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Current Top Ten Thai Dishes

Michael Babcock, Friday, November 15th, 2013

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 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.

Kasma teaches alll 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, something that you could simply not eat if you weren’t too hungry or if you were counting carbohydrates. Many (probably most) dishes in Thai cuisine (not noodle dishes) are meant to be eaten with rice and, really, they do not taste as good without it. 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, is 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: without the rice, they would not be on the list.


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. Must be eaten with rice.

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 left here shows Kasma’s version, cooked during one of her Advanced classes (Set H). 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 is 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 classes, 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.

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.) 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).

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.

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 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. Another dish that must be eaten with rice.

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.

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 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 teaches 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 teaches 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 teaches 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.

Kasma teaches 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.

Tofu Dish
Pork & Tofu
Eggplant Salad
Eggplant Salad
Drunkard's Noodles
Stir-fried Black Eggs
Wilted Green Salad
Thai Salad
Goat Curry
Bitter Melon & Egg
Hunglay Curry
Hunglay Curry
Choo Chee Fish
Turmeric Sticky Rice

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

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

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

Roasted Eggplant Salad (Yam Makeua Yao) from My Choice restaurant

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

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

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

Wilted Greens Salad (Yam Dtam Leung) from Bai Fern restaurant

Thai Muslim Goat Curry (Gkaeng Ped Paeh)

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

Northern Hunglay Pork Curry (Gkaeng Hunglay)

Hunglay Curry (Kaeng Hunglay Moo) from Kaeng Ron Baan Suan Restaurant

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

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

Tofu Dish thumbnail
Pork & Tofu thumbnail
Eggplant Salad thumbnail
Eggplant Salad thumbnail
Drunkard's Noodles thumbnail
Stir-fried Black Eggs thumbnail
Wilted Green Salad thumbnail
Thai Salad thumbnail
Goat Curry thumbnail
Bitter Melon & Egg thumbnail
Hunglay Curry thumbnail
Hunglay Curry thumbnail
Choo Chee Fish thumbnail
Turmeric Sticky Rice thumbnail

Written by Michael Babcock, November 2013

Basil Pork – Moo Pad Kaprao

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Of all the versions of the Thai dish Pad Kaprao (something stir-fried with Basil), my favorite is Basil Pork – Moo Pad Kaprao. It’s one of the dishes I cook the most for myself (and Kasma) at home. People often think of Thai food as being a lot of work: well, this dish is relatively easy, especially considering how very delicious it is.

Basil Pork

Basil Pork

As mentioned in my blog on Basil Salmon, almost anything can be pad kaprao – stir-fried (pad) with holy basil (kaprao). You can make it with shrimp, chicken, fish, duck, squid – almost anything you can think of.

Ground pork seems to blend particularly well with the ingredients of the dish – the holy basil, fish sauce, garlic, black soy sauce and chillies. Often in Thailand you find this as a one-dish meal basil pork served with a Thai-style fried egg (fried in lots of oil until it’s crispy on the edges) served directly over rice.

Click on photos to see a larger image.

Basil Pork Ingredients

Ingredients for Basil Pork

I first took Kasma’s Beginning Thai Cooking Series in 1992. I had never cooked Thai food before or used a wok. One of the recipes in the second (of 4) classes in the series is Basil Chicken. When Kasma was cooking it and explaining what she was doing, it seemed so very easy. The first time I cooked it for myself at home, though, things sure happened fast! After I had cooked it a half-dozen times or so, it felt just as leisurely and easy a process as Kasma had made it look. (See my article on Learning to Cook Thai.)

The way I cook the dish is a variaton on Kasma’s Spicy Basil Chicken (Gai Pad Kaprao) recipe. Her recipe calls for three ingredients that I leave out: shallots, kaffir lime leaves (optional) and white pepper, though I’ll sometimes put in the pepper.

