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calendar   Saturday - March 29, 2008

Thai Food Jones

Just a quick post. We got some take out Thai tonight from the fancy little place downtown here, and I’m a bit let down. It’s not that we didn’t know better, it’s that we’re spoiled. There are at least 6 top notch Thai places within an hour from where we live, several even garnering top Zagat ratings, but the local joint isn’t so good. But when you’re hungry, and you’ve got to have it now ... well, you know.

Masaman curry is my current favorite. While I cherish many of the other dishes, this one to me is just plain old comfort food. It’s a cross cultural delight; Masaman means Musselman, which is an old way of saying Muslim. So, to support our side, I always order it with pork. See, back in the day the traders brought spices and recipes to Siam from India and the Middle-East, and this one caught on there as an exciting foreign food. All it really is, is marinated meat simmered up in coconut milk with a hot and sweet red curry sauce with extra cinnamon and cardomom, with potatoes and onions added. Sometimes green beans or green peas find their way in, but the best recipes will always have some cashews cooked into them too. Or peanuts, but boiling cashews in coconut milk does something wonderful, whereas peanuts just get soft. Served over steamed rice, a good Masaman isn’t that hot*, just rich and flavorful. And so wonderfully addicting, if you can find a restaurant that makes it right. Our local place can’t. And they don’t even serve it with Ahjaad, which is cucumbers and onions in sweetened vinegar, and has to be the easiest and cheapest side dish on earth.

I’m going to try my hand at making it again. I’ve done this before, and failed. Badly. What I made was edible, but it was Masaman. Here’s one very basic recipe, and here’s a much more authentic one. I’ll get a can of the curry sauce from my favorite Thai place Sunday, and see what I can come up with.

image

Masaman Curry with Ahjaad on the side

It’s just meat and potatoes done foreign style with a side order of almost-pickles

graphic snagged from Thai Table

* To those unused to eating hot spiced food, ”not that hot” means enough heat to make the top of your head or your upper lip sweat a little. This might be an upsetting experience to those folks whose spices are limited to salt, black pepper, and the occassional shake of paprika from a 20 year old can. “Quite hot” will cause your tongue to sting and you will sweat. Buckets, in my case. Proper Thai Hot is usually only experienced in a bowl of the classic shrimp, mushroom, and lemongrass soup called Tom Yung Goon. It really ought to be called Tung Sai Ow. Talk about an aquired taste - made properly this stuff smells like last year’s socks. The soup comes to you boiling hot, with little globs of death-pepper oil floating on the surface. DO NOT EVER slurp this soup. If you do the pepper oil will jump off the surface and blast the back of your throat, giving you a sensation akin to loading up a 12 gauge with needles and firing it right into your mouth. After weekly eating for over a year at a Thai place run for Thai customers, not for ”farangs” (foreigners, ie, you and me) we felt we had built up enough resistance to try the soup full power. WRONG. Forget the sweat or the searing mouth burn. Forget that your lips are on fire halfway across your face. No, even ignore that you swear your eyes are bleeding fire. REAL THAI HOT means you fingers sting from coming in contact with a couple drops of the soup. That’s too much for me to handle, ever. On a more positive note, this is the bad-ass dish, and everything else is much milder in comparison. But please, take my word for it, and start off with “not spicy”. After a dozen or so meals you might be able to work up from “mild” to “medium”, and honestly, that’s enough. Any hotter and you’ll miss out on the wonderful give and take of all the different flavors that makes Thai food such a great adventure in eating.

In the USA, a really good Thai restaurant will not serve you proper Thai spice levels until they know you on sight. At which point it’s over, and you can never get anything mild there again, regardless of what you ask for. Lesser restaurants will serve anyone anything, but their idea of hot is usually just piling on the red chili powder. This is hot, but it misses out on the whole idea. Hot should also mean rich, a balance of increased heat with increased flavor.

Neither of the recipes I linked to makes a curry anywhere near as hot as I like, I can tell just reading them. But I’ll try them first, and if they’re good I’ll add more chiles next time around.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 03/29/2008 at 12:34 AM   
Filed Under: • Fine-Dining •  
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