Thursday, January 24, 2008

Snack time

Pat's Outdoor Teaching Kitchen

One thing that really stands out the most about Southern Thai food is that in every dish there is a play between contrasting tastes such as sweet and salty – like the sweet sticky rice stuffed with ground, dried shrimps, black pepper and rolled in sugar and salt that we had for breakfast - or spicy and sour – like Tom Yum Soup, or a combination of all four tastes. To me, Meung Kum, my new favorite snack, best exemplifies this balance.

The components of Meung Kum: slivered garlic, diced (Not minced. Very important!) shallot, diced ginger, dried shrimps, roasted peanuts, roasted, shaved coconut, slices of a tart little green fruit called “Ta Ling Ping” (but lime can be used instead – and it is equally as delicious), sliced Thai Bird chili peppers and a sweet salty sauce of shrimp paste, fish sauce, palm sugar and finely ground and roasted coconut.

Pat shows me how to form a cup in my hand made of a cha ploo leaf (also known as a ‘pepper leaf’) – a leaf looking similar to spinach but having an herbaceous, savory flavor. She drops a piece of each aromatic into my Cha Ploo cup and tops it with the sweet shrimp sauce and rolls it closed. “This dish is about chewing”, she says and tells me to put the whole parcel in my mouth and chew, and chew and chew. I do so, and with each bite my taste buds sing. With the first chew, I taste sweet from ginger and palm sugar, then salty from dried shrimp, then spicy from the chili and sour form the Ta Ling Ping (don’t you just love that name?!) – it’s amazingly fresh and juicy tasting and much more balanced then I had expected. For westerners, often the sauce is left out because people find the taste to be too strong, or a syrup of just palm sugar is used without the shrimp or fish sauce. I try the Meung Kum prepared in all three ways but without the shrimp sauce the Meung Kum tastes like an unfinished dish, lackluster and uninteresting. The sauce really makes all the flavors come together.

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