat Curry or Hunglay Curry) over rice, the taste of the rice, with the curry sauce mixed in, usually can be an integral part of the taste and the whole experience. With most of the dishes below, it is assumed that they are eaten with rice. However, these days we do not eat rice. We limit our carbohydrate intake for reasons of health. We have found that even without the rice these dish are fabulous.

Go directly to a slideshow of all the dishes at the bottom of the page.

The Top Five Dishes

Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu Sauce and Thai Chillies (Moo Sahm Chan Pad Dtow Hoo Yee)

Tofu Dish
Fermented Tofu and Pork Belly

This dish is a perfect example of a dish where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The “secret ingredient” in this recipe is the red fermented tofu and its brine, which is stir-fried (quickly) with the pork belly (thinly sliced pork belly cooks very fast), chopped garlic, rather large garlic cloves, Thai chillies, fish sauce and some sugar to balance. It is impossible to describe and easy to keep eating and eating, because it is so delicious, despite how rich it is with the fatty pork belly. A stunning dish.

I first had this dish at the old Ruen Mai restaurant in Krabi (the picture at the top of the page to the right is from there). The picture to the above left here shows Kasma’s version, cooked during one of her advanced classes (Set H-2). The flavor of the two dishes, although slightly different, are quite similar. Both are great.

Spicy Mesquite-Grilled Eggplant Salad with Roasted Peppers and Shrimp (Yam Makeua Yao)

Eggplant Salad
Roasted Eggplant Salad

This is one dish that never leaves my Top Five list and hasn’t from the moment I tasted it. A perfect example of a Thai yum (or yam) – a Thai “salad” with a sauce that is sour-spicy/hot with hints of sweet and salty. The eggplant must be charcoal-roasted for this dish, preferably with something like mesquite (here in the U.S., at least) that imparts that wonderful, wood-smoky flavor. One time a student of Kasma’s brought the dish to a potluck having oven-roasted the eggplant: it was a grave disappointment.

The sour-spicy-salty dressing in combination with the  grilled eggplant is a delight and the other ingredients (the shrimp, dried shrimp, sliced shallots and egg) add texture and other accents to the mouth. It is usually a very spicy salad requiring lots of rice to help mitigate the heat.

Kasma’s recipe for this dish, as taught in Advanced Class (Set A-1) available online: Spicy Mesquite-Grilled Eggplant Salad. Try it after doing Kasma’s balancing flavor exercise. Be warned: there is something about roasting the peppers that can make them incendiary.

In addition to Kasma’s version of the dish, My Choice Restaurant in Bangkok has a very good version. (See the third picture of this blog, above right.)

Hot and Spicy Drunkard’s Stir-Fried Rice Noodles with Ground Pork, Thai Chillies and Holy Basil (Gkuay Dtiow Pad Kee Mao)

Drunkard's Noodles
Hot & Spicy Drunkard's Noodles

If ever there was a dish that I find hard to stop eating, it is this one. This dish is widely available in Thailand and even shows up on menus in the United States, though in the U.S. it never fails to disappoint. Kasma’s version uses fresh chow fun rice noodles  from a local shop, Yuen Hop Noodle Company, on Webster Street in Oakland, that are delicious to begin with. Add in in ground pork  (we get pastured pork from Riverdog Farms at the Berkeley Farmer’s market), Asian broccoli (ka-nah), a head of garlic, 15 to 20 Thai chillies (yes, this is one dish that must be served spicy/hot), some black soy, Thai oyster sauce and fish sauce, and a large amount of holy basil leaves (you can’t have too much in this dish) and you have an astounding dish with delightful taste and mouth feel. My favorite noodle dish of all time.

By the way, these are called “Drunkard’s Noodles” because they are so spicy that in order to cool the tongue, people are known to drink massive quantities of beer. Do not scrimp on the Thai chillies!

