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Pork For Sale (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Entrance to Pork Butcher

Krabi Market Pork for Sale

Entrance to pork butchers

Pork Butcher Entrance Door

Pork butcher entrance door

One constant among Asians seems to be an inordinate fondness for pork. At the
Maharaj Morning Market in Krabi both pork and beef are sold in a separate building (from the produce, seafood and prepared foods) with these signs to make sure you know which area you are walking into.

Previous Wednesday photos with pork include:

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

Thai Curries — Kaeng (or Gkaeng or Gaeng)

Kasma Loha-unchit, Sunday, March 7th, 2010

To most Americans across the country, the word “curry” brings to mind the golden yellow spice mixture found in small jars or tins on supermarket shelves. But for those with more sophisticated palates in world cuisines, the word conjures up an array of images of rich saucy dishes, making their mouth salivate with the memory of such invigorating tastes and tingling scents ranging from the Indian vindaloo to Thai red and green curries.

Curry vendor in Krabi

Curry vendor in Krabi

Although the origin of the word could be traced back a few thousand years to a particular spiced food in India, curry has since come to be associated with any kind of dish in which meats, fish or vegetables are stewed in a spicy sauce made with a mixture of dry spices or fresh herbs. Most of them are rich foods, having cream, yoghurt or coconut milk as a base, but there are also very light, though searingly spicy, broth-based curries, especially in the heartland of Southeast Asia. Because of the tremendous varieties of curries that exist today throughout world, I prefer to define curry broadly as a way of cooking rather than any spice mixture or group of finished dishes.

Goat Curry in Kasma's Class

Goat Curry in Kasma's Class

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

Curry-making, as a way of cooking, was introduced into Southeast Asia by Indian immigrants over the past two to three thousand years, through trade, wars and the spread of religion. While dry aromatic spices from seeds, dried roots and bark figure prominently in Indian curries, they are used sparingly in many Southeast Asian curries. Instead, fresh herbs and roots, stems and leaves, bulbs and vegetables, as well as fish products, constitute the essential ingredients, making Thai, Laotian and Cambodian curries refreshingly herbal, robustly pungent, lusciously tangy and distinctively Southeast Asian.

In Thai cuisine alone, there are dozens of different kinds when the several distinct regions of the country with their diverse mix of ethnic peoples are taken into consideration. Each is a unique combination of herbs, spices and preparation techniques that enhance the tastes and textures of particular foods. Some curry pastes are fairly simple while most are complex symphonies of tantalizing flavors. Most have at their core lemon grass, galanga, kaffir lime peel, garlic, shallots and fermented shrimp paste. To them are added innumerable other herbs, roots, seeds and spices in varying proportions to create almost endless combinations. Often the specific herbs that go into certain curries reflect nature’s diversity and the earth’s bounty.

Preparing fresh ingredients

Preparing fresh ingredients

The two most common curries are red curry (gkaeng ped) and green curry (gkaeng kiow wahn)), and because of their fresh herbal flavors, they go quite well with seafood. Red curry paste is used not only in making the saucy curry known in many American Thai restaurants, but also in dried wok-tossed curries called pad ped (literally “spicy stir-fry”) and steamed or grilled custardlike curries called haw moek. Both are very popular in Thailand and exceptional ways to cook seafood. While haw moek is exquisitely rich with coconut cream and eggs, pad ped is light and intensely spicy – the seafood or meats tossed in a hot wok with a little oil, the curry paste, a profusion of fresh aromatics and little or no coconut cream.

Pounding green curry paste

Pounding green curry paste

Red curry paste is red from red chillies, usually in dried form or a mixture of fresh and dried, giving the curries made with it a fiery red color. Green curry, on the other hand, has a greenish tint from the fresh green chillies and leaves it contains. Green curry paste is a relatively simple paste, made mainly of fresh herbs, whereas red curry paste comes in a number of permutations ranging from simple to complex.

Pre-packaged green and red curry pastes come in tin cans, plastic pouches, plastic containers and glass jars in a number of different sizes and brands with varying qualities. I find them to be fresher-tasting and to have a greater depth of flavor than pastes that come in tin cans, mainly because the process of canning destroys some of the more subtle flavors. I often bring private curry paste brands home from my trips to Thailand; when those run out, my preferred brand that is readily available in the U.S. is Mae Ploy with a good saltiness and nice hot bite. Mae Ploy curries are readily available in Southeast Asian markets. Gourmet grocery stores that carry a wide selection of international foods may sell small jars of specially bottled and labeled pastes suited to milder western palates.

Red curry frying in coconut milk

Red curry frying in coconut milk

Curry pastes keep indefinitely in the refrigerator; but once opened, they gradually lose freshness of flavor. Keep the containers well-sealed and always use a clean spoon to dish out the amount you need.

However, none of the pre-packaged pastes compare with the fresh flavors of home-made curry pastes. Some of these made-from-scratch pastes are fairly easy to make and produce wonderfully delicious curries. Curry pastes can be made a day or two ahead of time, allowing the flavors to mingle, marry and peak, and although they keep for weeks in the refrigerator (the salt, chillies and garlic preserve them naturally), use them fairly soon before the flavors dissipate, losing the advantage of freshness that makes them superior to store-bought pastes.

Jungle curry

Jungle Curry

Most Thai curries are made with coconut milk, but there are a number of very spicy, souplike dishes without coconut milk which we also call curries. Among them are jungle curry (gkaeng bpah) and sour curry (gkaeng som). Although brothy like soup, they are served more like curries – spooned over and eaten together with plain rice.

