Spicy Foods of Southern Thailand

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James Oseland is the editor of Saveur magazine – he recently visited the deep south of Thailand and wrote an article about their cuisine.  The foods of Southern Thailand are a heady mix of spicy heat and multicultural influence from neighboring countries, which separates them from the cooking traditions of the north.  He explains how their culinary style developed and shares a few recipes.

Tom Yum Goong (Sweet and Sour Prawn Soup)
Serves 4

Pornpitlum Pattcha's version of this dish was made with large saltwater prawns known in Thai as goong yai. Check your local Asian market for hard-to-find ingredients. Bring 1 quart water to a boil in a large pot. Add 8 whole fresh or frozen kaffir lime leaves, 2 crushed cloves garlic, 1 trimmed stalk lemongrass halved lengthwise, and one 3" piece peeled fresh or frozen galangal cut crosswise into 1/4"-thick coins. Reduce heat to medium and cook until fragrant, 3–4 minutes. Add 5 head-on, shell-on jumbo prawns, halved lengthwise, and boil gently until just cooked through, about 30 seconds. Add 3/4 cup fresh lime juice, 1/4 cup fish sauce, 3–4 tbsp. semimoist thai palm sugar, 5 red or green thai chiles, stemmed and halved lengthwise, 2 cored and quartered plum tomatoes, and salt to taste. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until tomatoes are softened, 4–5 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro. Serve immediately with steamed jasmine rice.

Mee Teow (Stir-Fried Rice Vermicelli with Black Pepper and Chinese Chives)
Serves 4

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add 5 oz. rice vermicelli noodles; press down to submerge noodles. Immediately cover pot and turn off heat; let rest for 3 minutes. Drain noodles, rinse well in cold water, and drain again. Cut noodles in half and spread them out on a paper towel–lined sheet tray and set aside to let dry slightly, 2–3 minutes. Meanwhile, heat 4 tsp. peanut oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 roughly chopped cloves garlic and cook until golden, about 30 seconds. Add 30 trimmed chinese chives cut into 2 1/2" pieces (about 2 cups) and cook until just softened, about 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium-low, add 2 cups mung bean sprouts, 1 tbsp. soy sauce, 2 tsp. shaoxing jiu (Chinese rice wine), 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, salt to taste, and reserved noodles, and toss together. Cook until chives are wilted, about 1 minute more. Serve at once.

First published in Saveur, June 2007