Stir-frying Garlic & Chillies

Stir-frying garlic & chillies

It’s really very simple to cook:

  1. Heat oil (I prefer lard) in a wok until it smokes.
  2. Add chopped garlic, stir for a few seconds, add in the Thai chillies (in thin rounds)
  3. After a short time, add in the ground pork
  4. When the pork has partially browned, season with black-soy sauce & fish sauce, to taste
  5. When the pork is nearly done, add in the holy basil and cook until wilted

You can check Kasma’s Basil Chicken recipe to get an idea of quantities.

Adding Pork

Then add pork

This is one dish that I like very, very hot. She calls for 12-20 Thai chillies (prik kee noo) in thin rounds for a pound of meat: I’ll add up to 25 so that the dish will sizzle in the mouth. I’ll also add more holy basil leaves – I don’t always measure, I usually add an entire bunch. It’s hard to imagine this dish with too much holy basil.

I suggest you give it a try. For me, it’s one of those dishes that I get to craving and just havo to make. Do serve over rice – they really compliment each other. And do make sure you use holy basil rather than Thai basil – it makes a big difference n this dish.

Holy Basil

Then add holy basil

Basil Pork in Wok

Holy basil is wilted


Check out Kasma’s Thai recipes for more delicious dishes.


Written by Michael Babcock, January 2012.

The Best Thai Food in America?

Michael Babcock, Saturday, October 15th, 2011

A Most Satisfying Meal!

To find the absolute best Thai meal in America I recommend the Advanced Thai cooking classes of Kasma Loha-unchit in Oakland, California. Here, you will find authentic flavors and tastes as well as Thai dishes that you’ll be unable to find elsewhere once you leave Thailand.

Note: This blog chronicles a day in a weeklong Advanced Thai cooking class that Kasma no longer offers.


Recently at one of her classes I had a meal that was very nearly a transcendental experience. Here is my blog on that meal.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Plate of Thai Food

A yummy Thai meal

Why is Thai food so popular? I’ve long thought (and read this echoed elsewhere) that Thai food is so good because it contains all of the four major flavor groupings, salty, sour, sweet and spicy hot, sometimes in one dish. (The bitter taste is also found but is less prevalent.) To eat a well-prepared Thai meal is to light up every taste bud on the tongue and palate. The food is also on the light (as opposed to heavy) side so you walk away from the table with a well-gruntled feeling.

We usually have at least one person taking every class because he or she traveled to Thailand, loved the food there and couldn’t find food to match it here in the States: they come to learn how to make those great flavors themselves. Many students tell us that after taking the classes they can no longer eat in Thai restaurants back home: they are disapponted by meals that emphasize the sweet and the rich, with not enough spicy-hot and or sour flavors.

Kasma's Cooking Class

Students preparing Thai food

Kasma’s food from the first Beginning class (and everyone starts with Beginning) is outstanding; the great food is why our Advanced classes are always waiting list only. It’s in the Advanced classes that you get to really explore the variety and depth of Thai food. It’s particularly in the Advanced classes that you get to experience many of the 95% of Thai dishes that Kasma estimates are never found on Stateside Thai restaurant menus. Kasma has 8 Advanced evening series and 4 weeklong Advanced classes. Once you’ve taken all of the classes Kasma offers, you’ll have well over 200 Thai dishes, many seldom found outside of Thailand.

What is my criteria for a great Thai meal? It’s understood that every taste bud will be lit up and dancing. There has to be a variety of dishes: some spicy, some not, different dishes accenting a different flavor or different type of food. Most of all, that I look for is a quality of amazement and regret: amazement comes from taking that first taste of a dish and being delighted at all of the flavors; and regret from the fact that everything is so good, there’s no way to eat as much of it as you’d like.

I’ve had great meals in many resaturants in Thailand, such as Ruen Mai in Krabi or My Choice in Bangkok. The only place I’ve had a great Thai meal in the U.S. has been at home, often at the end of an Advanced cooking class.

The Meal, Weeklong Advanced Set D, Day 2

I could have gladly made a meal of any single dish in the meal. (In the evening classes there are only 4 or 5 dishes.)


