Meet Nat: globetrotting citizen of the world, web seeker of delicious foods and our newest contributor to World to Table. He’ll be sharing with you his travels, his recipes, and his unbridled love for food.
My name is Nat, short for Natayada, and I’m from Thailand by way of America. I was born in Bangkok and have lived in Europe and Africa, but now go back and forth between east and west.
My obsession with food came early. One of my first memories is of being in a kitchen in Paris as my mother and grandmother were debating how to make Thai dish taste right with the limited ingredients we could find.
The mission of my life has been to find what makes food taste right, to seek out new dishes that retain the essence of the cuisine from which they came. To boldly eat what no one has eaten before.
My quest to taste the most authentic, most original incarnation of a dish has taken me near and far. I once drove over seven hours on Thailand’s northern highway going from restaurant to restaurant in Sukhothai searching for its legendary noodles. Call me obsessive.
Despite government efforts to make it a world-class tourist destination, Sukhothai is really just a sleepy little town at the northernmost part of central Thailand. The days when it was Siam’s capital city and a thriving commercial and cultural crossroad between Cambodia and Burma are long gone. The lovingly restored ruins may have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site but, every time I go, there are never more than three or four others walking around the old temples. It is often so quiet that I can hear the breeze.
When I asked people about Sukhothai noodles, however, I was met with blank stares.
I was shocked. Sukhothai is in central Thailand and the local cuisine would be familiar to anyone who has tried Thai food. Sukhothai noodles are famous for being different from your standard bowl of Kuay Tiew or that most Thai of noodle dishes, Pad Thai. At least in Bangkok, they are.
Imagine, if you will, a hearty tom yum soup. Practically every Thai restaurant in the world has it on the menu. Tom yum has a sweet, sour and fragrant tanginess combined with a searing kick that has become the best-known representation of the Thai palate. The term ‘tom yum’ literally means “soup spicy”.
Add to your tom yum a choice of rice noodles — thick, thin or vermicelli — then some blanched green beans, bean sprouts, ground pork, roasted pork, dried shrimp, fish balls and some small pieces of braised spare ribs. Sprinkle over it some minced spring onion. Serve with battered, deep-fried morning glory leaves and crispy won ton skins. And there you have the celebrated Sukhothai Noodles.
Yuki Srikanchana serves them at her popular Bangkok restaurant, Nara, where I can never stop at just one bowl. The secret, Yuki says, is in the sugar one uses in the tom yum base. Palm sugar, which has a rich, smoky flavour adds substance to a good tom yum. She favours sugar made from the sap of coconut palms. It is has the consistency of molasses and is subtler than the strong taste of sugar made from the sap of sugar palms.
Actually, I have a theory about the origin of Sukhothai noodles. The late Queen Rambhai Bharni, the consort of King Rama VI, lived out her widowhood at Sukhothai Palace which was in the Sukhothai district of Bangkok and nowhere near Siam’s ancient capital. The palace kitchens there were renowned for the particularly fine food. Perhaps that’s where the famous noodles came from.
A trip to Sukhothai, searches on the internet and interviews with countless chefs haven’t shed any light so my theory is probably as good as any. Considering the complicated recipe for Sukhothai noodles which requires detailed, labour-intensive preparation, it makes sense that the dish should have its inception in a palace where a large staff could do all the work.
Nara has three branches in Bangkok. For further information or to make reservations, please go to: www.naracuisine.com
For truly authentic Tom Yum, I recommend making the stock from the recipe below. Canned or cartoned stocks available in western supermarkets tend to have been made with carrots and western herbs such as thyme, parsley and bay leaves which have a distinctly sweeter and western fragrance. Having said that, if pressed for time, ready-made stock works fine. If using a stock with no added salt, you may have to increase the amount of fish sauce in your final tom yum. If you have time, however, try making the stock yourself. It makes a huge difference. The ingredients listed usually can be found at an Asian supermarket.
2 lbs pork ribs, left in a rack, if possible
4 quarts water
2 stalks of fresh black pepper
6 stalks of Chinese celery, broken into 3” lengths
Note: Chinese celery has thin, green stalks and is much like normal celery but a much subtler flavour. If using normal celery, use only two stalks.
1 5oz white turnip, cut into 1” slices
1 head of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 large onion, cut into quarters
4 cilantro (coriander) roots
- Note: Cilantro root is a staple herb in Thai cooking and is merely the root of the plant. It has a more intense flavour than the leaves and stands up to a long simmer better. Save the stalks and leaves for a garnish.
1. Place all the ingredients into a pot and bring to a boil.
2. Skim the pot only once after 15 minutes. (Unlike French cuisine, where a stock’s clarity is valued, the flavour of Thai pork stock is considered enhanced by the solids that rise to the surface of the pot after the first skimming.)
3. Simmer on low for 1½ hrs.
4. Remove the ribs and reserve for another use.
5. Strain the stock and use for Tom Yam or as a base for other soups.
1 quart of pork stock
2 stalks of lemon grass, cut into 3” pieces and smashed
2 tbs of palm sugar (If the softer, coconut palm sugar is unavailable, a 2” block of sugar palm sugar — which comes in hard cones — can be used. If all else fails, use 1 tsp of granulated sugar. Do not substitute with brown sugar.)
