More than pad thai and chicken satay, Thai cuisine is extremely varied, with huge variations in regional food and ingredients. For example, in northern Thailand the cuisine centers around fragrant herbs, grilled meats, and lots of funky fermented flavors, a stark contrast to the sweeter, heavier Chinese-influenced food in central Thailand.
To showcase this dynamic cuisine, Chef Therdtus “Tony” Rittaprom’s mission is to share his vast library of Thai culinary knowledge. Formerly Michelin-starred Zabb Elee in Queens, Rittaprom is a master of cuisine from Northeastern and Northern Thailand. His latest restaurant is Zabb PuTawn, an Upper East Side restaurant specializing in dishes like som tum (green papaya salad) and larb, meat salads filled with chili peppers, herbs and rice powder. roast.
In addition to showcasing these flavors in their new restaurant, Rittaprom is also headlining a series of cooking classes dedicated to northern Thai cuisine. The first of these two-hour classes will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on December 14 and 15. Prospective students can register for 20 person classes by contacting Zabb PuTawn (located in Manhattan) at (212) 988-8800. Each student will have the opportunity to prepare four courses with two free Singha beers and a butterfly pea lemonade. Tuition is $ 70 for solo students and $ 120 for couples. Class fees also include a Zabb PuTawn take-out kit filled with ingredients for the dishes (palm sugar, pla ra, nam prik larb, pork crackers, roasted rice powder, and chili powder) and recipes.
The flavors of northern Thailand
Northern Thai cuisine, Rittaprom’s specialty, is a vibrant blend of fermented flavors combined with a careful balance of spices, acidity and herbs. While som tum is eaten all over the country, the dish originates from Isan (northeastern Thailand). The main components of the salad are a balance of unripe green papaya, palm sugar, fish sauce, chili peppers and lime. In northern Thailand, the flavors of som tum are more intense due to the addition of more chili peppers and a fermented anchovy paste called pla ra or pu dong, fermented crab.
Another popular element of northern Thai cuisine is its various meat salads called larb, which can be made from protein ranging from pork to catfish. The larb moo kua in the northern city of Phayao is a good example. It’s made with a blend of pork, liver, skin, and grilled spices, including wild northern Thai mah kwan (an orange flavor resembling Szechuan pepper) and Dee plee, long pepper. One of Rittaprom’s specialties is goi neur. This raw beef salad is made with chunks of raw beef – Rittaprom uses beef tenderloin – mixed with lime leaves, chili peppers, mint and khao khua, roasted rice powder. The end result is a crisp salad with lively flavors made from lime juice and herbs, all enhanced with chili peppers and the crisp texture of roasted rice powder. These two dishes will be prepared in Rittaprom’s cooking classes.
Thai cooking tips from chef Rittaprom
One of the most essential tools for cooking good Northern Thai cuisine is a krok. This Thai wooden mortar is essential for releasing the essence and flavor of ingredients like garlic, chili peppers, shrimp paste and other flavorings without damaging or excessively chopping them. While tempting, just putting these ingredients in a food processor won’t produce the same results. If a krok is not available, Chef Rittaprom recommends mixing all the ingredients “in a bowl but be sure to break the garlic, chilies and peanuts into chunks first and it’s best to use your hands. to try to squeeze everything together so that all the ingredients mix well.
To accompany these salads from northern Thailand, Rittaprom recommends sticky rice. Not to be confused with sticky rice in Chinese or Japanese cuisine, this type of sticky rice (khao niao), also known as sticky or sweet rice, is widely eaten in northern Thailand. The name sweet rice is apt because this rice has a higher level of natural sweetness than other comparable rice varieties. This rice is often served in small bamboo baskets and best eaten dipped in various sauces and salads.
Finally, being able to find the right ingredients is essential to prepare any of these dishes. Many of these northern Thai dishes require specialty ingredients which can be difficult to obtain. The best option would be to buy them from a Thai specialty store. If you’re located in New York City, Queens is home to a large Thai immigrant community filled with great Thai markets like Pata Market, Thai Grocery, and 3 Aunts. If a Thailand-centric market isn’t available in your area, try going to a Vietnamese, Filipino, or Chinese grocery store, as some of these markets have similar products. Or try ordering online from a specialty Asian grocery delivery service like Umamicart.
Som Tum Thai – Thai papaya salad
- 2 cups of grated green papaya
- 2-3 small tomatoes
- .25 cup chopped long beans
- 2 tablespoons of roasted peanuts
- 1 tablespoon of dried shrimp
- 4 tablespoons of lime juice
- 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons of palm sugar
- Thai chili (as much as you want)
- 2 cloves garlic
- Chili and garlic pound in krok.
- Add the peanuts and dried shrimp and gently mash.
- Add the tomatoes and long beans and gently mash.
- Add the seasonings – palm sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and mix until dissolved.
- Add the papaya and mix well.