Stir-fried Cha-om

Stir-Fried Cha-om with Bean Thread and Eggs  (Cha-om Pad Woon Sen Kai):  This dish was actually served as an appetizer; it can also easily by served as a one-dish meal. This summer Kasma and I have eaten this dish for lunch once or twice a week. Cha-om is part of the acacia family; in this dish the tender leaves are stripped from the stem and then stir-fried with garlic, bean thread noodles and egg and seasoned with fish sauce and white pepper. It has a unique and alluring flavor and with the noodles and egg is a satisfying treat.

This dish is taught in Kasma’s advanced class G-3.

To find out more about cha-om, see Kasma’s blog Cha-om – A Delicious and Nutritious Tropical Acacia. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can often find it, especially during the summer months, at Sontepheap Market on International Boulevard in Oakland.


Wilted Green Salad

Wilted Greens Salad with Coconut-Lime Chilli Sauce, Fried Chinese Sausage, Crisped Garlic and Crisped Shallots (Yam Dtam Leung): Kasma first tasted this salad at the restaurant Bai Fern in Mae Hong Son. As with many of her recipes, she came up with her own version when she returned home. This salad has to be eaten to be believed – there is so much going on in the dish. Although Kasma has tried making it with spinach leaves, to experience it at its best you must have dtam leung greens. In the notes to her recipe for the class, Kasma says: “Dtam leung is a vine that grows readily during the rainy season throughout tropical Southeast Asia. Since its leaves look like ivy and the mature vines bear small gourd-like fruits, its common English name is ‘ivy gourd.'” In this salad, the tender leaves are blanched. We are fortunate to be able to get this vegetable on occasion at Sontepheap Market on International Boulevard in Oakland.

The dish is completed with small pieces of Chinese sausage, which adds a meaty, sweetness to the dish, a small amount of carrots for texture, thin rounds of green onions, shallots and a few peanuts. The sauce, made from fish sauce, lime juice, coconut cream, sugar and chillies, is equally salty and sour with a little background sweetness. It is topped with crisp-fried garlic and crisp-fried shallots.

The dish is a wonder of tastes – at one time you’ll get the sweetness from the sausage, then the sourness takes over with a bit of chilli heat. Different flavors come up: now coconut, now sausage, now the green, now everything’s blended together. It’s a wonder of textures – from the blanched vegetable, to the occasional carrot to the crispy shallots and chillies. I swear, I could have eaten the whole plate by myself! Except, that would have left no room for other equally delicious dishes.

This dish is taught in Kasma’s advanced class H-4.


Thai Muslim Goat Curry

Thai Muslim Goat Curry (Gkaeng Ped Pae): Goat curry is not your usual Thai dish. Goat, in Thailand, is eaten mainly by the Muslim population to the south. The first time I had goat curry was when we were snorkeling in Krabi province on a long-tail boat. The boat driver’s wife always provided lunch and one year Kasma asked if she could get goat. As it turned out, we had to buy the whole goat but it provided three meals worth of delicious food, including a goat curry.

This recipe makes the curry paste from scratch, pounded in a mortar and pestle, with the many of the usual ingredients: dried red chillies, salt, lemon grass, galanga, krachai (or gkrachai), turmeric, garlic, shallots and kapi (shrimp paste). It uses coconut milk (not all Thai curries do, see Kasma’s blog on Thai Curries – Gkaeng (or Gaeng).) It’s further seasoned with toasted coriander and cumin seeds and in addition to the goat meat includes pea eggplants, providing a bit of the bitter taste.

Kasma uses the goat as they do in Thailand, meat cut with the bone. It makes for a tastier, thicker and healthier curry.

People sometimes complain that goat has a strong taste: in this dish, it is not overpowering and blends in seamlessly with the somewhat spicy curry paste. A delicious dish.

This dish is taught in Kasma’s advanced class H-1.


Crispy Fried Catfish

Crispy Fried Catfish Coated with Red Curry Sauce (Pad Ped Bplah Doog Tawd Gkrawp):
This dish actually was in one of the very first advanced classes I took from Kasma back in the early 90’s. Because the evening classes are somewhat different than the weeklong classes, it just worked out that this dish ended up in her 4th advanced weeklong class.