I have never had a better version than Kasma’s. She taught it in Advanced Class (Set I-4)

Spicy Stir-Fried Preserved Black Eggs with Crisped Holy Basil and Chopped Pork (Kai Yiewmah Pad Gkaprow Gkrawb)

Stir-fried Black Eggs
Stir-fried Black Eggs & Pork

Ahh, preserved black eggs (or century eggs), an ingredient that before I met Kasma I would not have considered eating. (See the Wikipedia entry – Century Egg – offsite, opens in new window) To make them (according to Wikipedia), eggs are coated in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime and rice hulls for several weeks or even months until the egg white turns a dark, translucent brown and the yolk takes on a dark green to grey color. Kasma says an ingredient missing in the Wikipedia entry, though, is tea leaves: the best preserved eggs are made with tea leaves. The brand she buys lists tea leaves as the primary ingredient. Century eggs can have a rather strong odor, reminiscent of ammonia and sulfur. They are absolutely foreign to a western sensibility and  are, I would say, an acquired taste: over the years, I have learned to like them in congee (johk).

Although a version of this dish is found in many restaurants in Thailand, I had always resisted trying it, until Kasma created this version of the recipe for one of her Advanced Thai Cooking Classes (Advanced Set I-2).

This recipe actually replaces Basil Pork – Moo Pad Kaprao, which was previously a top five dish. This is a dish that I simply cannot describe adequately. The flavors (indeed, most of the ingredients) are the same as are found in the Drunkard’s Noodles above without the noodles – this dish is served over rice. What is indescribable is what happens to the preserved eggs when you fry them until they are blistered and browned all the way around: they acquire a texture and a taste that, combined with the pork and other seasonings, is outrageously delicious. Simply a stunning dish.

Another difference between this and the traditional pad kaprao (stir-fried with holy basil) recipe is that this one includes crispy-fried holy basil leaves, which add a different flavor and a crunchy texture to the mix.

There is a recipe – Spicy Basil Chicken Recipe– that can be used as the basis for making this recipe yourself. You’ll have to add the preserved egg and also make crispy-fried holy basil.

By the way, the name for preserved eggs in Thai is kai yiao ma (ไข่เยี่ยวม้า), which literally means “horse urine eggs” (yum!), so-called because of the distinctive ammonia odor.

Wilted Greens Salad with Coconut-Lime Chilli Sauce, Fried Chinese Sausage, Crisped Garlic and Crisped Shallots (Yam Dtam Leung)

Wilted Green Salad
Wilted Green Salad

There is simply no way to do justice to this dish with words. Like the eggplant salad, another yum (or yam) salad, it  really must be made with dtam leung greens: nothing else tastes as good. Dtam leung is a vine that grows in the rainy season throughout southeast Asia. It is typically called “ivy gourd” in English. We are able to eat this dish only when we are in Mae Hong Son (at the restaurant, Bai Fern) – as shown in the second picture of this blog, above on the left) or here in the San Francisco Bay Area (shown directly to the left), during the summer when we’re able to get dtam leung leaves from Mithapheap Market in Oakland.

The coconut-lime chilli sauce, is equally salty and sour with a little background sweetness; the little bit of coconut cream transforms it into a different dimension.

What kicks this into the top five, is the addition of the other ingredients, which expand the taste and, in particular, the textures: chinese sausage, carrot shreds, green onion, shallots, unsalted, roasted peanuts, and (the pièces de résistance) crisp-fried garlic and crisp-fried shallots. The wilted green in the sauce provides the backdrop and with each bite, a different taste/texture combination pops into consciousness. Oh my, it is so very tasty. Kasma taught this dish in Advanced Class (Set H-4).

In Thailand, this salad is usually made with crisped, batter-fried dtam leung. Bai Fern Restaurant was the only one that made it with the wilted greens. In fact, so many Thais complained that it is now made with the crispy-fried greens since that is what most Thai tourists prefer; Kasma has to specify that she wants wilted greens to get it made the way she likes.

