This is the cuisine of Northern Thailand, a mountainous area with a landscape of rolling hills, fertile valleys and plantations rich with vegetables and fruits.
Such terrain makes its cuisine different from those in the coastal provinces and urban areas of Thailand. Instead of the more familiar dishes like tom yum gung (a spicy seafood soup) and pad Thai (a noodle dish with shrimps and chicken), the cuisine of Northern Thailand leans more towards pork, chicken and backyard vegetables.
Curries are milder and use less coconut milk. The dishes are not as spicy as those of other regions.
Perhaps the best known of Northern Thailand’s provinces is Chiang Mai, its principal city and provincial capital.
This week, Dusit Thani’s Benjarong Restaurant is serving some of this region’s specialties.
At a lunch hosted by Dusit Hotel’s director of communications Shariza Relova and assistant communications manager Lizel Ventosa, we tried some hard-to-pronounce but delicious dishes such as nang gai tord khon meuang, chicken skin fried to a dark crisp, served with a red curry dip; and tum som o gung sod, pomelo salad layered with prawns.
The chicken sausage was redolent with lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime, while the chicken curry was cooked with tamarind, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, and a combination of yellow and red curries.
Here’s a recipe given by Benjarong chef Suwanna Puangdee for one of Northern Thailand’s dishes: phad ma kheua yao ma ra gai sap—or simply stir-fried eggplant with bitter gourd and chicken.
The dish may be difficult to pronounce, but it’s easy to cook—and with herbs and spices in the mix, it’s a flavorful way to discover Thailand’s lesser-known regional cuisine.
Stir-fried Eggplant with Ampalaya and Ground Chicken (Phad-Ma Kheua Yao Ma Ra Gai Sap)
150 g or 1 medium (about 10-inch length) ampalaya (bitter gourd)
1-2 tsp salt
180 g (3 small or 1 large or 2 medium) eggplant
Water, for boiling
1-2 tbsp cooking oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp yellow bean paste
50 -100 g ground chicken
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
2-3 tbsp oyster sauce
1 red or green siling haba (finger chili), sliced diagonally
Clean the ampalaya, removing the seeds inside. Rub the ampalaya with salt then rinse well. (Salt lessens the bitterness of the ampalaya). Divide the ampalaya lengthwise, then slice into about two-inch pieces.
Cut the eggplant to around two-inch pieces. In a pot, boil water and add the eggplant. Cook until eggplant are tender, about 3 minutes. Remove eggplant from the water and set aside.
In a skillet, heat the cooking oil. Stir-fry the minced garlic and yellow bean paste, then add the ground chicken. Sauté until chicken is fully cooked. Add the prepared ampalaya then stir in the eggplant. Season with sugar, fish sauce, sugar, soy sauce and oyster sauce. Mix well.
Add the finger chili and basil leaves. Stir together and let simmer for a few minutes to heat through. If desired, serve in a sizzling plate.
Northern Thailand specialties will be served in Benjarong Royal Thai Restaurant until March 22. Call 2388888.
This dish is best served while it’s hot and freshly cooked.
If desired, remove the slices of chilies before serving.
You may substitute ground pork for the chicken.