In this dish, the catfish is fried in chunks until it is nice and crispy. Then the curry paste (which has 17 ingredients in it) is fried in a bit of coconut cream (1/2 to 1 cup of cream only for 2 pounds of fish), then thickened, used to just coat the fried catfish pieces and tossed with kaffir lime slivers, some krachai (or gkrachai) and young green peppercorns. There’s really no sauce to speak of – just the coated fish with all of the intense flavors from the curry paste and herbs.

Do click on the picture above to see a larger version.

This dish is taught in Kasma’s advanced class B-3.


Stir-Fried Prawns

Stir-Fried Prawns with Hot Garlic-Pepper Sauce (Gkoong Pad Gkratiem Prikthai): A deceptively simple group of ingredients, succulent prawns are mostly cooked, and then finished off in a sauce made from a paste made from garlic and fresh ground white peppercorns, Sriacha chilli sauce, fish sauce, thin soy sauce, vinegar and salt. This dish is made by the combination of flavors, the pungent pepper, the bright garlic and the salty-sour-just-a-bit-sweet sauce. Made right, the combination lights up your entire palate.

This dish is taught in Kasma’s advanced class G-4.


Stir-Fried Pork Belly

Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu Sauce and Thai Chillies (Moo Sahm Chan Pad Dtow Hoo Yee): I have saved the best for last. Although we often joke than my list of top 5 Thai dishes has about 20 dishes on it, this is currently at the top of the list.

Probably more of a Chinese dish than Thai, it’s another hard dish to describe unless you’ve tried fermented tofu; in addition, this uses red fermented tofu rather than the more usual plain kind; the red color comes from wine. Fermented tofu is said to be an acquired taste: this was true for me: the first time I was offered fermented tofu I couldn’t eat it. Now, it’s one of my favorite things: it’s great in congee (jook). In this dish it is combined with another of my favorite foods: skin-on pork belly. Pork belly is the part of the pig used to make bacon; Asians often leave the skin on, providing another chewy texture to contrast with the layers of meat and fat.

The dish also contains chopped garlic, garlic cloves in large pieces, Thai chillies and some of the brine from red fermented tofu. The result is delicious, chewy, slightly sour chunks of multi-textured pork belly with the occasional chunk of garlic and Thai chilli as accents. Heavenly.

I first had this dish at our favorite Krabi restaurant, Ruen Mai. They make it slightly different: they deep fry the pork belly first to give it a bit of a crust. I prefer Kasma’s version.

This dish is taught in Kasma’s advanced class H-2.


 

Cassava Custard

Cassava Custard Topped with Coconut Cream (Dtakoh Man Sambpalang): This is more of a snack than what most people would consider a dessert. It’s an eggless cassava custard with a coconut cream topping. All that’s needed after such a delicious and complete meal is just a square to provide a bit of sweetness along with a bit of coconut to smooth away any residual heat.

This dish is taught in Kasma’s advanced class G-1.

You might enjoy my blog on
Thai Sweet Tracks – Kanom Wahn.

The Meal Summed Up

This meal is much more than the sum of it’s parts. I can single out one dish or another but the result was a meal that memory is a movement from one delicious taste, one delicious dish, to another. It’s one of those meals you wish would not end.

If there’s another place in America to get a meal like this, I have not come across it!

We recently blogged on our Weeklong Thai Cooking Classes.


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You can, of course, argue that I’m biased; after all, I’m married to Kasma. On the other hand, this makes me very well qualified on the subject as well, at least for a fahrang (the Thai word for a Caucasian). I’ve traveled to Thailand every year since I got together with Kasma in 1992. I’ve been all over the Kingdom and eaten in great Thai restaurants all over Thailand. I’ve gotten to listen to Kasma talk about her passion, Thai Food, at home, in restaurants in Thailand and sitting on the living room couch.

