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Street Food

By Brian S.

Rose Apple or Chomphu

Depending what country you live in, when you run across one, the rose apple is usually sold under an assumed name. In America, the fruit native to Southeast Asia is indeed called a Rose Apple. The claim made by George Bernard Shaw that, “England and America are two countries separated by the same language,” must be true, because the same fruit in the United Kingdom goes by the alias of ‘Plum Rose’ and ‘Malabar Plum’. The Thais have their own name for this bell-shaped fruit that when ripened, turns a rosy-red shade of pink. They simply call it ‘Chomphu’, which is also the Thai word for the colour pink.

Whatever its name, besides Southeast Asia, the rose apple is currently cultivated in India, Africa, parts of South and Central America, the West Indies, a handful of American states, and a number of Pacific Islands. In Thailand, the rose apple is in season from January through July, but it in no way resembles an actual apple. Its appearance would be much better described as looking like a small red pear or an elongated red bell pepper.

The Thais commonly eat fresh, ripe Chomphu sliced with a salty, spicy and sour condiment known as naam bplaa waan. Rose apples are also stewed with sugar and served as a dessert. The fruit is sometimes preserved in combination with other fruits to achieve a more pronounced flavour. In addition, it is made into a sweetened syrup and used to flavour shaved ice desserts and cold drinks. The skin of a rose apple is edible but the seeds are rumored to be poisonous. I could find nothing that proves this to be true. But that doesn’t mean I would eat the seeds.

The skin of an unripe rose apple will be predominantly green. When choosing a ripe rose apple, look for one that is firm, free of bruises, and whose skin is waxy and anywhere from rose pink to bright red in color. Ripe rose apples are highly perishable and they bruise easily, so buy only what you can eat and store leftovers in the refrigerator.

Eating a rose apple is much like eating a conventional apple. Wash the fruit. If desired, peel the skin using a paring knife just as you would an apple. Then trim away the hollow portion at its base, remove the core and seeds, and it’s ready to consume.

The rose apple is a remarkably juicy fruit and very refreshing, much like a watermelon. Its crisp texture is not unlike an apple, however, it is not nearly as sweet. Rose apples are rich in antioxidants and natural fiber. They also contain a significant amount of iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C.

 

Penang Curry with Beef

or

Gaeng Panang Neua

As far as Thai curry dishes go, Gaeng Panang Neua, whose literal translation is “curry, Penang, beef,” is probably number two on my personal list of the most delicious curry offerings. This dish, or Penang curry with beef, as we English speaking interlopers call it, is named after the island of Penang which lies off the northwestern coast of the Malaysian peninsula. However, it should be said this dish is the Thai interpretation of the fiery red curry that hails from the southern side of the Thai-Malay border.

The intermingling of the Chinese, Indian, Arabic, and other cultures on Peninsular Malaysia resulted in a number of exotic seasonings, like cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, and tamarind being used to spice up Malay cuisine. Over the centuries those precious spices along with many Malaysian recipes made their way across the border into the southern regions of Thailand. Also a nation of diverse flavours, Thailand took this dish imported from Penang and made the curry creamier, the flavor richer, and the heat of the spice milder.

In case you are not familiar with Gaeng Panang it is significantly different from the more traditional green, yellow and red curries of Thailand. Penang curry with beef is a rich red curry with thin slices of beef whose complexity of flavour and strong fragrance stems from the combination of red curry paste, thick coconut cream and a variety of herbs and spices. Perhaps that is why Penang curry has always been a favourite among both Thais and foreigners.

You won’t find Penang curry at every street stall. But if you exercise a bit of rudimentary Thai and utter the phrase, “mee gaeng Panang mai?” which roughly means, “Do you have Penang curry?” You will find an establishment that can cook it up for you in no time at all.

Even though Penang curry does contain a bit of spice, it is still a relatively mild dish that can be enjoyed by anybody, even those with a sensitive digestive tract. To further diminish the mild spiciness of the curry, it should be consumed in conjunction with a bowl of steamed Jasmine rice. Or you can simply say to the cook “mai pet,” when you order, and he or she will reduce or omit the fiery Thai chili peppers.

As usual, the exact ingredients of Penang curry will vary from one cook to another. The primary components are thinly sliced beef, coconut cream, coconut milk, red curry paste, coriander, cumin, fish sauce, palm sugar, salt, red chili pepper, and kaffir lime leaves. Some Thai restaurants have adopted the Malay practice of tossing a handful of chopped dry roasted peanuts into the curry before serving to give it even more flavor and a bit of crunch.

Chicken (gai) also goes well with Penang curry and can be substituted for beef (neua) if you prefer. I’ve never had Penang curry with pork (moo) or any kind of seafood (ahaan talay), but I suppose there would be nothing drastically wrong with ordering the dish with these ingredients.