World-renowned chef, author and Emmy-winning television personality Anthony Bourdain visits Thailand in the next episode of "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown," airing Sunday, June 1, at 9 p.m. ET. Follow the show on Twitter and Facebook.
In Thailand, a person might greet a friend with the phrase "kin khao reu yang?" to simply ask how things are going.
The more literal translation, however, is: "Have you eaten rice yet?"
"In this part of the world you live and die by the harvest," Anthony Bourdain says of Chiang Mai province's fertile fields and sticky-rice-filled tables.
In this week's episode of "Parts Unknown," Bourdain travels to the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai to eat, drink and sweat his way through every night market, roadside restaurant and karaoke bar he can handle in the country's second largest city.
"It was like discovering a color I never knew existed before," Bourdain recalls of his first trip to Thailand more than a decade ago.
The region's multi-dimensional flavor profile (simultaneously sweet, salty, spicy, bitter and herbaceous) is hard to replicate outside Northern Thailand due to the availability and hyper-locality of some ingredients, but one chef, Andy Ricker, has made it his mission to recreate the food stateside. He specializes in "the good stuff," Bourdain says - like the region's ubiquitous dish of khao soi, a coconut milk and curry paste noodle soup topped with a nest of fried noodles, lime wedges and cilantro.
Ricker is the chef and owner of the acclaimed Pok Pok family of restaurants in Portland, Oregon, and New York City. The name of the restaurant is an onomatopoeic ode to the sound the pestle makes when it pounds ingredients into pastes in a mortar.
Test out your own mortar and pestle skills with a variation of the chile paste naam phrik, preferably the Chiang Mai way, with motorbikes whizzing by and a ice-filled glass of beer close at hand.
Naam Phrik Num
(Makes about 1 cup, enough for 4 to 8 people as part of a meal)
Reprinted with permission from "Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand" by Andy Ricker.
*A note from Ricker: "The primary flavor of this relish comes from its namesake phrik num, a long, moderately spicy green chile that, after much trial and error, I figured out could be reasonably replicated with Anaheim, Hungarian wax or goat horn chiles, plus some serrano chile, if necessary, for extra heat."
A charcoal grill (highly recommended), grates oiled
2 or 3 wood skewers (but only if you're grilling), soaked in tepid water for 30 minutes
A Thai granite mortar and pestle
2 ounces unpeeled Asian shallots
1 ounce unpeeled garlic cloves
Several fresh green Thai or serrano chiles (in case the other chiles are too mild)
8 ounces small whole green Anaheim, Hungarian wax or goat horn chiles
3 pickled gouramy fish fillets (available at local Asian markets or on the internet)
4 grams cilantro roots, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce (preferably Squid, Tiparos or another Thai brand)
To serve alongside:
Raw cucumber, unseasoned pork cracklings and assorted steamed mixed vegetables (such as long beans, cabbage, chayote or winter squash), for dipping
Prepare a grill, preferably charcoal so you have an area of high heat and another area of medium heat. Alternatively, you can heat two heavy pans on the stovetop, one over medium heat and one over high heat.
If you're grilling, skewer the shallots, garlic and Thai or serrano chiles (if you're using them) separately. There's no need to skewer the larger chiles. Put the gouramy fillets on a double layer of foil or banana leaf and fold to make a package.
Grill the chiles on the high heat area of the grill and the shallots, garlic and foil package on the medium heat area, transferring the items to a plate as they're finished. Cook the chiles, turning them over frequently and occasionally pressing them so they cook evenly, until they're completely blistered and almost completely blackened all over and the flesh is fully soft but not mushy, 5 to 8 minutes for the smaller chiles and 15 to 25 minutes for the larger ones. Cook the foil package, turning it over occasionally, just until you can smell the floral funk of the gouramy, about 15 minutes. Cook the garlic and shallots, turning them occasionally, until the skin is charred in spots and they're fully soft but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes. Let the grilled chiles, shallots and garlic cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, open the foil package, discard any large bones and fins (don't try to remove the small bones), and transfer the gouramy to a granite mortar. Firmly pound it to a fine paste and until the bones have fully broken down, about 45 seconds. Remove all but 1 teaspoon of the gouramy paste from the mortar, reserving it for another purpose.
Add the cilantro roots to the mortar with the 1 teaspoon of gouramy and pound to a coarse paste, about 30 seconds. Peel the shallots and garlic (but don't be obsessive about it). Add the garlic to the mortar and pound to a thick, fairly fine sludge, about 1 minute, then do the same with the shallots, about 2 minutes.
The finished naam phrik should be quite spicy, but of course, everyone has a different perception of what that means. So taste the cooked Anaheim or goat horn chiles. If the heat level is too high, remove some or all of the seeds. If the heat level is too low, gradually supplement the larger chiles with a few Thai or serrano chiles.
