Words: Sarita Urupongsa
By wanting auspiciousness from the heavens, the Mon people created a dish meant for the gods that later became fit for royalty. Now this ambrosial dish, Khao Chae, is enjoyed by all.
In Mon tradition, the refreshing fragrant dish Khao Chae (khao, rice in Thai, while chae means to soak) features the purity of jasmine rice infused by floral water with the tasty companions of savoury side dishes – meant for celestial beings during the Songkran rites of the ancient Mon group.
Khao Chae was His Majesty King Rama IV’s favourite and during that era, Yison Phad Waan (sweetened stir-fried eagle ray fish), and Chai Pow Waan (sweetened dry turnips) served as accompaniments. Other side dishes like Hua Hom Yad Sai (stuffed onions), Prik Yuak Yad Sai Moo (green peppers stuffed with minced pork), and colourful vegetables were added in the later years of King Rama V’s reign – making the recipe known as “Khao Chae Savoey” the Royal Khao Chae.
After the passing of His Majesty in 1910, the Khao Chae menu was shared with the rest of the kingdom, in many provinces in the central part of Thailand and eventually become the sought-after summertime menu, particularly during Songkran. The recipe we see these days is the adapted version and is a specialty dish in menus belonging to old-style restaurants. Apart from the gustatory satisfaction and the aromatic fragrance of the cooling rice soaked in the local floral water, each accompanying side dish is crafted marvellously, with unique and sophisticated ingredients and methods. The way to prepare Khao Chae is thus a vibrant and enjoyable process, just like its gratifying results.
How to Make Khao Chae
Cook rice (jasmine rice is highly recommended for its ideal texture and gentle fragrance) until it softens. In a rice cooker, this should be a few minutes before it goes off. Drain any remaining cooking water from the rice before pouring in cold water and do it again until the rice cools down. Later, scrub the rice gently with both hands to rinse off any starch and let it dry by using a straining or cheese cloth. The next step is a little more complex and requires the Thai aromatic candle. Smoke the rice in a container with a lid. Put the lit candle in. Its smoke releases a fragrance that should be that of Thai flowers like a light jasmine and cananga. Keep the candle in and close the lid as it snuffs itself out with the absence of oxygen. Leave it overnight to rest.
Kapi Thod (deep-fried shrimp paste balls); a key side dish.
- Pound garlic, coriander seeds, sliced shallots, sliced Chinese ginger, and sliced lemongrass together before adding shrimp paste.
- Add catfish meat and more shrimp paste.
- Stir-fry all the ingredients together until they become cooked and dry. Knead into balls, soak them in eggs and fry to golden perfection.
Hua Chai Pow Waan (sweetened dry turnips)
- Clean and slice the dry turnips.
- Saute sliced onions in the pan and the dry turnips. Continue cooking them together, adding palm sugar and continue frying some more.
- Add an egg and continue frying. Make sure that it doesn’t dry up since it can harden the turnips and impact the taste.
Prik Yuak Yad Sai Moo (green peppers stuffed with minced pork)
- Mix the minced pork with garlic, peppers and season with sugar and fish sauce for a deeper savoury taste.
- Cut open the green peppers, clean out the membranes and seeds inside, and stuff it with the marinated pork mixture.
- Steam in high heat, wait for about 15 minutes until the green peppers change colour.
- Soak them in egg and fry to golden perfection.
Khao Chae should be accompanied with fresh vegetables to cut the greasiness of fried items. Prepare vegetables such as Chinese ginger, thinly-sliced fresh turmeric, cucumbers, spring onions and do carve them for an impressive presentation.
How to Enjoy Khao Chae
Place the smoked rice in a bowl and pour the cool flower-scented and fragrant water in before adding ice (flakes). First, taste the side dishes separately. Follow this by having the rice and a taste of the scented water.