The northern Thai style pork curry is known as "gaeng hang leh muu" in Thailand. I first came to know of this dish on a recent trip to Chiang Mai, when I stayed at the fabulous "Puripunn Baby Grand Boutique Hotel" and had a traditional Lanna Thai dinner.
At the dinner, both my partner and I were really impressed with the variety of dishes served on our table based on the northern tradition of Lanna Thai. It is an old tradition during the Lanna Kingdom in the north. The staple food comprised of many small dishes served in a traditional red coloured Thai wooden serving tray with a lid. In it, there were fresh vegetables with 2 types of dipping sauces - minced pork and tomato spicy dip, and Thai green chilli dip - strong, complex, spicy and pungent in flavour with lots of garlic after taste. The other dishes were deep fried dishes - fish, pork skin, fried chicken with sesame, Thai sausage with minced pork and herbs, more vegetables - stir fry and steamed/poached and a northern Thai style curry pork. The dishes were served with sticky rice.
I was particularly inspired by the pork curry. A complex and all rounded flavours filled with aromatic fragrant so good that I had to replicate this dish when I got back to Melbourne. I asked the staff in the restaurant if he knew how the chef cooked the pork curry. He explained to me there is no single style in cooking this dish. He explained that it is a popular home cooked dish. Each family has its own style, adjusting the ingredients along the way. The secret is in the spice paste. He told me that I could get the spice paste from the market, Warorot Market.
Determined to find this spice paste, my partner and I went in search the next morning at the Warorot Market - the day we were scheduled to leave Chiang Mai. We had a couple of hours to kill before check-out time.
Warorot Market is a short 15 minutes walk from the hotel, across the Ping river. We walked and we searched inside and outside the various market buildings, uncertain where we could find this secret spice mixture. It was like searching a needle in a haystack. I was about to give up when we walked past a row of shop-lots on a main street at the market. Sensing a distinctive smell in the air, I recognised it had to be spices. I followed my nose and came to a shopfront. I looked inside and there it was a spice shop. I entered the shop, wafted with a strong aromatic scent. There was so much going on in the shop that I wasn't sure where to start. Not being able to converse in the local Thai language, I did my best by asking the shop keeper for a pork curry mixed spices to take home. I couldn't remember how much I paid for it, but it was cheap.
How do I describe the scent coming out from the spice mixture. It is complex, pungent and aromatic. It has a strong beautiful vibrant orange red colour. The orange hue of the spice mixture would be turmeric. The grounded red powder in the photo is chill powder that I added to the meat spice mixture to make the spice mixture hotter in flavour, since my first attempt in cooking the pork curry was too mild for my liking.
This was my second attempt and I have decided to adjust the ingredients and flavour - bruised a couple of fresh lemongrass stalks, sliced red onions (use shallots if you have in your pantry), chopped garlic and lots of julienne ginger. I have to admit that this is the best meat curry powder I have ever used in my cooking. Now I wished I had purchased several kilograms of the spice mixture - instead, I have only purchased 1/2 kilograms.
For pork, I have purchased a kilo of pork shoulder and 300-400 gram of pork belly from an Asian butcher shop. Cut the pork into big chunk bite pieces. In a bowl, mix the pork pieces with 2 tablespoons curry spice mixture, 1 teaspoon ground white pepper, 1 tablespoon light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon caramelised dark soy sauce. Cover the bowl with glad wrap and leave in the fridge for more than 4 hours or overnight.
This is a very simple recipe. The secret is in the spice mixture.
I guess once I finished my northern Thailand's spice mixture I will have to seek some other meat spices, preferably freshly mixed in a spice shop. The only place I am most familiar is back in Penang at the wet market. The vendor has all the different spices in individual buckets. Just tell the spice vendor what you need to cook and the vendor will instantly create a concoction of mixed spices for either a fish, chicken, lamb, beef or pork dish.
If there is no freshly mixed spice shop like in Australia, we will have to live with the supermarket brands imported from Southeast Asia. However it won't be the same. It won't be as fresh as what one could purchased in the market in Southeast Asia.
Insight Penang blogs about travel and food, sharing with anyone who enjoys traveling to other destinations, taking photographs, meeting people, experiencing new cultures and traditions, enjoying cooking and trying other cuisines.