Sampling the Spices of Thailand With Adored L.A. Chef Kris Yenbamroong
My breakfast at the morning market (corner of Soi Lanna Thai and Soi Singhanawat) in Mae Chan, my mom’s hometown, is nam ngiew. It’s fresh-made rice noodles with pork-bone broth. The stuff on top is jin khua, which basically means “cooked piece of meat.” You can add pork rinds, bean sprouts, and extra chiles. Breakfast of champions.
Peppercorns, dried shrimp, and shrimp paste, all packed up and ready to bring home.
My mom’s cousin, Umporn, owns this stall. She sells spices, coconut cream, and curry paste.
Dried shrimp comes in all sizes, from really tiny to really fat and meaty. The small orange ones are saltier and fishier.
Larb is a Thai word that essentially means “meat salad.” It’s salad in the sense of tuna salad, not green salad. In the north, it’s basically meat that’s been chopped really fine into a paste and seasoned with raw pork blood.
My favorite larb restaurant is Lung Kaew Larb Khom, right outside of Mae Chan (1089 Rd., near Baan Pa Tung School; 66-8-7302-1240; all entrées under $3). The family lives upstairs.
I always make a pilgrimage to this really famous place in Bangkok called Likhit Gai Yang (31/1 Ratchadamnoen Klang; 66-8-6884-9217; entrées $3–$11), which means “barbecue chicken.” Chicken research, I guess. This dish was popularized by the vendors outside the main kickboxing stadium.
These herbs are drying on a satellite dish in the backyard of a restaurant in Mae Chan. Each goes into a mix I bring back.
I bought a kilo of shrimp paste in the south. It looks like heroin. You can break off a piece and just eat it. Pure umami. I use so much of it in my cooking.
I usually go see the monks and make an offering for safe passage to carry all those spices and pastes in my luggage without any problems from the TSA. In Buddhism, this is called “making merit.” You offer stuff for the monks to use around the temple, like soap or toothpaste. These guys are about to bless me.