The Second Five

Thai Muslim Goat Curry (Gkaeng Ped Pae)

Goat Curry
Thai Muslim Goat Curry

I have surprised myself by deciding to include this recipe in my Top Ten list. It is just so very tasty.

It’s not a very common dish in Thailand: we may have had it at a restaurant in the south once or twice. The time I remember having goat curry in Thailand was when we rented a longtail boat in Krabi and the owner’s wife made the dish for us. Kasma came up with her version of the recipe for her Advanced Set H-1 Class.

It’s another dish where I despair of my descriptive abilities. Kasma’s version utilizes a curry paste made from scratch from many of the usual ingredients: dried chillies, salt, lemon grass, turmeric, garlic, shallots, shrimp paste – kapi, and, an absolutely critical ingredient for the taste of this dish, krachai, called, in English, lesser ginger or “rhizome.” Add in roasted coriander and cumin, some pea eggplants, various flavorings (including fish sauce and palm sugar), kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil and make sure you use bone-in goat: the marrow from the bones will provide thickening and flavor.

The dish has an excellent mouth feel. The various flavors, including a certain amount of heat from the chillies, in combination with the goat meat, are very pleasing, indeed.

Bitter Melon Stir-fried with Egg (Mara Pad Kai

Bitter Melon & Egg
Bitter Melon & Egg

Bitter Melonmara, in Thai – has long been one of my favorite foods; I don’t know why. Many people find it too bitter but I’ve always enjoyed the flavor.

This is the simplest to make of my top ten dishes; it is also the one that I make the most. It consists of bitter melon stir-fried with eggs and has four ingredients: oil (I like duck fat or lard), bitter melon, eggs and fish sauce.

Served over rice, it’s a perfect one-dish meal: you’ve got your protein source (egg), vegetable (bitter melon) and healthy fat (lard or duck fat), all served over carbohydrates.

Kasma taught this dish as an add-on to the 5th day of her Beginning/Intermediate Weeklong Class; it wasn’t even listed on the menu.

We do have a recipe for this dish: Bitter Melon & EggMara Pad Kai. I also make it with chorizo, though you can also substitute naem sausage for the chorizo if you want to stick with Thai ingredients: see my blog, Bitter Melon, Chorizo & Egg.

Northern Hunglay Pork Curry (Gkaeng Hunglay)

Hunglay Curry
Northern Hunglay Pork Curry

It’s hard not to put this curry in the top five dishes, where it usually resides.

According to Kasma, this curry originated with the Shan people in Burma and was adapted into Northern Thai cuisine. The restaurant Kaeng Ron Ban Suan Restaurant in Chiang Mai has a good version (as shown in this blog’s 4th picture, above left). The picture to the right is Kasma’s version, made with a combination of fat-laced pork butt and pork belly. It’s a fairly standard curry paste (lemon grass, dried chillies, galanga turmeric, garlic, shallots, salt, shrimp paste) with the addition of hunglay curry powder: Kasma gets hers at the fresh market in Mae Hong Son. Additional flavoring comes from ginger and flavor seasonings such as fish sauce, tamarind and palm sugar. The result is a rich, delicious tasting dish that is immensely satisfying. Kasma used to teach this recipe in Advanced Set C-4 Class.

Poached Basa Steaks Cooked Ruen Mai-Style in Choo Chee Curry Sauce (Choo Chee Bplah Sawai)

Choo Chee Fish
Choo Chee Fish

Choo Chee curries are red, coconut-based curries. Kasma developed her version of the dish (shown to the left) after enjoying a meal at Ruen Mai restaurant in Krabi several years ago. It’s a rich red curry made more distinctive by the addition of roasted spices: peppercorns, coriander seeds and cumin.

Kasma’s version is made with meaty basa (also called swai) steaks. A very filling and satisfying dish. She taught this recipe in Advanced Set H-4 Class.

