My fondness for Thailand runs deeper than just a mere affection; because it happened to be the very first overseas country that I visited outside of Malaysia. I miss it everyday. I still ache for the freedom and frivolity of our week in Phuket where we grabbed a car and later a motorbike and discovered non-touristy regions of the island. I remember taking a nervous six hour overnight ride on a local bus, where The Captain nearly flew out of the toilet with the broken door and we prayed that the driver would remember to stop at our destination and not at some god-knows-where town.
Black glutinous rice
I remember hurtling down the dark, empty Sukothai streets at 4am on a rusty tuk-tuk, dodging roaming packs of stray dogs while I was gracefully star-fished over our luggage so it wouldn’t launch into the sky. I had to place all our trust in our driver to get us to our accommodation in the middle of the night and not somewhere where we were going to get jacked. I can still recall the wind in my face and the eerie glow of yellow from the streetlights on the deserted road.
It was an exhilirating experience.
But needless to say, it was the food that captivated me the most. Six meals a day, without hesitation led to an immediate weight gain of 5kgs. It was worth the tighter fitting pants though, because I was absolutely enthralled by the myriad of street food. Whether I was in Phuket, Bangkok, Kanchanaburi or Sukhothai, street hawkers quickly became familiar friends. All the local nosh at my disposal; easily accessible, cheaper than toothpaste and utterly delicious. And of course, when it comes to food, I’m always drawn to smoke and fire.
Pounded black glutinous rice
This dish was one of my favourites; char-grilled Kor Moo Yang with Nahm Jim Jaew. Simply put, barbequed or grilled marinated pork neck served with an Issan style chilli dipping sauce. It’s pretty much a Thai version of Chinese char siu pork but oh so much better. All the elements are here; sweet, salty, sticky but wonderfully fragrant from the lemongrass and fresh from the coriander. It’s all paired beautifully with a sour, sweet and spicy dipping sauce commonly found in Northern Thailand.
Hmmmm… meat carnage…
This is amazing served with steamed rice or white sticky (glutinous) rice but I also love it on its own with nothing but the meat, sauce and my greedy little hands. My favourite cut of meat to use is pork neck because it has a nice balance of lean meat and tender juicy fat. But the great thing about marinating this is the meat will stay tender no matter how you cook it. Marinating overnight is fine but two days is even better. Pork belly is also a good alternative if you’re not too concerned about your diet. The real magic is when you cook it over a charcoal bbq until burnished and smoky.
That’s the smell that brings me back to the hot streets of Thailand. Every day I crave for the same sensory onslaught, urban mayhem and chaotic road rules only to be left wanting in Australia. There’s no denying it, Thailand still has me firmly in its grip.
Kor Moo Yang with Nahm Jim Jaew (Thai Grilled Pork Neck with Issan Chilli Dipping Sauce)
Edit – I have been told that a similar recipe can also be found in Gourmet Traveller (under MUU YANG). For the interest of fairness, I happily note that version here too for credit purposes. Sincerest apologies if this caused any confusion.
500g pork neck
1 large sprig of Thai or Sawtooth coriander, finely chopped (substitue with cilantro)
1 large stalk of lemongrass, white parts only, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
25ml fish sauce (nam pla)
25ml dark soya sauce
1 tsp of Thai seasoning sauce (substitute light soy sauce)
40g light brown sugar or palm sugar
Nahm Jim Jaew (Issan Chilli Dipping Sauce)
3 tsps black glutinous rice
6 birdseye chillies, chopped
3 long red chillies, chopped
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
100ml fish sauce
60g light brown sugar or palm sugar
40ml tamarind juice
Slice the pork neck lengthways into inch thick slabs and set aside.
In a food processor or mortar and pestle, ground the coriander, lemongrass and garlic until minced. Add the fish sauce, dark soy, seasoning sauce and sugar and process until combined. Transfer into a bowl, add the pork neck and coat. Refrigerate overnight (at least 2 nights are highly recommended).
To make the Nam Jim Jaew, toast the black glutinous rice in a dry pan over high heat until toasted (it’s ready when it starts popping and smelling ‘toasty’. For me, it only takes about 10 seconds). Pound in a mortar pestle or grind in a food processor until finely ground. Add the chillis and garlic and ground to a paste. Tip paste out into a bowl or jug. Add the fish sauce, sugar and tamarind juice and whisk to combine. Check the seasoning and adjust to taste. The sauce should be balanced to taste spicy, sour, salty and sweet. Add water if it’s overly salty (see note below about the fish sauce).
To cook the pork neck, fire up a charcoal barbeque. Barbeque pork over medium heat and turn occasionally while basting with the marinade until nicely charred and cooked through. It’ll take about 20-30 minutes depending on the thickness of your pork slabs.
Slice and serve with Nahm Jim Jaew (I garnished mine with sliced chillis for photo purposes and extra heat for The Captain hehe).
• To make tamarind juice, dissolve 30g tamarind pulp with 40ml of hot water. Use your hands to mash the pulp into the water then strain.
• If you wish to reduce the spiciness of the sauce, deseed the chillis and/or reduce the amount of chillis in the paste. Of course, feel free to add more chillis to your taste.
• The quality and saltiness level of different brands of fish sauce vary wildly so test it before you add it to the Nahm Jim Jaew. If it’s really salty then reduce the amount of fish sauce in the Nahm Jim Jaew.
• This tastes best cooked over a charcoal bbq but if this isn’t possible you could grill it on a chargrill pan or under a grill. Baking it in the oven would also work and will make the pork more succulent.
• You could also serve this with steamed jasmine rice or (more traditional) steamed white sticky or glutinous rice. The way to eat this is to pick up a portion of sticky rice with your hands, wrap a slice of pork around it, then dip in the sauce.