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Grow Wild the Laver!

Michael Babcock, Sunday, April 15th, 2012

On our last trip to Thailand, while browsing through the street market in Bangkok’s Chinatown, I came across a package of seaweed and bought it because of the writing on the package. Translation is fraught with perils and there are even websites devoted to “Engrish” – translations that are often too literal and inadvertently just do not work when translated into English.

Chinatown Market

Package is to the left

I found this translation oddly poetic, almost Zen. At times it seems to be asking questions. I’m going to first give my poetic rendering of it and then below that, give the words exactly as they appeared on the package. I’ve taken poetic license by changing some of the punctuation and some of the capitalization of letters

(Click images to see larger version.)

Two words require explanation.

  • Laver, according to one dictionary, is “an edible seaweed with thin sheetlike fronds of a reddish-purple and green color that becomes black when dry. Laver typically grows on exposed shores, but in Japan it is cultivated in estuaries. • Porphyra umbilicaulis, division Rhodophyta.”
  • Kaifeng is “a city in eastern China, in Henan province, on the Yellow River; pop. 693,100. Established in the 4th century bc, it is one of the oldest cities in China.”

Grow Wild the Laver!

Grow wild the laver!
And choose the best laver
through done
with meticulous care
have no the sand.
Need not wash.

Can the oil or sauce namely eat?
If place in every kind
work well in the broth.

The taste is more
and the nourishment is
Welcome taste!

For the keeping taste,
avoid the inso
to project light upon,
the heat affect
by damp and cold.
And Kaifeng
is not edible

please seal.
place in the refrigertor.
The best.

The Text

The actual text, click to make larger

When I first looked up the two words I didn’t know (laver & Kaifeng), I found that both, coincidentally, had a Jewish connection. Kaifeng is associated with the Kaifeng Jews, a small Jewish community that existed in Kaifeng for at least thousand years and dates back to either the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) or even to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) or earlier. (See the Wikipedia article on Kaifeng Jews (offsite, opens in new window).) And laver has a second meaning: “a basin or similar container used for washing oneself. • (in biblical use) a large brass bowl for the ritual ablutions of Jewish priests.” I just find it an interesting coincidence.

Here is the actual text as it appears on the package:

Grow wild the laver, and choose the best laver through done with meticulous care but,have no the sand need not wash.Can the oil or sauce namely eat, if place in every kind of work well in the broth, its The taste is more beau tiful, and the nourishment is more abundant, welcome taste. For the keeping taste, please avoid the inso lation lation to project light upon or the heat affect by damp and cold,and Kaifeng is not edible.
Over, please seal completely or place in the refrigertor the best.

Package Front

Front of laver package

Package Back

Back of the laver package

Written by Michael Babcock, 2012

Green Mango

Kasma Loha-unchit, Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Green Mangoes Make Mouth-Watering Salads

Green mangoes are an ingredient most westerners are not familiar with. One day last summer, while on a shopping trip to Asian markets near my home, I walked past two Caucasian women scrutinizing with disbelief a box of green mangoes, sitting next to another displaying perfectly ripe ones. One remarked to the other, “Why in the world would anyone pay $2.99 a pound for these hard green mangoes?” These words stopped me dead on my tracks and I couldn’t help but intrude: “Oh, but you don’t understand. It is a very Southeast Asian thing!”

Two Green Mangos

Two green mangos

Young green mangoes start appearing in early spring at Southeast Asian markets and a small, unpredictable supply trickles in through mid-summer. Whenever I come across a fresh-looking batch, I can’t resist picking up a few of these precious gems to take home.

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

They remind me of childhood days during the early weeks of the mango season, when I eagerly checked under the trees in our backyard daily for freshly fallen ones that the wind, birds or squirrels might have knocked down. These excesses of nature, thinned from the trees to make room for the remaining to grow into fat, luscious fruits, are never allowed to go to waste. Sliced or shredded, they make mouth-watering snacks, relishes and dipping sauces for fish, tasty pickles and wonderful salads

Peeled green mango

Peeled green mango

The best for salads are found early in the season, before the golden ripe fruits hit the market in profusion. At that time, they are most likely to be truly young and immature, with seeds still soft and undeveloped. I pick the smallest, the firmest and the greenest – the peel revealing no hint of ripening red or yellow. Large ones, though green, are close to maturity and lose the delicious sourness that adds character to spicy salads, while those soft to the touch are ripening from too many days in shipment and storage, losing their desirable crisp texture.

A good and easy recipe follows. It is very hot and spicy, though if you do not wish to set your mouth on fire, simply cut down on the number of chillies, or do entirely without. If you are not able to find young green mangoes, this recipe work well also with tart green apples; or try any tart, crisp young fruits, such as peaches and nectarines. I usually add lime juice when substituting with fruits that are not very sour. Sometimes, this goes for some green mangoes, too, when they are lacking in sourness.

Shredding a Green Mango

Shredding a green mango

The recipe is basically an easy way to enjoy my green mangoes by dipping the peeled slices in a sugar, salt and fresh chilli mixture. I pound cut-up small Thai chillies in a mortar, then add sugar and enough salt to make the mixture almost as salty as it is sweet. When entertaining guests unfamiliar with mangoes except in their soft, ripened state, I toss the hot sugar-and-salt dip with the crisp mango slices and serve as a meal opener or ender. Tart apples and very firm nectarines are good this way, too.