Crushing the fibers of herbs releases the full range of essential oils they contain and give chilli sauces and curry pastes a greater breadth and depth of flavor than just chopping them in a food processor can achieve. This is especially critical when working with fibrous aromatics and roots, such as lemon grass, galanga and kaffir lime peel; they appear dry when chopped, but reduce to moist paste when pounded. Also, when these herbs are pounded together, their flavors meld into one, yielding an immensely aromatic paste in which the parts are inseparable from the whole. (See Kasma’s article on Making a Curry Paste from Scratch.)

Haw Moek Curry

Haw Moek Curry at Or Tor Kaor Market

For accomplishing the task of crushing herbs, a mortar and pestle set is essential. In Thailand, there are several different kinds suited for particular purposes. For making curry pastes, a heavy stone mortar and pestle, carved out of granite, is the most efficient – able to reduce fibrous herbs and hard seeds down in no time. The pestle and the inside surface of the mortar are polished smooth and are not rough, coarse or porous like the kind used in Mexican cooking. Very dense and heavy, they do not chip and last for years even when subjected to vigorous pounding daily.

Look for this dark-grey stone mortar and pestle set in a Thai or Southeast Asian market. It is available in small, medium and large sizes and ranges from about sixteen to twenty-five dollars. Buy the largest size since you can use it for big as well as small jobs. It also enables you to pound more vigorously without worrying about bits and pieces of herbs spilling all over your work area.

(See Kasma’s Blog entry: The Mortar and Pestle.)

Here are four curry recipes, one “from scratch” and three using pre-made pastes:

Note: Because Thailand uses a different script than English, there are various ways of transliterating Thai words into English. The official transliteration for แกง (usually translated as “curry”) is kaeng. However, the initial consonant (ก) is a letter that is pronounced mid-way between a “g” and a “k”. So Kasma transliterates the word as gkaeng. (See A Note on Thai Pronunciation and Spelling.

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, March 2010.

Krabi Morning Market – Maharaj Market

Michael Babcock, Saturday, February 27th, 2010

The morning market in Krabi – Maharaj Morning Market – is lively and bustling. It seems that every town and village in Thailand has at least a couple local markets: there will be at least one morning market and another separate market with different vendors in the evening. Wherever we travel in Thailand we visit as many markets as possible. The Krabi morning market is definitely on our “must visit” list.

Krabi Market, Outside

Outside of Krabi Market

It must be ten years or more that the morning market in Krabi moved to a new location. Before it was a completely outdoor market; when it moved to its new location, it acquired raised stalls under a large pavilion-type roof. At first I was worried that it would not be as interesting. Thankfully, I worried for nothing.

This is an early morning market located on Thanon Si Sawat, in-between Thanon Maharat and Thanon Utarakit. I’d get there around 7:00 a.m. or so, because even by 8:00 a.m. or so, you may miss out on some of the best treats.

Coconut Custard (Sangkaya)

Coconut custard (sangkaya)

Sticky Rice Snack

Sticky rice snack

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

This large covered market is spread out over two areas. As you approach the market by walking down from the main highway, starting on the stalls to the right you’ll find the prepared food. To the left, towards the street, is an area that mainly has Thai kanom or snacks: we nearly always start out by heading over to the Grilled Coconut-rice Hotcake(Kanom Krok) vendor to get a basket to eat with breakfast. There are numerous other delicious looking treats, from Coconut Custard (Sangkaya) to banana-wrapped sticky rice with various flavorings.

Fried Chicken Stand

Great Fried Chicken!

Although there’s a lot of good-looking dishes, from curries to kanom jeen, we nearly always get fried chicken from a vendor on the outermost aisle: it’s opposite the building that sells pork and beef. Often there’s a bit of a line and you may need to wait for more to be fried. It is worth the wait. I usually get a couple of thigh pieces and Kasma often opts for the wings: more delicious crunchy bits to enjoy.

After eating, we’ll browse the rest of the market, talking with vendors and taking pictures. As with most markets we visit, Kasma brings pictures of vendors from the previous visit so the vendors are often quite happy to have us take their photographs. At this market , a large number (probably the majority) of the vendors are Muslim women. And the vast majority of them return a smile with a smile.

Fish Vendor

Fish vendor

Fresh Fish

Fresh fish

Near the section with the sweets is an extensive section of (very) fresh seafood. It can be a bit slippery under foot from all the water. Browsing through this section I usually regret that we don’t have access to a kitchen so we can get one of the super-fresh looking fish to take home and fry up crispy with a chilli-tamarind sauce.

Towards the front of the market you can find all kinds of fruits. Over to the left-side building are mostly vegetables of all kinds. In the back of the market you’ll find staples such as fish-sauce, rice and coconut milk.

Two vegetable vendors

Two vegetable vendors

Vegetable vendor

Vegetable vendor

When I think of this market, what I most remember are the smiling vendors. The best reason for traveling to Thailand remains the Thai people; all of the beauty and color from the sights is just an added bonus.

More Market Blogs:

Written by Michael Babcock, February 2010

Longtail Boat (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Longtail Boat in Krabi

Longtail boat in Krabi

Longtail boat in Krabi

This photo illustrates how you get around on the ocean in Southern Thailand – on “longtail” boats. They are called “longtail” boats because of the long propeller shaft that extends out from the engine at the back of the boat. I like this picture because it’s a reminder that when you travel by longtail boat, you are most likely going to get wet; in this case, wading in the water to climb over the side into the boat. (Many boats do have ladders; many don’t.) If you travel much at all in the south of Thailand and head out to islands you’ll become very familiar with these boats and maybe even learn how to snorkel out of them.

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