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A Taste of Thailand: Southern Thailand

The cuisine of Southern Thailand is dominated by fish and seafood, with fresh catches from both the western and eastern coasts brought to life by Thai spices

A Taste of Thailand: Southern Thailand
Image: Getty

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With a coast on either side, the Southern Thailand peninsula is the best place in the country for fresh fish. With the warm waters of the Andaman Sea to the west and the Gulf of Thailand to the east, seafood plays the starring role in this region’s cuisine. Crab, crayfish, prawns, mussels, clams, oysters, scallops, sea bass and mackerel (particularly pla tuu, a small mackerel popular in Thai cuisine) all feature, often with ingredients including coconut oil and cream, shrimp paste, dried birds’-eye chillies, turmeric and sour fruit. A lot of the catch is dried and turned into fish sauce (nam plaa) or shrimp paste — two condiments that are staples of the Thai larder. Food here is hot, and with 34% of the population being Muslim there’s a great deal of variation from the rest of the country. The South is the birthplace of massaman (or mussaman), the most time-consuming Thai curry to make because it involves first the bashing of dry ingredients then the pounding of wet, all with a giant pestle and mortar instead of a food processor. It produces one of the most complex and tasty of all the Thai pastes.

The town of Phattalung — in the ancient province of the same name — has incredible food and markets selling fresh herbs, vegetable and spices as well as spectacular fish and seafood. Rice and curry (khao gaeng) is the thing here, with shops selling it right on the street. Malay and Chinese cuisine influences the cooking. Kaeng poo — crab in yellow curry — combines juicy blue crabs with a sauce that balances sweetness with the sea flavours of the crabmeat. The lovely yellow colour comes from turmeric and the final flourish is a garnish of betel leaves — it can be served with rice or rice noodles.

Yellow crab curry
By Nawamin Pinapthomrat, Masterchef UK 2018 finalist

Ingredients

For the curry paste

10 Thai bird’s-eye chillies
4 cloves of garlic
4 shallots
1 stem fresh galangal
2 stems lemongrass
1 tsp kaffir lime rind (optional)
1 stem fresh turmeric
½ tbs black peppercorns
½ tbs sea salt flakes
1 tbs shrimp paste

For the curry sauce

200g crabmeat
3 tbs yellow curry paste
1 can coconut milk
1 tbs palm sugar
1 tbs fish sauce
1 tsp sea salt flakes
4 kaffir lime leaves
20 betel leaves

For the garlic rice noodles

2 tbs vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic
100g rice noodles
1 tsp sea salt

Method

For the curry paste

1 Chop the chillies, garlic, shallots, galangal, lemongrass, turmeric, black peppercorns and kaffir lime rind and crush them into a smooth paste using a pestle and mortar.
2 Add salt and shrimp paste, and mix the paste again.
3 Remove the curry paste from the mortar and set it aside.

For the curry sauce 

1 Add 2 tbs of coconut milk into the heated saucepan.
2 Stir fry the paste for 10 minutes until fragrant.
3 Add 3 tbs of coconut milk to the pan and stir-fry for 5 minutes.
4 Add the crab meat and the rest of coconut milk.
5 Season the sauce with palm sugar, fish sauce and sea salt.
6 Reduce the sauce.
7 Add betel leaves and kaffir lime leaves before taking off the heat

For the garlic rice noodles 

1 Add vegetable oil to the hot pan.
2 Add chopped garlic and fry until light yellow.
3 Take off the heat and set aside, the garlic will keep cooking and turn golden brown.
4 Boil rice noodles in salted boiling water.
5 Transfer the boiled rice noodles to cold water.
6 Drain the water and mix the noodles with the garlic oil before serving

Monsoon Valley Colombard

Pair with: Monsoon Valley Colombard

With a nose of well-ripened gooseberry, green apple and passion fruit, this wine has a touch of the Sauvignon Blanc, in terms of its character. It offers sweet fruit and punchy flavours with a ripe, acidic backbone giving length and a velvety dry finish. It’s also good with prawns and other seafood, vegetable stir-fry, chu chee fish, green curry, ginger chicken and yellow curry.

The story behind the dish
By Nawamin Pinapthomrat

This crab yellow curry recipe is from my grandmother. She’s lived in Pattalung, a peaceful province in Southern Thailand, her entire life. She’s been cooking as long as she can remember, and has passed her culinary skills and tips to me.

In Southern Thai cuisine, fish is the main protein in most dishes. It comes straight from the sea and can be served on the plate within a few hours. Blue crab meat is naturally sweet and succulent. It’s good on its own but tastes even better in yellow curry. To balance the fishiness and sweetness, turmeric is nicely combined in curry paste to give a vibrant colour and refreshing aroma. Just before taking it off the heat, betel leaves are added to enhance the taste and smell of the curry. It goes very well with rice noodles. The flavour combination is just to die for.

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