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2009.02.20

Comments

Eurasian Sensation

Great photos and writing. I'm vegetarian and dishes made from beef and blood are the last thing I want to eat... but you make it seem tempting nonetheless!

Lor

I have a weakness for dishes that include weird bits and blood - thus my addiction to Filipino dinuguan and tinumis.

Were you able to finagle a recipe or at least a semi-complete ingredient list for laab khua? Hacked up meats + coagulated blood + ?? + my mouth = magic.

Robyn

Eurasian Sensation - Thanks! That's quite a compliment, coming from a vegetarian.

Lor - ask and you shall receive. I do in fact have an excellent laab recipe that I'll post shortly. (BTW - I love dinuguan too!)

Austin

You're perked my curiosity. I've eaten kaeng om a few times and have never paid any particular attention to how it's made, but am skeptical that it contains Sichuan peppercorns (is that what makhwaen translates as?), black pepper or sakhaan, as it's generally known in Thailand and Laos. In my experience it's always been both meaty and citrusy, but with little dried spice. That said, there's a place here in Mae Hong Son called Laap Phrae (Phrae, a town in northern Thailand, is often associated with laap and loo), and if I get a chance I'm curious to stop by and see how they make it there.

Incidentally, did you taste the liquid in the bottle behind the bowl of kaeng om? I think it might be bitter cow bile (dee wua in Thai), a condiment that's also added to northern-style laap and laap khua. In fact, raw laap is known locally as laap khom, 'bitter laap', because this is the predominate flavour. Bottles of the bile can be found on the tables of laap restaurants, although I've never seen one that large.

My favourite laap khua is at Laap Khom Huay Puu, a small place just outside Pai, not sure if you made it there?

Austin

Robyn

Austin - Sichuan peppercorns are a variety of prickly ash, as are sansho, makwen, etc. To me the latter - which most readers wouldn't know and wouldn't be able to find, whereas they would know Sichuan peppercorns - hint of orange peel, which might account for the citrusy note you mention.

We watched a woman in Chiang Mai make the dish - she added jakan (she calls it 'jakhan' - I know Laos call it 'sakhan'),and market vendors confirmed it's for gaeng om (among other gaengs). In Lampang, my tingling lips (not a lot, just a bit of a buzz) definately confirmed the presence of prickly ash of one sort or another. The laab was fairly highly spiced as well. I've certainly had blander.

Do you really suppose there's a 'definitive' gaeng om recipe, absolutely excluding this or that? To me the dish seems - much like or French daube, or American beef stew - very open to interpretation on the part of the cook.
As is laab. We had raw laab demonstrated by the same woman, without bile (no bitter edge). Bile was also absent in our Nan version. Some laab are very spiced, some less so. Some soupy some not.

I've tried bile in the PHI and I'm not fond of it, so if that's what's in the bottle on the table I'm glad I didn't add any.

We went laab-free in Pai. My how that town has changed in the last 6 years, and not for the better. But that's a story for another post I suppose....

Austin

Laap Phrae is perpetually closed so I went to Baan Phleng, a place here serving northern Thai dishes. I asked the woman if she used makhwaen, black pepper or jakhaan (you're right, it's called jakhaan here, or khiikhaan if you're Shan) in her version of kaeng om, and she said no. She explained that she makes a simple curry paste, excluding galangal and lemongrass, fries it oil, then adds the meats, lemongrass slices and chunks of galangal. The dish was oily, complex and meaty, and like you describe, had a tingling spiciness that almost reminded me of ginger or even maekhwaen, despite their apparently not being there. I enjoyed it very much, except for the meaty bits that look like alien anatomy. I'm glad you reminded me of this dish, as I usually find it too meaty and don't tend to order it.

I def. don't think there's a definitive recipe, but at times Thai people can be quite conservative about what ingredients go in certain dishes. When I asked the woman about jakhaan, she said 'No, that only goes in kaeng khae,' which is the dish that came to my mind when you mentioned it on your post.

I don't like the bile either, but in my experience at least, it has been a fundamental part of the northern-style laap experience. The chef at Laap Khom Huay Puu in Pai always asks me how much bile I want (As little as possible, please).

And Pai, yes... It's still a lovely place in many ways, but I'm not sure I like all the changes either. I was there at the peak of the (Thai) tourist season and it was like being at Chatuchak Market in Bangkok.

Robyn

Austin - well, if this post led you to revisit a dish you'd tried but dismissed in the past, to good effect, then my job here is done.

mary shaposhnik

Having improvised on my wintry beef stew this morning, I have to say that I agree that certain gaengs -- gaeng om being one of them -- are susceptible of many spicing variations. My limited exposure had me associating intense meatiness or organy-ness with that dish, and less specific spicing. The versions I tried were a little too "dark" for tastes. But I could totally imagine that sakhan would work incredibly well with it, even if it's not essential--just this winter I came to love Sichuan peppercorns (all that I have available in the prickly ash categroy here--or at least I think?) with beef stews, so I can picture it... and am loving picturing it right now, so thanks for the posts and commentary.

Andrea Nguyen

Bile -- I've had it in Laos/Hmong food in Fresno, CA -- where you can buy it frozen in plastic tubs in the markets. Seems like the bile and Sichuan peppercorns would have a similar function in the dish: to lend an uneasy edge to the citrusy/herby/chile hot notes. I also suspect that there are antibacterial reasons as to why those ingredients are employed.

Love the double knife action as that's the only way to hand chop meat efficiently. Think of drumming, my friends.

Jodi

Robyn...that laab vendor gives me serious flashbacks to cooking w/Jeff, Naomi, and Fern. I finally made the time to check out your blog-it's beautiful. Hope you guys had a nice rest of your trip and that life is treating you well. Back to reality in San Francisco but we had a fantastic time cooking and eating with you guys...Take care! Jodi

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