Thai-Style Hot-and-Sour Mixed Fruit Salad (Dtam Ponlamai)

Fruit Salad
Hot-and-Sour Fruit Salad

I first had this dish at Kaeng Ron Ban Suan restaurant in Chiang Mai, where it was the inspiration for Kasma’s version. I prefer Kasma’s version mainly because I like the combination of fruits available in U.S. in the summer, when we typically make it.

I love the unexpected flavors in the salad: garlic, chillies, and dried shrimp. I would never think of using those ingredients with fruit in a salad. When you bite into the chilli and garlic it is startling and, yet, somehow it all blends together, pulled together by a sweet (palm sugar), salty (fish sauce) and sour (lime) sauce.

Everything but the fruit is prepared using a mortar and pestle, hence the name – dtam (meaning to pound – the word found in Som Dtam – Green Papaya Salad) and ponlamai (meaning fruit).

Kasma used to teach this recipe in Advanced Set G-4 Class.

Honorable Mention

Golden Yellow Turmeric Sticky Rice with Sweet-and-Savory Shrimp-Coconut Topping (Kao Niow Leuang Nah Gkoong)

Turmeric Sticky Rice
Turmeric Sticky Rice

I feel somewhat badly that I’ve failed to include a dessert in my Top Ten list. I want to give this kanom an honorable mention because it illustrates much of what is good about Thai kanom and, indeed, about Thai cooking. (See Michael’s blog Thai Sweet Snacks – Kanom Wan.)

This dish consists of a sweet (with a bit of salty) sticky rice that has been colored with turmeric. It is completed with a slightly salty coconut cream sauce and a topping made from shrimp (head-on), shredded coconut, garlic, finely slivered kaffir lime leaves and the seasonings; it’s a sauce that is shrimpy, savory and sweet, all at the same time. All colors are natural: the yellow from the turmeric and the startling red from the goop in the shrimp heads.

What I like about it, is the way it lights up the palate. The sweet and salty together is heavenly; then add in the savory-shrimpy-sweet topping (so unexpected in a dessert), and accent it with slivered kaffir lime leaf. It is just a delight.

Like the best of Thai food, it includes distinct harmony groupings (sweet, salty), that both call out for individual attention and also delightfully blend together. Add in the unexpected, the delightful way it feels in your mouth, and it can be hard to stop eating.

Before retiring, Kasma taught this recipe in Advanced Set I-4 Class.

Slideshow of Current Favorite Thai Dishes

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

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Written by Michael Babcock, November 2013


Five Favorite Thai Dishes

Living with Thai cooking teacher Kasma Loha-unchit and traveling all over Thailand together, I have been exposed to a very large number of Thai dishes. I am often asked by students which are my favorites. Talk about a difficult choice! There are dozens of dishes that I could put on such a list: I sometimes joke that my top 10 list has 30 dishes on it. If forced to pick, though there are 5 dishes that would most likely always make the cut. These are those 5 dishes.

By the way, Kasma estimates that what you see on menus in Thai restaurants here in the United States represents perhaps 5% of the total number of dishes: unless you travel to Thailand and eat adventurously you’ll miss out on the incredible variety offered by Thai Cuisine.

Spicy Basil Pork (Pad Kaprao Moo):

Although pride of place at the top of the list goes to Spicy Basil Pork, I’m not actually going to say very much about this dish because I’ve already written a blog on it: Basil Pork – Moo Pad Kaprao.

DBasil Pork
Basil Pork

It suffices to say that this is the one of the most popular dishes in Thailand. You can make almost anything pad kaprao – stir-fried with basil. My favorite of all the versions is when it is made with ground pork, holy basil (kaprao) and lots of fiery hot Thai red chilies. It is best if the ground pork is not too lean.

(Click images to see larger version.)

In Thailand when you ask if someone has eaten, you literally ask them if they have eaten rice. This dish is a perfect illustration of a dish that tastes so much better when it is eaten with rice. It’s good with jasmine rice, and it’s also good with brown rice, GABA Rice, or a combination of both.

People often think of Thai cooking as being very labor intensive. This is one dish that, once you’ve made it a few times, can be put together very quickly.