Use your fingers or a small knife to stem and peel the chiles. Add the chiles to the mortar and pestle and pound until they break down into long, thin strands (don't mash it to a fine paste), 1 to 2 minutes. Add the fish sauce, then pound gently and briefly to incorporate it.
You can store the naam phrik in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Let it come to room temperature before serving.
Previously on "Parts Unknown":
– Mississippi Delta
Hot on the tamale trail in the Mississippi Delta
10 things to know about the Mississippi Delta
In Russia, vodka wishes and caviar dreams
In Mexico, a complex cuisine for a complex country
In Lyon, a hearty serving of tradition
– Las Vegas
10 things you didn't know about Las Vegas
7 sure bets for Las Vegas dining
Bourdain strikes vegetarian gold in Punjab
6 secrets of Punjab
The dog-eat-dog turf of Detroit's classic coneys
Tasting Tokyo's treasures
– South Africa
Taste the Rainbow Nation
Sicilian food to soothe the soul
10 things to know before visiting Sicily
A sense of place in Copenhagen cuisine
– New Mexico
In New Mexico, choose a side: red or green
Bourdain cops to mistake on Frito pie canned chili claim
10 things to know before visiting New Mexico
- Granada, Spain
Traditional tapas in Granada
11 things to know before visiting Spain
– Israel, the West Bank and Gaza
In Jerusalem, even food origins are contentious
10 things to know before visiting Israel, the West Bank and Gaza
Bourdain has traditional Palestinian meal
SPAM and coq au vin on the Congo River
Peruvian food, from guinea pigs to pisco sours
Peruvian food is having a moment
Make perfect pisco sours and ceviche
South America's pisco enjoys North American revival
Breakfast in Libya
Where fast food tastes like freedom
iReport: In Morocco, eating is the spice of life
Street snacking in Morocco
O Canada! Our home and delicious land
Come for the strip bars, stay for the poutine
Colombian cuisine – from aguardiente to viche
Americans just don’t understand the potato. Colombians do.
– Los Angeles Koreatown
The ever-changing flavor of L.A.'s Koreatown
Bridging generations and cultures, one blistering bowl of bibimbap at a time
Los Angeles food trucks are in it for the long haul
Fall in love with Myanmar's cuisine
In Myanmar, drink your tea and eat it too
I love Anthony Bourdain! I would ask him to marry me if I were not already married. He is very funny, an accomplished chef and a best selling author. This is his second show after ending the very popular "No Reservations". Who the heck is this DocJohnnie and what rock did he crawl out from under?
I just wish CNN would list and map the restaurants like the first show did.
I had never heard of Anthony Bourdain. I have been living in Chiang Mai for 18 years. I watched the trailer on You Tube and the pictures on the website. I am a vegetarian and the trailer almost made me throw up. It's all about stuffed pork leg. Anyway, if people want to eat that it is their own choice.
Most of the pictures were about meat, frog, pig brains, sausage, etc..
Som Tam is not a specialty of North Thailand but of the Northeast.
There is a lot of good and healthy food in Chiang Mai and lots of vegetarian dishes fortunately. Let me be the host next time, please!
If Anthony Bourdain is going to see Chiangmai by tuk-tuk, he should probably be told the correct pronunciation. It's "took-took." As a part-time Chiangmai resident and Thai food lover, I take exception to the shock-value cuisine featured in the latest visit. Most Thais eat rice with meat and veggie dishes for breakfast, noodles with chicken or pork (with some blood pudding added on occasion) for lunch and more rice for dinner. Late night after partying food is usually rice soup. The sai oua sausage and sticky rice and khao soi noodles are most typical. Chiangmai is not known for transvestite (katoey) shows. Go to Pattaya next time Mr. Bourdain. If you love Chiangmai, please get it right next time.
Less than .001% of readers will make the effort or have access to the ingredients to execute this recipe. Complete waste of space.
By that rationale, nobody should be publishing any recipes because less than .001% will make the effort to execute it? Here in Southern CA, many non-Asian markets do carry many of the ingredients mentioned. Needless to say, the Asian markets carry them.
Pok Pok, believe the hype... One of the few places inPortland people gush over that is worth every bite. First time I tried their wings I told the waiter I felt like taking the plate and a fork and retreating to a corner not to share one bit...snarling and stabbing the fork at interlopers. Great staff too. But only great for locals...you tourists stick to VooDoo donuts and nurse your belly aches by staying away! ;)
Who is this Bourdain fellow? Seriously, has anyone outside of CNN heard of him?
You *are* kidding, yes?
Are you serious?
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