Cooling down in the summer heat
A look at some of the best known and rare Thai dishes that scream out for eating in the hottest season
When the temperature soars, most of us make for the freezer and drop a few ice cubes into a refreshing glass of water, soda or beer. Ice though is a relatively new concept and locally produced ice cubes only became available during the reign of King Rama V. But Thais have always been ingenious and back then, one of the best ways to beat the heat was by tucking into summer dishes.
Thais created dishes especially for summer and many of these seasonal dishes are still enjoyed today. Some are only available during the hottest time of year while others can be found in restaurants all year round.
Here are five summer dishes that have become increasingly popular over the past years as the Thai gastronomy scene has expanded and palate pleasers of the past have returned to our tables. What are they and where we can find them? Read on.
Before a boom in Khao Chae a few years ago, the chilled rice dish was popular among baby boomers and Gen X groups. Now, the dish is a summer favourite among lovers of Thai cuisine.
Khao Chae literally means rice soaked in water. Inspired by a Mon dish, Khao Chae is believed to have been introduced in Phetchaburi and was first served in the court to King Rama IV by Chao Chom Manda Sonklin. In the old days when ice was unavailable, water was kept chilled in earthen water jars and was scented with flowers. The delicacy comprises rice cooled in water that’s eaten with various condiments and remained on the palace menu before making its way to the Thai fine dining scene and even street-side shops.
Where to find it: Lai Rod Sukhumvit 49, tel: 02391193, 027125777; Rama VI Rd, tel; 02-279-2895, 02235071 serves the dish all year round. During summer many fine dining restaurants and some restaurant chains also include it on their menus. Some, such as S&P Delivery 1344, offer the dishes for home delivery too.
Among the traditional summer dishes, Som Chun is probably the hardest to find nowadays.
Som Chun consists of pieces of seasonal fruits such as lychees, rambutans and tangerines doused in syrup infused with Pandan leaves and Som Sa (a rare Thai citrus fruit), served in crushed ice made with jasmine water with a topping of sliced young ginger, fried slice shallots and thin slices of green mango as the finishing touch. The dish combines a delightful savoury twist with the refreshing fruity treat. The ingredients make for a sensational combination of sweet, salty and tangy in one bite. With crushed ice, the dish is really refreshing.
Where to find it: Nakron Pathom Kitchen (The Salaya Leisure Park, Tel: 08-1727-2500, 08-8694-8124; Patara Restaurant (Thonglor Soi 19, Tel. 02-185-2960 and Line @patarathailand) and Saneh Chan on Wireless Rd., Tel. 02 650 9880
Kanom Jeen Sao Nam
Kanom Jeen Sao Nam is a very unique “kanom jeen” (soft rice noodle) dish as it is not served with curry like most Thai kanom jeen dishes. Instead, Kanom Jeen Sao Nam is served with chopped pineapple, sliced fresh garlic, sliced young ginger, ground dried prawn, boiled egg, coconut milk and fish balls or “jang-lon”. The dish is refreshing and delicious even though the ingredients might seem quite weird to the uninitiated. The key is the fresh ingredients and wherever possible, freshly squeezed coconut milk should be used instead of the canned variety.
Where to find it: Buy it at Golden Place’s Rama IX branch and Pom Pan food stall inside Seri Market
A traditional snack suitable for summer, Mah Hor consists of two parts: the fruit, cut into bite-sized pieces, and the topping. The topping is similar to the filling of sago – made from garlic, coriander root and pepper, minced pork or shrimp and ground roasted peanuts. It has a sweet and salty taste and goes well with the sour and juicy pineapple which adds a fresh mouthfeel. The most common choice of fruit is pineapple but Marian Plum (Plango) or orange can be used as substitutes.
Where to find it: Supanniga Eating Room (Thonglor and Tha Thian branches)
Pla Haeng Tangmo
The name of dish reveals all in Thai. Pla haeng mean dried fish and Tangmo is watermelon. Like Mah Hor, this is another dish that gives seasonal fruit a savory twist. It is a famous old summer dish featuring ground dried fish (preferably snakehead fish) stir-fried until brown and fragrant, then placed on top of bite-sized watermelon pieces. The juicy and sweet watermelon taste makes for a delightful contrast when mixed with the savoury pla haeng.
Where to find it: Many Thai restaurants including Kiew Kai Ja on Nak Niwas Rd, tel: 02 227 0685; the Never Ending Summer at the Jam Factory, tel: 061 641 6952