Try cooking it yourself by adapting Kasma’s online recipe for Spicy Basil Chicken.

Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu Sauce and Thai Chillies (Moo Sahm Chan Pad Tao Hoo Yee)

Pork & Tofu
Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu

When I first met Kasma, I was fat phobic. I had bought into the Western medicine myth that saturated fat is bad for you. Ironically, I was the one who was eating “healthy” and Kasma was the one who had an “unhealthy” diet. I was eating low-fat, low salt and lots of tofu; Kasma had a relatively high-fat diet and ate many of the things that we are told we should not eat, such as pork belly. She was the one that was super-healthy and I was the one with all kinds of health issues. (I invite you to check out my blog on: A “Healthy” Diet .)

When I first met Kasma, I never would have eaten this dish. My loss.

I first had the dish at Ruen Mai restaurant in Krabi. For me, this dish is like a beautiful dance between the pork belly and the fermented tofu. It’s a very difficult dish to describe to someone who has never had fermented tofu, which can be an acquired taste. The first time I ate it, I had a hard with its unaccustomed smell and taste. Somewhere along the line, though, I came to love it. The combination of the pork belly, garlic, Thai chilies along with a bit of fish sauce, red brine from the fermented tofu and a bit of sugar to balance flavors produces a stunning dish: it has a very rich mouth feel from the fatty pork and the fermented tofu gives it a sourness along with something very nearly indescribable.

Pork & Tofu
Kasma’s Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu

This is one of my very favorite dishes of all time.

I’m showing two versions here: to the left above is the version from Ruen Mai restaurant in Krabi. The second version directly to the right (click to see a larger version) is from Kasma’s Advanced Set H cooking series. Both versions are good. Kasma’s is a bit moister and just a little bit different in flavor. I would eat either one in a heartbeat.

This dish, like the Spicy Basil Pork above, does need chillies in it. One of the wonders of Thai cuisine is the melding of the 4 or 5 different flavor groups (spicy/hot, sour, sweet, salty, bitter) into a harmonious whole. However, if you remove just one of the flavor types, the whole harmony falls apart: to enjoy Thai food you really must learn to enjoy a certain amount of heat, at least for many of the dishes.

If you try to make it yourself at home, make sure you get the red fermented tofu rather than the paler variety.

There is a growing body of evidence that most forms of soy are not very healthy for you. Unfermented soy contains phytates which prevent many of the minerals from being absorbed by your body. Soy also contains substances that depress your thyroid activity. (To name only two of the undesirable qualities.) It’s ok to eat fermented soy products (such as miso, naturally made soy sauce and fermented tofu) because the fermentation process alleviates nearly all of the ill effects. I invite you to go to visit Soy Alert (offsite, opens in new window) for a summary of many of the undesirable effects of soy and links to 70 different articles about its dangers. A good article to begin with is The Ploy Of Soy (offsite, opens in new window).

Stir-fried Bitter Melon with Egg (Mara Pad Kai)

Bitter Melon & Egg
Bitter Melon & Egg

Bitter melon is an ingredient that is foreign to many Westerners, although it is very widely used in both Asian and Indian cuisines. You may want to read Kasma’s article: Bitter Melon – Mara to learn more about this interesting and very healthy vegetable.

I liked bitter melon the first time I tasted it, when Kasma cooked this dish. It is, as you might suspect, a bit bitter in taste; the darker green the vegetable the more the bitter flavor.

This is a very simple dish: stir-fry the sliced bitter melon in a bit of fat (I prefer duck fat or lard) until it begins to turn a bit transparent; then add whisked eggs and cook until the egg is set and done; fish sauce is added, to taste, along the way. That’s pretty much it.

The result is a pleasantly bitter dish, with a little bit of salty fish sauce flavor combined with the egg. Served over rice, it’s a perfect one dish meal: you get your vegetable, your protein, your starch.


