Sunday, March 13, 2011

Khao Chae

When relentless summer heat is bearing down on the Land of Smiles, people young and old look to a unique and nostalgic flower-scented rice dish called khao chae to cool off.

Curiously, the dishes origins are not related to hot weather at all, but rather go back centuries to when the Mon people occupied the Central Plains. As part of their annual celebrations to mark the first day of the lunar calendar, they offered gifts of khao Songkran, or songkran rice, to the female New Year guardian spirit. The name was later modified to khao chae because a special variety of rice, soaked (chae) in water, was used. Thanks to King Rama V (circa 1868-1910), who was extremely fond of khao chae, the dishes’ popularity spread far and wide in subsequent years as it was adapted from a simple Mon recipe into the complex, multi-dish variety found today. And though you don't need to be hi-so (high society) to enjoy it, due to the elaborate process required to make the side dishes it's only widely available in April, the month of the Thai New Year.
Khao chae is no simple dish to prepare, careful skill and time must be administered in its production. For example, ordinary jasmine rice is too soft for its purposes, so the firmer khao taa haeng variety is used instead. It is first cooked in the normal way and then thoroughly rinsed under running water several times to remove excess starch. Then comes the secret ingredient: flower-scented water. A large pot is filled with water and half a dozen fresh jasmine blossoms are added. Then a small flower-scented candle is floated on top of the water, lit, and the pot covered loosely with the lid for 15 minutes. More blossoms and a candle with a different scent are then added and left for another 15 minutes. And finally this is repeated for a third time. The scent from the candles and the natural oils from the jasmine permeate the water. This specially prepared water is then sprinkle liberally on the rice, which is then cocooned in a cheesecloth and steamed over boiling water. When ready for serving, the rice is transferred into a bowl, covered with more of the fragrant water and accompanied by a few small ice cubes and more of the flowers.
That was part one, part two concerns the accompanying side dishes which are the real the star in this meal. Recipes vary but the essentials remain the same. Most of them tend to be sweet, except for one (young green peppers stuffed with minced pork). One prominent must-have is deep-fried kapi (shrimp paste) balls, which are coated in ground coconut, battered and deep-fried to golden perfection. This also goes well with kra-chai, or fresh Chinese ginger, which is usually served along with other fresh vegetables such as cucumber, spring onions and raw mango. Shredded sweetened pork or beef and chai pow (Chinese radish) is also vital. In most khao chae sets, the radish (or sometimes turnip) is caramelised to a glossy sheen. Other sides include boiled salted egg, pla naem (powdered dried fish meat), deep-fried red onions, stuffed sun-dried sweet chillies, fried shallots and sweet crispy fish.
Get it!:
For two weeks (11-30 April) Patummat, Siam City Hotel, will be serving this tasty and popular dish as part of its daily lunch (Bht 764 ++) and dinner (Bht 934++) buffet service.

Open daily for lunch 11:30 – 14:30 and dinner 18:00 – 22:30.
To make a reservation, please call 02-247-0123.

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