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Many Things in One Bite or Miang Kham

By B.S.

 
 
It beggs belief that by consuming a bunch of random raw ingredients that don’t really taste all that great on their own, even after being drizzled with a sticky sauce, and cradled in a somewhat bitter leaf, could possibly be the reason for jubilant celebration in respect to one’s taste buds – but it’s true. Whether eaten as a simple street snack or dressed up as a well heeled appetizer, the Thai concoction known as Miang Kham is considered by many devotees to be a one bite wonder.
This diminutive and humble snack that originated somewhere between Northeast Thailand and its eastern neighbor of Laos, somehow manages to embody all of Thailand’s spicy, sour, salty, and sweet signature flavors. Picture a leaf-wrap piled high with peppery ginger, fiery chilies, mildly pungent shallots, tangy pickled garlic, roasted coconut shards, crunchy peanuts, sour limes, and savory dried shrimp. I know it sounds more like a pile of kitchen floor sweepings that a mouth watering morsel, but hang on, I haven’t finished yet. Anyway, before consumption, the sweepings, ahem … I mean fillings need to be drizzled with a sweet, salty, and syrupy sauce that’s composed of roasted shrimp paste, fresh galangal, toasted coconut, dried shrimp, shallots, ginger, fish sauce, and either palm or coconut sugar. The sum of the above is most definitely up to the task of being one of the Land of Smile’s most beloved street snacks.
Miang kham, which roughly translates into “eating many things in one bite”, is constructed from three distinctly different (but edible) materials. The first is the leaf in which the whole is wrapped. The most common component used to enclose the numerous fillings in Thailand is Bai Cha Plu or the wild pepper leaf, which is often erroneously called a betel leaf (Bai Plu). The wild pepper leaf, when fresh, is tender and it delivers a delicate spicy flavor with just a hint of bitterness. Science has come to the conclusion that regular consumption of this particular leaf can prevent tuberculosis and is effective at ridding the body of plasmodium. That’s the parasite that is responsible for malaria. Some Thais prefer using Thong Lang, aka Indian coral tree leaves, or lotus petals for the exterior element of their miang kham. Other wrapping options include: banana blossoms, as well as spinach, lettuce, and green kale leaves. The second of the snack’s three parts is the filling comprised of a variety of both fresh and dry ingredients. Whilst the third leg of this edible stool is the caramelized dipping sauce.
In case you haven’t worked it out, some assembly is required to properly masticate this dish. Either roll a leaf into a cone shape or fold it once across the bottom, and then once sideways to create a pocket. Then spoon small portions of each individual filling into your prefabricated cone or pocket. Next, ladle a healthy dose of sauce onto the fillings. Finally, because it’s a one-bite snack, stuff the whole package into your mouth and wait for the flavors to explode. For some reason the disparate ingredients result in a fantastic flavor that even the most timid of palates can tolerate. Miang kham can be found at just about any local open-air or weekly Thai market, certain tourist traps, and at most seasonal street fairs and festivals. Generally, all of the ingredients are individually packaged in separate little bags, but occasionally, a vendor will do his own thing and sell the tasty tidbits on bamboo skewers. Oh yeah, there are a handful of miang kham variations from which to chose: Miang Pla (Deep fried fish), Miang Pla Tu (Mackerel), Miang Gai (Chicken), Miang Moo (Pork), and Miang Chiang Mai (Tofu and tea leaves)