Menu for Weeklong Advanced D – Day 2

  • Stir-Fried Cha-om with Bean Thread and Eggs  (Cha-om Pad Woon Sen Kai) 
  • Wilted Greens Salad with Coconut-Lime Chilli Sauce, Fried Chinese Sausage, Crisped Garlic and Crisped Shallots (Yam Dtam Leung)
  • Sour Chopped Pork Salad with Slivered Ginger, Pork Skin and Fried Peanuts (Naem Sod)
  • Thai Muslim Goat Curry (Gkaeng Ped Pae)
  • Crispy Fried Catfish Coated with Red Curry Sauce (Pad Ped Bplah Doog Tawd Gkrawp)
  • Stir-Fried Prawns with Hot Garlic-Pepper Sauce (Gkoong Pad Gkratiem Prikthai)
  • Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu Sauce and Thai Chillies (Moo Sahm Chan Pad Dtow Hoo Yee)
  • Cassava Custard Topped with Coconut Cream (Dtakoh Man Sambpalang) 

Written by Michael Babcock October, 2011

Pork Leg Rice in Hua Hin

Michael Babcock, Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Readers of this blog know of our love of markets and street food. Certain foods are more widely available on the street and one of the dishes that I especially love is Stewed Pork Leg Rice – Kao Ka Moo,. A recent Thai cook book categorized this as a Chinatown food – interestingly, I’ve seen it on streets all over Bangkok and Thailand but never come across it in Chinatown.

Pork Leg

How could we pass this by?

Although we sometimes make this at home, to do it right you need a pork leg with skin on, and a single recipe makes quite a large quantity. The skin is what really makes this dish so delicious: with the skin on, the dish contains lean meat from the leg muscle combined with the rich, fatty, gelatinous skin and fat.

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Hua Hin Food Vendor

Pork leg rice vendor in Hua Hin

It’s not hard to make: you essentially stew the pork leg with spices until it’s nearly falling off the bone with tenderness. Add some pickled mustard greens, hard-boiled duck eggs and then serve over rice with a hot and sour sauce and blanched Asian broccoli on the side. Usual cost is about 30 to 40 baht for a fairly substantial plate of succulent, delicious food.

There used to be a pork leg rice vendor right outside our hotel an Sukhumvit Soi 55, where I could easily satisfy my craving. Unfortunately, she now makes blended drinks and I’ve not found another nearby pork leg rice vendor, yet.

Chopping Pork Leg

Vendor chopping pork leg

This past January we were headed down south to do some snorkeling and decided to stay overnight in Hua Hin, a sea coast town on the east coast (Gulf of Thailand) about 200 kilometers from Bangkok. It’s one of the closest resort towns to Bangkok. About 25 kilometers north is Cha Am. Cha Am has always been more of a resort for Thais and Hua Hin is more popular with fahrangs (Thai word for Caucasians). Years ago we had really enjoyed the night market at Hua Hin and, since we didn’t want to miss the morning market (Chat Chai Market) either, we decided to stay overnight.

We found a hotel about two blocks from the morning market on Thanon Sasong (Sasong Road). The next morning as we walked to the market, about a half a block from the hotel we spied a street vendor selling pork leg rice from a cart and, both having an immediate Pavlovian response, walked over in wordless agreement. We both love pork leg rice; we love the richness of the dish, the lovely feel of varying textures in the mouth (from the lean meat, the fat and the skin).

Pork Leg Rice Set-up

All the ingredients

Chopping Pork Leg

Chopping the pork

This is a fairly typical street set-up that you see all over Thailand. He has a cart on wheels so he can move it on and off the streets along with a couple of (flimsy, metal) tables to hold everything else he needs. Heat is provided by a canister of gas. Seating is provided for customers by incredibly flimsy plastic stools and metal tables. Everything can be packed up and carted away in short order.

The dish was every bit as delicious as we expected. The pork was rich and tender while the pickled mustard green added a slightly sour counterpart. It was also served with a light broth with melon in it – good for clearing the taste buds after the rich pork.

