Did you know the largest citrus fruit on the planet can grow as large as a soccer ball? Due to its enormous size, it is often called the ‘king of citrus fruits’. In Thailand this particularly refreshing and very juicy fruit, with a skin stippled like a golf ball, goes by the generic name of Som-o. If we even recognized one we would probably call it a Pomelo, which is thought to be a combination of the French word for apple – pomme, and the English word – melon. Other names for this tropical fruit include the Chinese grapefruit, Bali lemon, German lederorange, and the Shaddock, which just happens to be the surname of the sea captain who first introduced this fruit to the West Indies in the 17th century.
In actuality, there are two distinctly different som-os sold here. The Som-o Thong Dee, with pink flesh and a rounded shape is much sweeter than its sour cousin, the Som-o Khao Nam Pheung, which has yellow flesh and a pronounced point at one end.
Native to Thailand and most of Southeast Asia, the pomelo has since migrated to the southern regions of China, Japan, and India, the islands of French Polynesia, the Caribbean, Mexico, and the American states of California, Florida and Hawaii. The som-o is thought to be the forefather of the modern grapefruit, which botanists believe is actually a hybrid of a pomelo and an orange. The average pomelo is about the size of a cantaloupe and, depending on the variety, either round or slightly pointed in shape. It has a thick soft rind whose colour ranges from green to yellow, and is generally eaten fresh or made into a jelly or syrup. The Chinese swear anyone who eats this fruit will be blessed with good fortune!
When choosing a pomelo, select one that is firm and don’t worry about a blemish or two. Do avoid the fruits that are dull skinned or dry near the stem, as well as examples that are soft or leave an imprint when squeezed. A ripe pomelo can be stored for a week in the refrigerator or for a few days at room temperature.
The pomelo is easier eaten than peeled, as the thick rind comprises roughly half of the fruit’s total weight, and the bitter membrane surrounding each of the 16 to 18 segments must be removed before consumption. Start by cutting off the ‘cap’ and slicing through the rind vertically. Dig your fingers under the cuts and pull the rind away as if you were peeling an orange. Find the end with a dimple and pull the individual sections apart and either cut or pull away the membrane. The rind can be used in stir fries, candied or made into marmalade but the seeds should be discarded.
A peeled som-o segment looks and feels like a section of grapefruit and is very, very juicy. The round shaped som-o is said to be sweet like a melon with just a trace of citrus tang. But I wouldn’t know that because the pomelo I purchased happened to be of the pointed variety. It was very juicy. It was very refreshing. It was very sour, but it still tasted great after sprinkling a bit of sugar on each segment.
In addition to being a terrific thirst quencher, the som-o is blessed with a low calorie and high fibre content. It provides 193% of the daily value of vitamin C, and is loaded with antioxidants. Also it’s rich in potassium which helps to regulate blood pressure levels, and clear away arterial deposits. I don’t know if any of the following is true, but some say that when the pomelo is chewed slowly it will cure a hangover, and that it can cure coughs, indigestion, and even car sickness!
Fried Drunken Noodles or Phat Khi Mao
How is it possible for noodles to get drunk, let alone really drunk as the Thai name implies? Well, I don’t know the answer, but I do know pat khi mao translates into the English words “fried” (phat) and “really drunk” (khi mao). The word noodle is not present in the name, yet somehow everybody seems to know it’s a stir-fried noodle dish, and one that packs a very spicy punch!
There has been much speculation about the naming of this dish. One theory is it was first concocted by an astonishingly inebriated individual who threw any ingredient that came to hand, including way too many spicy chili peppers, into the wok. Others claim the dish won its name because its spiciness required copious amounts of cold beer to tamp down the heat, and by the time the spicy noodles were consumed, the eater was legless with liquor. Some insist the dish is so named because only a drunken fool would be capable of eating something so spicy. Possibly the name derived from the original recipe, made popular by Chinese immigrants living in Laos and Thailand, allegedly called for a healthy dose of rice wine.
Fried drunken noodles is yet another in a long line of dishes conceived by a neighboring nation that Thailand has made its own. Phat khi mao is similar to phat si io (fried noodles with soy sauce) but has a different flavour profile, the result of the hot chili peppers and fresh Thai basil. Like most Thai stir-fries, it can be ordered with chicken (gai), pork (moo), beef (nuea), shrimp (gung), mixed seafood (ahaan talay) or tofu (dtao hoo) and vegetables (pak).
Ordering drunken noodles Thai style might have you thinking you’re ingesting unrefined napalm, so order it “mai phet” and the cook will cut down on the chili peppers. To help acclimate your taste buds to spicy Thai food, order a cold beer or soda, take small bites, and have a sip of your beverage between each mouthful. Before long your palate will be armour plated, and you’ll be eating like you were born in Isaan in no time at all. If the noodles are still too hot for your liking, a serving of anything sugary and sweet afterwards will help to cool your sweating tongue down.
Although the individual make-up of phat khi mao differs at each establishment, it’s easy to find at most street food venues, and will generally contain wide rice noodles, assorted vegetables, an egg, tofu, bean sprouts, red chili peppers, Thai basil, garlic, sugar, soy and oyster sauce, as well as the meat or seafood of your choice.