Khao Chae


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I was pretty excited when my friend Kitty offered to take me somewhere to try Khao Chae, a summertime Thai treat that she wrote in depth about on CNNGO. People on Twitter have also been raving about the dish, so I went in with an open mind.

Khao Chae
Khao Chae

So what is Khao Chae? I'd never heard of it before and upon seeing the dish for the first time, I could only really describe as rice in iced water and loads of little bits on the side. Kitty puts it slightly more eloquently:

There are three parts to khao chae: rice, jasmine-scented water (hence the floating flowers) and crushed ice. The rice is parboiled (boiled with its husk in tact) to keep its shape so it doesn't get mushy when immersed in water, making it chewier than regular cooked rice.

The side dishes are the real star in this meal. Recipes vary but the essentials remain the same. Most of the sides tend to be sweet, except for one: young green peppers stuffed with minced pork, which are then drizzled in egg and fried.

Another must-have khao chae component is deep-fried kapi (shrimp paste) balls, which are rolled in ground coconut, battered and then deep-fried to perfection. This also goes well with kra-chai, or fresh Chinese ginger, which is usually served along with other fresh vegetables such as cucumber, spring onions and strips of raw mango.

Shredded sweetened pork or beef and Chinese radish (chai pow) are also important. In most khao chae sets, the radish is caramelized to shine. In older recipes, however, it usually would only be lightly stir-fried with palm sugar and eggs.

How's that for a complicated dish?! It's actually so complicated that restaurants only make it for about six weeks a year.

I was a bit disappointed with myself for not really being able to make the connection between the rice in iced water and the other bits. They just didn't seem like a natural pairing, so while I ate the side dishes, I neglected that poor, cold, lonely bowl. I guess I'm not as cultured as I like to make out. My girlfriend, however, loved it, so what do I know?

We ate at Lai Ros on Sukhumvit Soi 49, opposite Samitvej Hospital, but you can also get this dish at these places:

Suan Thip
Chaengwattana Road, Pak Kret 3 Road, Nonthaburi. Open daily, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. +66 (0)2 583 3748

Baan Prachachuen
37 Prachachuen Soi 33. Open daily, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. +66 (0)2 585 1323

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