Many foreigners think that Thai food is one cuisine. Though there is a consistency in Thai food throughout the country, there are many regional differences which are influenced by regional climate, neighboring countries and their cultures, and history. A good example is Thai curry which is prevalent in the North, where I live. So through the magic of the printed page, I want to give you a taste of this dish that might inspire you to be not only more adventurous, but also more discerning.
The day I woke up and prepared to go shopping in the market in March, the surrounding atmosphere was not similar to what I usually write about the weather of Chiang Mai in previous issues of Scene4. The dusty mist from the forests covered the entire city and people saw that the sky color turned yellow like the desert. This is definitely a sign of global warming which we should be aware of and look after the environment more seriously because Chiang Mai was once called "the land of roses", and it hardly looked like that on this day.
I first drove to visit Wat Lokmolee which is a small Buddhist temple from the period of restoration and beautification. Many people come here to give food to the monks. The sunlight in the morning was not as bright as it should be. My next destination was a market where I went to buy some of the ingredients I needed. I also wanted to check whether or not my helper would be able to come to my house in time to help me cook the curry, called Hunglae, a Thai northern curry that was influenced by Burma's curry though the curry paste came originally from India.
The Hunglae curry I want to present here tastes like curry chicken soup and Thai meat spicy soup and its appearance is like a Balinese curry. But the taste is not too sweet and there is some tamarind juice which is a bit sour. I tried to find an authentic market, one which carries and sells items in the same way for the past 50 years. Buying ingredients from supermarkets or department stores such as Makro,Tesco Lotus or Carrefour is not appropriate because often we cannot get the kind of meat we want. The meat must be fresh and not frozen. The same is true of other ingredients.
Additionally, I took photos of white flowers in the temple and of merchants who sell seasonal and cheap fruits such as mango both raw and ripe. In this season mango can be cooked as a main dish such as "Som Tam Ma Muang" (Thai spicy raw mango salad) or dessert such as "Khao Niew Ma Muang" (ripe mango with sticky rice). If I have another chance, I'lll write about it again as it is so yummy.
Back to the story, I bought sachets of curry paste from the retail shop and asked for more details about the Hunglae recipe from the seller to make sure about the different variations of this curry. Each province such as Chiang Mai, Lampoon and Lampang has its own recipes but the main ingredients are the same. We use pork and streaky pork and I also use peanuts and fermented garlic juice. I am still curious and perplexed about what recipe I used to cook. In some provinces, pineapples and santols are used to make the sour taste as well.
It is quite interesting that Hunglae curry is a popular dish for many occasions the way turkey and chicken are in the U.S. and Europe. Hunglae curry is cooked for religious ceremonies or vacation days when people and their families gather, for example, during the Thai New Year celebration in April.
When I came home in the afternoon, one of my students asked her sister about the recipe of Hunglae curry and I found that the Chiang Mai recipe definitely has peanuts. At last, my helper showed up. We called her "Phi Daeng". She had just come back from Lampoon and was quite willing to help me to finish my cooking for everyone in the house.
Here is the recipe for Hunglae curry:
Big chunk of pork from the pig's neck 1 kg
Streaky Pork ¼ kg
(**These ingredients should be mixed together in a mortar or blender.)
**10 pieces of dried chili without seeds
**½ cup of red onion
**1 teaspoon of shrimp paste
**1 cup of garlic
**1 teaspoon of salt
**½ cup of of galangal
**2 tablespoon of lemongrass
**1 piece if cilantro root
1 tablespoon of tikka masala curry paste or hunglae paste
200 grams of sliced ginger
1 tablespoon of palm sugar
½ cup of garlic
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 tablespoons of soy sauce and black soy sauce
4 cups of water
Phi Daeng, prepared the ingredients as follows:
Mix the pork and streaky pork with the prepared curry paste in the big bowl for 30 minutes.
Pour vegetable oil in the pan and heat it. After that put the mixed pork and streaky pork in the pan.
Put the curry paste in the pan, fry it and add 1 tablespoon of hunglae paste or tikka masala curry paste. Stir and cook until it has a very good smell.
Put in some water(around 4 cups, but every 20 mins if the pan is very dry) and cook it for 1½ to 2 hours with moderate heat.
Add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and black soy sauce.
Add ½ cup of tamarind juice.
Add 1 tablespoon of palm sugar.
Add ½ cup of garlic and 200 grams of sliced ginger
When the pork is quite soft, turn off the gas stove
Time to enjoy.
Hunglae curry can be eaten with a variety of foods such as sticky rice, brown rice, plain rice, noodles, Indian bread and whole wheat bread. After we gave a share of Hunglae food to the monks, we ate the rest together with the family from lunch to dinner. What a treat!
Phi Daeng is from Lampoon, about 30 km from Chiang Mai. She did not cook with peanuts, her variation. So there were no peanuts in this version. Her family has been selling food in the morning market in Lampoon for a long time and after I saw her cook and the test was very good, I knew her recipe will not disappoint youwhether you are Buddhist or not.
By the way, you can change the meat to anything you like. Your creative enjoyment is what counts.