I come from north-east Thailand, a region also known as Issan. Every year there is a festival called Bun Bang Fai which is held to celebrate the coming of the rainy season so essential to our rice crops. It takes place over three days starting with Buddhist ceremonies and traditional dancing, by the second day events become far more raucous thanks to the liberal use of alcohol and the Thai desire for “sanook” which means “fun” in English. This means by the third day most of those taking part awake with huge hangovers for which the most popular cure is usually more beer or rice whisky. It is at that stage that they stuff huge tubes with around 100 kg of gunpowder which they then haul up rickety wooden scaffolds and launch their rockets into the sky. Or not:-)
Miang Kham originates from this region and I think of it as the culinary equivalent of the Bun Bang Fai festival, starting off serenely and ending up in explosions. However in this case it is literally a taste explosion; that might be an overused phrase but not when it comes to Miang Kham. In any sane, sensible, country a festival like Bun Bang Fai would have been banned on public safety grounds about 100 years ago. A dish like Miang Kham could never have originated in a sane and sensible country. However we are talking about Thailand and the words sane and sensible are simply not part of our vocabulary. That would be "mai sanook” no fun!
And if you're thinking that this dish might be a little bit “too” Thai then take a look at the picture below. I prepared that for a friend’s birthday party and I should have done "before and after” pictures because there were just a few lonely looking peanuts left sitting on the banana leaf a few hours later! Another great thing about this dish is that you can't go wrong with it (well, provided you lay off the wine until after you chop the ingredients!) as there is no cooking involved.
Talking of the ingredients, as you can see below I've substituted lettuce leaves (Little Gem) for the Cha Plu or La Lot leaves as they would be the most difficult ingredient to source. The dried shrimp can usually be obtained from a Chinese or Southeast Asian grocery store; however this can also be substituted with anything from salted anchovies to small prawns. I know I said there was no cooking involved; well this hardly counts as cooking but you have to cook the coconut flakes (you can also use desiccated coconut) in a pan or wok without any oil over medium heat stirring often for about 5-10 minutes until nicely browned. If using dried shrimp it also helps to dry fry these for a minute or two and they will become a little crispy when cooled.
Apart from that you simply have to dice the ingredients as in the above picture, serve the sauce straight from the packet without heating. As far as quantities are concerned, one onion or a few shallots, a bulb of garlic, a lime etc with the rest of the ingredients in proportion will easily suffice for four people.
The chillies; this where we get the explosions! In the video you will have seen me just put one small piece of chopped chilli into my Miang Kham “parcel”, that might seem a little bit wimpish for a Thai person I know, but ,in my defense they were Cambodian bird chillies and ferociously hot!. The bird or finger chillies you see in supermarkets will generally be far less spicy, it’s up to you which chillies you use.....make sure they have at least some kick though!
This is a dish that many people look at and then get scared:-) Which is a shame, because for those who do try it so many of them come back for more. It’s really not as fearsome as it looks and is probably about the most fun starter you will ever get to eat so be brave!
The best way to familiarise yourself with this recipe is to look at the pictures above and read the intro. And if you want to make it then watch the video. I’ll put a list of ingredients here but bear in mind you can chop and change these as you desire.
This is all about the preparation so chop your ingredients as in the images above. Dry fry the coconut until brown. If you have got dried shrimp then dry fry these for a few moments so they become a little bit crispy.
Arrange the ingredients, and put the Miang Kham sauce in a small bowl, it doesn’t need cooking.
The technique for assembling this needs to be watched in the video above.
Dried shrimp can be obtained from Chinese or Southeast Asian grocery stores or even online. They are an acquired taste and not for everyone! You can leave them out if you wish, they can also be replaced with salted anchovies or similar.
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