6 spur chillies, with stalks removed and smashed (Spur chillies are green, red or yellow, are at least the width of a large pencil and at least 2” long. They have less heat than bird’s eye chillies and a slightly sweeter flavour.)
8 bird’s eye chillies (These are the most popular chillies in Thai cuisine and are famous for their kick of fiery heat. They are also known as chilli padi)
2 oz of galangal (also known as blue ginger), cut into ¼ -inch slices
4 kaffir lime leaves
¼ cup of lime juice
1lb of fresh prawns, shelled and deveined (Frozen can also be used.)
¼ lb of straw mushrooms, halved if large
2-3 tbs fish sauce, to taste
1. Bring the pork stock to a boil on high and add all the ingredients except the prawns, fish sauce, mushrooms and cilantro leaves.
2. Lower the heat and simmer until the fragrance rises in the steam (about 5-10 minutes, depending on the freshness of your ingredients).
3. Turn up the heat to high again and add the prawns, mushrooms and fish sauce.
4. Boil until the prawns are just cooked through. (This should be less than 5 minutes, depending on the size of prawn. They should have lost their translucence and be a pale pink colour. If they start to turn white, they are overcooked. Do not overcook or they will become tough.)
5. Serve immediately, garnished with cilantro leaves.
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Hello World (to-Table fans). My name is Kelly, and
and I’m writing to you from my home away from home, Hepatitis
Poughkeepsie, NY. My real home is actually in an apartment with my sister Veronica, creator of this blog. But I currently live with three friends in a house near Vassar College, where I am a student.
That’s enough about me. What about FOOD? Like my sister, I have acquired quite a refined palate, which is a blessing and a curse, as the dining hall that “nourished” me for four semesters is not cutting it anymore. Good-bye meal plan and hello kitchen!
After eleven hours of epic cleaning, the kitchen we inherited bloomed from a museum of ancient pot lids and broken George Foreman products to the real heart of the house. We cleaned and restocked the fridge, stuffed our pantry with bags of pasta and rice, and hung up new cutting boards and pans. This is where raspberry flapjacks are made at two in the morning, borscht is stewed between classes, and tea and coffee flow endlessly. Here is where the magic happens!
Last night, instead of reading books, I was thinking about the magnificent stock of produce we had in our refrigerator. My housemates and I purchased a farm share from the Poughkeepsie Farm, so every Saturday, we bring our tote bags to the farm and pick out ten pounds of fresh vegetables and then excitedly brainstorm recipes on the short car ride home. Having chosen three plump long Chinese eggplants, I was moved to introduce some of my mom’s home cooking to the house. One of my favorite dishes is incredibly simple: steamed eggplant stuffed with chopped scallions and drizzled with soy sauce and hot oil.
So I pushed all books and syllabuses aside, descended to the kitchen, turned on the radio, and began making dinner. I sliced our eggplants in half and steamed the halves for twelve minutes, making sure to also tend to the pot of Thai rice cooking away on the adjacent burner. After steaming the eggplants, I arranged them on a dish and gently cut each half longitudinally like a hot dog bun, creating a piping hot opening for me to stuff with chopped scallions. Then I heated up a couple teaspoons of canola oil. Having had a recent bad experience with oil while frying arepas, I made my housemate David spoon the oil over the dish of eggplant while I delighted in the sizzle of scallions instantly cooking upon impact from a distance. I then whisked up a mixture of soy sauce and chili sauce and poured it over each eggplant half.
The dish was served up with another simple favorite of mine: tomato and egg stir-fry. I sliced up an assortment of tomatoes from the farm and sautéed them in canola oil with a little salt and a sprinkle of sugar. While they cooked, I beat three eggs together and then added them to the wok, making sure to turn down the heat a little so that they didn’t cook too quickly. This way, the scrambled eggs mix with the juices of the tomatoes and develop a soft, silky texture.
For a third dish, I drained one can of baby corn, cut them into more manageable, even more baby-like pieces, and sautéed them lightly with garlic, spinach and a little bit of chicken stock. When the final dish was done, we brought them all out to the porch with a big steaming pot of rice and a pitcher full of Poughkeepsie’s finest tap water.
The vegetables from the farm were amazingly sweet. The steamed eggplants came out soft yet firm. They soaked up the sauce on the plate, leaving not quite enough for all of us to spoon over our rice. The juices from the cherry tomatoes flavored each tuft of scrambled egg, and the spinach and corn retained a crispness that accompanied the other dishes wonderfully. My housemate Lily declared this was “way better than Hunan Village!”
Eating these dishes (and hearing the clinking of chopsticks against rice bowls) reminded me of having dinner with my own family. As the four of us chowed down, I felt so contented that I had left the dorms to come live in this house. Here, I can evoke the comforts of home and share them with friends. And better yet, my friends did all the dishes and I was gifted an ice cream sandwich for dessert.