Pork Leg Rice

Pork Leg Rice

Pork Leg Rice

Pork Leg Rice with duck egg

If you are in Hua Hin and want to try to find this vendor, here’s how to do it. As you are heading South on Highway 4 (Thanon Phetkasem), you’ll drive past Chat Chai Market (the morning market) on your right. The southernmost boundary of the market is Thanon Dechanuchit (Dechanuchit Street) – turn right there. Go down one block to Thanon Sasong (Sasong Road) – turn left there. Almost immediately on your left is a 7-11 store: the food stand was directly next to the 7-11 store. Be warned, though, street food vendors do come and go.

For information on Hua Hin, check out Thailand Hua Hin dot com. It comes complete with maps and photos of many attractions.

Vendor and Customer

Getting Pork Leg Rice to go

This vendor does a pretty good business of selling the item to go, as well. Here we see a Thai schoolgirl picking up her lunch in a convenient plastic bag. (See our post on Thai Food To Go.)

There are restaurants that serve pork leg as one of their dishes. It’s usually served as one of many dishes, without the pickled mustard. Here’s a picture of Stewed Pork Leg served in a restaurant in Northern Thailand. We’ve also come across deep-fried pork leg, a particularly tasty treat.


Written by Michael Babcock, March 2011

Thong Lo Grilled Pork

Michael Babcock, Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Thong Lo View

View of Thong Lo from Sukhumvit road

We love the street food in Thailand and Thong Lo has its share of delicious things to eat, including grilled pork. Since Kasma has her small-group tours stay in the Thong Lo area, i’ve spent a fair amount of time there over the years. Thong Lo (pronounced closer to “Tawng Law”) is the name for Sukhumvit Soi 55. Thong Lo is generally considered an upscale neighborhood; nonetheless, as nearly everywhere else in Thailand, there is ready availability of all kinds of delicious street food. In addition, there are numerous store-front restaurants that are well worth a taste!

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Street Vendor

Getting closer to grilled pork

I like to graze along the street. Some of my favorites are the grilled bananas, the sticky rice with mangos, pork leg rice and Northeastern-style charcoal-grilled sticky rice (Kao Jee).

There’s one vendor who I have extreme difficulty just walking by, without stopping to make a purchase. It’s found on Thong Lo just a little ways in from Sukhumvit Road on the lower-numbered soi side, just a little bit further in than the shop with Mangos (and Sticky Rice); a bit further down is my favorite place for Duck Noodles.

I think most Westerners thinking of grilled meat on sticks in Thailand would immediately think of satay. This vendor sells another kind of grilled pork called (Moo Bping), translated by Kasma as Grilled Marinated Pork on Skewers.

Grilled Pork Vendor

Grilled pork vendor


Grilled Pork

Delicious grilled pork

Moo Bping has wider slices of pork than satay and a different marinade. A good moo bping includes a small slice of pork fat, grilled in with the other slices of meat. Rather than being served with a peanut sauce (as with satay), it comes with a hot and sour dipping sauce. Actually, I don’t mind eating it without the sauce: at least at this street stall, the meat is quite succulent and already well-flavored from the marinade.

Unless memory fails, it is 10 baht for a fairly substantial stick. Try a couple!


Update: As of February 2018 this vendor was still to be found in somewhat the same location, though not every day.


The following articles are also about Thong Lo street food.


Written by Michael Babcock, February 2011

Stewed Pork Leg (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Stewed Pork Leg Served over Rice

Pork Leg

Stewed pork leg

Kasma is currently in Thailand and I’m at home in the U.S. When she recently sent me this picture I got so hungry for pork leg that I had to cook it for myself.

This picture was taken on a recent tour to Thailand in the village of Bahn Rak Thai in Mae Hong Son province. The village was settled by Chinese expatriates who now grow tea. Kasma takes two of her trips up this village for a wonderful Chinese-style feast. This delicious, skin-on stewed pork leg is just one of the delicious dishes served.

Kasma teaches this recipe in her Advanced class E-2.


The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.