Kasma taught this dish in her Beginning/Intermediate Intensive and it is also available in Thailand. You can try this dish for yourself: Kasma’s recipe for Bitter Melon & Egg is available on our website. You may want to start out with a bitter melon that is slightly lighter in color and, therefore, less bitter.

Spicy Mesquite-Grilled Eggplant Salad with Roasted Peppers and Shrimp (Yum Makeua Yao)

For years one dish that never leaves this list is the Roasted Eggplant Salad. When I think of this salad I think of two versions, Kasma’s and the version from My Choice restaurant in Bangkok.

Spicy Eggplant Salad
Kasma’s Eggplant Salad
Eggplant Salad
Roasted Eggplant Salad

I’ve included pictures of both versions here. The leftmost picture is Kasma’s version from her Advanced Class, Set A. The picture to the right shows the dish as it was served at My Choice. I prefer Kasma’s version, which includes small dried shrimp and hard-boiled egg, which give the salad added texture and dimension.

There are several things that make this dish delicious. The first is the dressing, which is spicy/hot and sour, with a touch of sweet. The second is a combination of textures, from the soft roasted eggplant, the raw shallots, the shrimp, and, in Kasma’s version, dried shrimp and hard-boiled egg. The third factor comes from the grilled eggplants.

Green Eggplants
Green Eggplants in Thailand

Many years ago a student of Kasma’s signed up to bring this dish to a potluck. I immediately began salivating. When he brought the dish I was really disappointed because he had broiled the eggplant, not grilled them. The grilling adds an absolutely essential dimension to the dish. Without the grilling, it’s just another salad. It should be grilled with natural charcoal, such as mesquite, or flavoring chips (such as mesquite) should be added to the coals.

There is one way in which the My Choice version is superior: the eggplant itself. In Thailand there is a long green eggplant that lends itself perfectly to this dish. When grilled it is succulent and absolutely delicious. We’ve never been able to find a long eggplant in the United States that roasts up as well. Occasionally we will even come across a long green eggplant from an Asian vendor at the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market but the flavor is just not the same. We found that Filipino long eggplants do work fairly well.

Southern-Style Hot Sour Curry with Halibut/Prawns and Coconut Shoots or Green Papaya (Kaeng Lueang/Som Goong Kap Yawd Maprao/Malagaw)

The last (but not least) of my five favorites is Kaeng Som (literally “Sour Curry”). Most people are familiar with the northern version of the dish: a tangy curry that gets its sourness from sour tamarind (makahm).

Sour Curry
Sour Curry, Southern Style

I prefer the southern version – usually called Kaeng Lueang, or “Yellow Curry” to distinguish it from the better known northern version. The yellow color comes from turmeric, a common ingredient in southern dishes. There’s a good article in the Bangkok Post by Suthon Sukphisit on this curry that explains how the southern version is different: ‘Kaeng Som’ A thai culinary classic (offsite, opens in new window).

Here’s how Suthon Sukphisit describes the southern version:

“The taste of southern kaeng som combines sourness, saltiness and spiciness, with no sweetness, and the chilli heat strongly dominant. Because of its heat it is eaten together with dishes that counter the spiciness, like sweet-salty shrimp or pork, fish fried with turmeric, bai lieng fried with egg or the fern-like phak kuud fried with coconut cream.”

This picture shows the version from Kasma’s cooking class, Advanced Set G. It’s a fiery dish that includes 30 dried red chillies, 5 large dried red chillies and 10 fresh red Thai chillies. She makes it with basa steaks, a good meaty fish. She includes sliced coconut or bamboo shoots, either of which give it a distinctive taste.

It’s a dish that will have you reaching for a napkin (to wipe the sweat from your forehead) and for something to drink (to cool the heat in your mouth).

We also get a very, very good version of this dish at Ruen Mai Restauran in Krabi. Their version is probably hotter than Kasma’s. I can eat fairly hot after living with Kasma for over 2 decades, but a few bites of the Ruen Mai version (even with lots of rice) is enough for me.

Written by Michael Babcock, October 2012