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)
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)
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