With a bit more effort, my green mangoes are shredded and mixed with chillies, sliced shallot, ground dried shrimp, fish sauce, lime juice and a little palm sugar to make a delicious relish to serve with crispy fried fish – one very common and favorite restaurant dish in central and southern Thailand.

Thai rice dish with green mango

Thai rice dish with green mango

One of my cooking students once asked whether I had any idea what her new Southeast Asian neighbors did with the unripe, green plums they liked to pick from her tree. After trying the green mango salads in class, she understood and began to enjoy the fruits from her plum tree earlier in the season than she had in the many years she had lived on her land.

I formerly taught the following recipe in my weekend Series Set F (class 1) as “Sliced Crisp Green Mango with Chilli-Salt Dip.”

See our website for more in Thai recipes.
More Thai Ingredients.

This recipe is also available on our website – Sliced Tart Crisp Green Mango with Chillies and Salt (with additional notes and pointers).

Sliced Tart Crisp Green Mango with Chillies and Salt – (Mamuang Yam Prik Gkap Gkleua)


  • 2 cups small, thin bite-size slices of crisp green unripe mango
  • 4-6 Thai chillies, cut into thin rounds
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 2-3 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1/2 to 1 lime)

The amount of sugar and lime juice to use will depend on how green and sour the mango is. The quantities suggested above is for a firm, crisp green mango that has started to yellow just a little.

Simply toss all the ingredients together well and enjoy!

Serves 3 to 4 as a snack.

Green Mango Salad

Green Mango Salad

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, June 2010.

Krachai (or Gkrachai) (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Lesser Ginger or “Rhizome”

Lesser Ginger

Lesser Ginger – Krachai (or Gkrachai)

Lesser Ginger, sometimes labeled “Rhizome” and called krachai (or gkrachai), in Thai, is one of the lesser-known Thai ingredients and can be hard to find.

We’re very lucky in the San Francisco Bay Area, particularly in Oakland. We have fabulous Southeast Asian markets where we can get nearly any Thai ingredient we want. There are, however, a few that we simply can not obtain fresh.

We can this rhizome frozen (Kasma’s second preferred form) or in brine but not fresh. It’s an essential ingredient is many Thai salads and the occasional stir-fry (such as Sizzling Stir-fried Squid (Bplah Meuk Pad Chah)).

Contrast this with nearly any open-air Thai market, where you come across fabulously fresh krachai, such as the picture above, which was taken in the morning market in Sukhothai.

The other ingredient I regret the most is fresh green peppercorns: it’s not used in a lot of Thai dishes but makes such a difference in those dishes! (For instance, see Spicy Southern-Style Stir-Fried Shrimp with Sataw or Fava Beans (Gung Pad Sataw)).

Check out Kasma’s Lesser Ginger – (gkrachai).

Looking for a Thai market in the S.F. Bay Area? Check out our S.F. Bay Area Market Listing.

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


Kasma Loha-unchit, Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Peppercorns Spiced Up Asian Foods Before Chiles

Fresh green peppercorns

Fresh green peppercorns

Although we mostly associate chile peppers with Thai food, it was Peppercorns that provide heat for many centuries.

The fiery hot foods of India, western China and Southeast Asia had quite a different character prior to the sixteenth century. Those chile peppers, which today are so inseparable from many of Asia’s cuisines, did not actually arrive until the adventuring Portugese first sailed into the fabled ports of the Far East.

Before then, the main source of the spicy hot flavor came from peppercorns, the berries of a tropical vine indigenous to the region. Indeed, it was peppercorns that led to Columbus’s discovery of America and, along with it, the discovery of chiles, natives of the New World. Black pepper was highly prized in Europe in the Middle Ages and Columbus convinced the Spanish Court that he could find a shorter route to India so that the demands for the spice could be more quickly satisfied.

Greet peppercorns in brine

Green peppercorns in brine

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

Instead of India, his voyage west was intercepted by the unexpected land mass later named the American continent. Instead of black pepper, he found chiles (that’s why chiles became known as chile “peppers” and native peoples of the new land were called “Indians.”) He brought chile peppers back to Europe but they did not catch on like black pepper. Later, the Portugese followed after Columbus’s footsteps to America, found chiles to be very effective in preventing scurvy and carried them in their explorations around the world.

In Asia, we use pepper in all its stages of development. Sprigs of very aromatic, young green berries appear in stir-fried dishes, curries, soups and dipping sauces. As pepper berries mature, they change from light green to dark green and then begin to turn red. Picked before fully matured, the peppercorns are dried, the outer peel turning black and shriveled, and this is the form most popular in the west. Fully ripened red berries are allowed to ferment briefly in a warm place, then their peel is rubbed off, revealing irregularly white seeds.

White peppercorns

White peppercorns

Sometimes, white peppercorns are bleached with lime to make them very white, though this process often removes some of the flavor but yields a ground powder preferred by the French for white sauces. In China and many Southeast Asian cultures, unbleached white pepper is preferred and more prevalently used than black pepper, adding punch to all sorts of dishes, from soups and appetizers to meat and seafood dishes.

Pepper and garlic make great companions. In Southeast Asia, we frequently add cilantro root to make a wonderful trio of flavors. They are ground up or chopped and pounded together with a mortar and pestle to a paste, which is then seasoned with fish sauce or soy sauce and a pinch of sugar, rubbed on meats or seafoods and then grilled over hot charcoals, or stir-fried.

Explore further:

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, February 2010.