With respect to this new opportunity I want to write about a meal that still stands out in my mind as one of the best I've ever had in Thailand. It was near the end of my journey through this wonderful country and my first venture up north to the second largest city in Thailand, Chiang Mai. It's a cultural city with so much of its charm still in tact. So many larger cities lose some essence but Chiang Mai has lost very little.Yes it's modernised a little and there are influences from the west like pool bars, burger joints and even plush hotels but inside the old city it's raw and almost untouched. The people are genuine, the guest houses are quaint and markets are huge, with everything from textiles to, my favourite, food. The food took my breath away and inspired me greatly. It also made me extremely hungry. The only problem was what to choose... Since this would be my first meal in Chiang Mai I decided to dive straight in to the one you don't find anywhere else, Kaeng Hangleh Moo (Chiang Mai Curry with Pork).
It's a unique curry that you're unlikely to find outside of north Thailand. Taking a lot of influence from neighbouring Myanmar, which in itself has Indian and Bangladeshi roots, it's without the expected coconut cream and fresh chilies. The use of the three Cs, coriander, cumin and cinnamon gives an aromatic element to the curry that stands out in both taste and smell. It's also sweeter than other curries with equal amounts of fish sauce and palm sugar. Served almost dry it was a clear winner to start my time in Chiang Mai.
Here's my recipe for Chiang Mai curry:
For the curry paste:
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 stalks lemongrass
- 10 dried red chilies, deseeded and soaked for 10 minutes
- Thumb size piece of galngal (Chinese ginger)
- 3 cloves garlic
- Thai shallots or pickling onions
- Thumb size piece of turmeric root, peeled and grated
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp shrimp paste
- 2 - 3 cups water
- 750g Pork or Chicken fillets
- 3 tbsp oil (for frying)
- 2 cloves garlic, made into a paste
- 1/2 thumb size piece of ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 tbsp Chiang Mai curry paste
- 1/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
- Thumb size piece of ginger, sliced into fine matchsticks
- 4 Thai shallots or pickling onions, halved
- 2 tbsp tamarind paste
- 1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 1/2 tbsp palm sugar
- 1 tsp dark soy sauce
- In a pan dry roast the coriander and cumin seeds for until fragrant (be careful not to burn them).
- Transfer to a pestle and mortar to grind into a powder. Remove to a separate dish.
- In the same mortar bash together the lemongrass, rehydrated chilies, galangal, garlic and shallots / onions one at a time until well combined.
- Add grated turmeric and salt. Keep grinding and bashing to incorporate.
- Add the roasted spice powder and combine well.
- Lastly add the shrimp paste and mix well to form a thick paste. Ensure there are no large pieces of lemongrass, chili or onion in the paste. It should be even in texture.
- Boil the water in a kettle.
- Meanwhile, chop the pork or chicken into bite size chunks.
- Blanch the pork or chicken in boiling water for a couple of minutes and strain for use later.
- In a wok or large pot heat the oil.
- When hot fry the garlic and ginger until fragrant and add the curry paste.
- Fry the curry paste for about 2 minutes, stirring to prevent it from sticking.
- When the oil separates from the paste add the pork / chicken, peanuts, ginger and shallots / onions.
- Stir fry and coat with the cooked paste for a minute before adding about 2 cups of water.
- Add the tamarind paste and bring the curry to the boil.
- Cook the curry for about 1 hour until the meat is tender.
- Add the fish sauce and palm sugar and cook for another 10 minutes.
- Stir occasionally but not vigorously to break the meat apart.
- Just before serving season with the soy sauce and taste to adjust the flavour.