Friday, January 14, 2011

What's lurking beneath the banana leaves?

While we were in Chiang Rai we indulged in a few new Thai foods. When we're at the markets we tend to shy away from little banana leaf parcels and unrecognisable food, because they're a mystery to us. So, we were happy to tag along with Nong Mum who chose a few local treats for us to try. (Nong Mum is so cute and a few years my junior. She holds my hand as we cross the NOT busy streets of Chiang Rai...and I think of the traffic from hell in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, each time she did so).

Rice porridge triangles (Khaao Dtom Saam Liiam - ข้าวต้มสามเหลี่ยม) Green (coloured with pandan I guess) rice porridge triangles, served with red beans, a little sugar and shredded coconut. This would be incredibly fiddly to make, the rice mixture is wrapped in teeny banana leaf triangles and steamed. A little rubbery, but nice and not too sweet.

Apologies for the mobile phone camera quality photos.
OK, I nicked this picture (below), because mine was pathetic. A Thai Olive (Makok -มะกอก) or Java Plum or Spondias mombin. Its flesh can be eaten raw...DON'T DO IT! They're as delicious as they look. I love olives, but this was like sucking on an unripe, tart, salty lemon and not because of any pickling process.

Nong Mum told us that after eating a makok, even water tastes sweet. I'm not surprised, old boots would taste sweet after hoeing into one of these. She also said that you won't get thirsty for a long time after, but the first thing I reached for was a drink to wash away the taste. I have a sneaking suspicion that ours may not have been ripe?
Photo stolen from - Bio Gang who look like they stole it from
Funnily enough it's believed that this, for want of a better word,  fruit, Makokmay have contributed to Krungtheep's modern name, Bangkok.

Sticky rice topped with Thai custard (Khaao Niaao Saang Khaya  - ข้าวเหนียวดำสังขยา) Well that's what I'm calling it. We were given the name Khaao Niaao Muun...but that usually involves slices of mango...not the eggy mixture on top of the rice, you can see in the woeful photo below. Really sweet, really nice and the flavour sort of reminded me of French toast. Carbs + sugar + egg.
For a better photo and recipe visit Thai Dessert. because mine looks quite sickly. Since returning from Chiang Rai, one of  my friends bought me these to try.
I'm sure one could never count the number of variations of sweets that lurk beneath banana leaf wrappings and if they're in a shop, with an English label, it will more than likely just say 'Thai Dessert'. This one is made from rice powder, creamy and white on the outside with a sweet filling of red bean? and coconut mixture. It's delicious.
Every time I pass these at the shop I wonder what they are and what you do with them, so I thought 'just buy a packet and figure it out later'.
Of course I had to find out what they were before consuming them. They're slices of dried Bael fruit (มะตูม or Ma Dtoom in Thai) and being as a laxative is one of their noted qualities...don't drink a gallon of the tea the first time round.
To make a tea, boil six slices in  a couple of cups of water, with 4-6 table spoons of sugar (way too much sugar for me, I added less than half a Tsp and a slice of lime later) . Apparently the fresh fruit is very woody and heavy, and known to cause damage to people and property when falling from the tree.

The result? Nothing special really...a fruity pleasant tea, with no prominent flavour. It does have a place in the Hindu religion, so perhaps that and its other medicinal properties are reasons for their abundance here.

One more for the road, that doesn't involve a banana leaf and isn't that unusual. I buy a packet of these every week and still don't know their real name. Any writing I can read just seems to say rice porridge. I'd need a magnifying glass to make out the nutrition panel, but they seem to be harmless. Unsweetened puffed rice buiscuits, with a small amount of sweet stuff that glues seeds and a couple of nuts to the top....Please don't tell me they're bad for me, I like them a lot.
*I found two wonderful websites that help me identify some of what I'm eating. Tan Kitchen Thai Dessert and Chris Pirazzi's Slice of Thai.

I'm off now. Time I wiped down this sticky keyboard.

Snap's other blog Chiang Mai Thai


Martyn said... Best Blogger Tips

Snap I have a very sweet tooth and recognise many of the deserts in your photos. The only thing which saves my waistline is that for me alcohol and sweet things don't settle too well in my stomach and so beer wins nearly every time.

What's under a banana leaf....I wonder if years ago the Siamese used to cover their bits and pieces with banana (very easy word to type )leaves just like our ancestors did with the fig tree leaves. Perhaps the men used the banana skins.

Snap said... Best Blogger Tips

Martyn the old banana leaf appears to be very versatile indeed. I'd never thought about what other uses it may have had throughout history. Your theory on banana skins conjures up some interesting images in my head...thank you ;) The small varieties seem to be in the majority in the stores these days. Just an observation!

Martyn said... Best Blogger Tips

Snap is the plural of banana leaf, leaves or leafs. A bit confused by that one.

Mike said... Best Blogger Tips

Snap very interesting and it contains a few things I haven't tried yet.

Yesterday I was in Tesco when a fellow foreigner asked me (well showed me)Bael fruit she wanted to know where to buy it. I suggested the health shop and luckily they had it.

Thanks to you I now know what it is and why she wanted it for.

Since I never need a laxative here I might give this fruit tea a miss ;-)

Snap said... Best Blogger Tips

According to the Cambridge Dictionary the plural of leaf is leaves.

...but I do think it depends on where you come from

Leafs, in this context, just sounds very wrong to me ;)

Theodora said... Best Blogger Tips

I tried these Chinese olives (which is what they call them elsewhere) in Cambodia. Very disturbing, particularly when sweet pickled. Congrats on braving the banana leaves, tho'

Snap said... Best Blogger Tips

@ Mike, Luckily Bael fruit doesn't have laxative effect on me, however I am used to eating half a kilo of prunes a week back home ;) I wish you'd been able to ask that person why they were buying them...for taste (not much of a taste to them) or for medicinal purposes?

Snap said... Best Blogger Tips

@ Theodora, I'll never be afraid of banana leaves again :) 'Disturbing' sums up makoks perfectly...just as disturbing was the pickled fruit salad I finally tried. I guess I shouldn't be one to talk though, I eat Vegemite!