Early last week, information pills
I was lured into the French Culinary Institute in SoHo by sweet promises of freshly sliced sashimi and a chance to witness a masterful dissection of a tuna. Curious and hungry culinary students and professional chefs evidently fell for the bait too, traumatologist
filling up the seats in the small auditorium to witness the artful slicing and deconstructing of Kindai tuna by Chef Toshio Suzuki of Sushi Zen, Chef Noriyuki Kobayashi of Megu and Chef Kazuhiro Sato of Poke.
Kindai tuna is born and raised at Kinki University in Higashi-Osaka, Japan. Born in the laboratory and hand fed wild catch, they are raised in better conditions than other farm-raised tuna and offer a more sustainable alternative to wild bluefin tuna.
The introduction of the lecture was led by Nick Sakagami, who described Kindai tuna as “couch potatoes” in comparison to their “athletic” wild counterparts. Less active and therefore subsisting on less mercury-laden wild catch, the mercury levels in Kindai tuna are only .6 parts per million, while wild tuna often have levels of 1 to 2 parts per million.
Organized by the Gohan Society, this demonstration was a rare opportunity to taste Kindai tuna. Raising tuna by these methods is pricey–about 200 Kindai tuna are successfully raised every year and only 1 to 2 fish shipped to the United States every week.
The official Kindai Tuna seal of approval indicates and ensures that the has been raised at Kinki University. Now, for the cutting of the tuna!
We watched as the three chefs wrestled the fish and skillfully attacked it with an artillery of sharp knives. First, an incision was made along the side of the fish, then through the gill to take off the head with a long square-shaped knife. The rest was then cut up into more manageable segments, using smaller, precise knives, and laid aside to be carefully sliced into fillets later on.
Since the fish is killed by stunning it with electricity, there is often some bleeding near the spine–that part is sliced away by Chef Suzuki and saved to be cooked later on. Electric shock is a common slaughtering technique used to quickly stun and kill fish.
Some more slicing.
Small tasting plates of tuna were passed around for everyone to try, each bite-sized piece a different gradient of pink and from a different part of the fish. The buttery “oh toro” and “chu toro” differed slightly in fattiness, but both were equally delicious and smooth. The leaner “akami” and “hakaochi” had a gamier taste and buoyant texture, while the small spoonful of “assorted scrape” burst with a bright punch of citrus and a hint of onion flavor from the thin scallion shavings. (Check out the plating cheat sheet below for some proper Japanese tuna terminology)
The correct way to eat sashimi, especially with freshly grated wasabi, is the double-dipping method. First dip one side of the fish generously in the wasabi, then follow through with a second dip into the soy sauce, gliding the portion of the fish that has not come in contact with the wasabi quickly across the pool of soy sauce–be careful as to not submerge the whole piece. This method preserves the spicy, subtle taste of wasabi without being muddled by the saltiness of the soy sauce. According to Chef Suzuki, mixing together soy sauce with fresh wasabi overpowers and ruins the wasabi flavor. Unlike the spicy green goop you find at cheaper sushi places that is usually made from a powder, fresh wasabi has a lighter, refreshingly pungent flavor, since it is not mixed in with horseradish or other fillers.
The bigger slabs are pared down into clean, long rectangular slabs, ready to be sliced into sashimi-sized slivers.
Second round of tasting was cooked tuna. Little white ceramic bowls containing chunks of broiled tuna with caramelized onions were passed around for us to try. Midway through our tuna, Chef Kobayashi emerged from the kitchen with a tray of tuna spines and asks, “Sorry there is not enough for everyone, but who wants to try?”. Luckily, I was one of the few who looked eager enough to deserve a taste of broiled tuna spine. The spine was cut up into individual vertebrae, each a tiny shot of briny cartilage topped with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and chopped scallions. The meat surrounding each vertebrae charred to a smoky perfection and packed with flavor from the bone.
Chef Kobayashi extracts the eyeballs with a sharp knife.
Broiled tuna brain (above) tasted surprisingly similar to the meat of the fish, except with a denser texture and richer flavor.
For the more adventurous eaters, chunks of freshly cut vertebrae were passed around. It was more gelatinous and gooey than the cooked version but meatier around the bone. After slurping up the cartilage I proceeded to gnaw the meat off the bone.
Chef Anita Lo trying some blackened tuna jerky.
Although only certain parts of the fish are eaten raw, sashimi-style, none of it goes to waste. It may look like a gruesome murder scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie, but the collar, eyes, and brain are cooked and made into other delicious tuna dishes.
Even the fatty scrapings from the skin of the tuna are used to as filling for maki rolls.
At the end of the demonstration, slabs of tuna were sold, individually wrapped in plastic and packed into iced bags for those who wanted to bring tuna home for dinner. After my $30 worth of medium-fatty tuna was all weighed and paid for, I snuck into the kitchen sweetly asked one of the chefs for some fresh wasabi. A quick glance and a nod later, I was out the door and on my way home, with wasabi and tuna in tow.
200 Chambers St
New York, NY 10007-1131
French Culinary Institute
New York, NY 10013-2618
Coming up: Prepping Kindai tuna sashimi at home