I can't live without my Nampla
I can't live without my Nampla
Well, actually, I can - if I absolutely positively really, really HAVE TO. But since we are in the year of 2009, and we have a wonderful
global connection, Nampla can be found in just about any grocery store in the United States. Two brands nominate the market - "Squid"
(I may be a little off in the spelling - but still darn close). I use Squid brand
, have been using it since I lived in Bangkok.
In fact, this brand, as well as at least twenty other brands of Nampla, have been around since I was a little girl lurking into our huge kitchen.
What is Nampla, really?
Edited to add an update.-Now that it's half year into 2010!
Since my Vietnamese grocer downtown is somewhat unpredictable with her hours of operation, I am forced to
shop my Thai ingredients at another local food store. Although I've been charged double of what I normally pay in an Asian food store,
but I did discovered that Tiparos brand (pronounced ti-pa-rohd) is more concentrated than
Squid, and that it's more aromatic.
Have you tried? Please let me know what you think.
Nampla is another level from salt. My guess is (oh yes, there will be a lot of guesses, instinct, and gut feeling), long time ago, people put
salt to flavor their food, later, they discovered that salt magically made the food last longer. Somewhere along the line, since we have a lot of
fish in the water (and rice in the field) the Thais found it most flavorful when salt was mix in with fish. I'm sure you can guess the rest of
the story, they, then also realized that, after awhile of the 'mixin', out came liquid that produced such strong aroma. Strong, yet, inviting,
they boiled the liquid and added it on top of their cooked long grain scented Jasmine rice,
and the history was made. In Thailand there are many Nampla brands that use different kinds of fish - all fresh water. If you travel to the countries
and mingle with the locals, you will find that they still make their own Nampla from fish that are found in the river which runs through their town.
- or "Oyster Sauce
If the Thais could come up with mixing salt with fresh water fish, the Chinese - or the Thai-Chinese - could come up with mixing salt with oysters, too!
Alright, I admit, I am a Nammunnhoy junky. To me it helps bring out the flavor of the food. When I stir fry, after I heat up the oil and my chopped
garlic turns yellow, I put in the meat which immediately followed by three shakes of Nammunnhoy and freshly ground black pepper.
A vegetarian who worships Saint Guanim (a Chinese Saint) is allowed to use Nammunnhoy as an ancient tale's told that when Saint Guanim was shipwrecked and
was stuck on an island (probably in South China Sea!), she ate oysters to stay alive. Well, I'd say it smells good and tones down the otherwise sharp edge
of each flavor - salty, sour, spicy and sweet, so I'd say, use it - vegetarian or not.
-oh yes! From Switzerland! Made from soy beans by the person whose name is (guess!)
"Maggi" I personally love the smell of Maggi sauce but do feel sorry for folks who lived in the town where it was produced. Maggi sauce stood proudly as the first sign of western cooking that made its way in a Thai kitchen since, what, late 40s
or early 50s? Oh, don't take my word, I don't research. But, really, I remember growing up in the late-late-very late-really really late 60's (emphasize to convince myself that I am neither
old or out-dated) that in order to make a farang - or western - dish, one must own a bottle of Maggi
. It was considered an act of treachery if any household avoided the high imported
price tag by substituting Maggi with its Thai's own immitation called "Golden Mountain Sauce" or Source tra "Pookowtong"
Just a little thing, when I use Maggi, I don't use Nammunnhoy or Nampla, it might create a 'taste bud' confusion!
Since we talked about soy product, let's go to the Chinese version of soy beans 'Towjiew
' or soy bean paste.
Please pardon its appearance, I used it quite a bit in my last dipping sauce for my Sichuan chicken rice. It's also an important ingredient in
many stir fry large noodle dishes which I will also introduce in Chef-Me-NOT! With all my sauces, I tend to use them until their last drops by
pouring in small amount of luke warm boiled water, put the cap/lid on, and shake until the inside of the bottle/jar is free of the sauce, then pour
that into my cooking. If you also do this, please remember, only put in small amount of water, you don't want to drown your dishes with the water-down sauce!
The one ingredient that is not on my counter and I haven't yet got around to use, but since it is so famous here in the Thai food connaisseurs of the USA I will talk about it.
- a sauce that looks like tobasco sauce but is more balance on the scale of flavor (sorry, folks) It is hot, sour, and a little sweet.
Sriracha is a name of a province east of Thailand, less than two hours from Bangkok (by distance, not by the unpredictable traffic) on the Gulf of Siam. Whether
the sauce is manufactured there, I don't know.
The one and only time that Sriracha sauce would best serve its purpose is when it accompanies the most delicious golden, crispy-fried kaijiew hoynangrom which
is our famous golden crispy fresh-big and beautiful oysters omelet. (I'll put a photo up as soon as I make it!) I remember going to a seaside town on the east coast of Thailand
with my parents. For appetizer they would order a large platter of kaijiew hoynangrom which would be served along with a large bowl of Sriracha sauce. My father would order
Singha beer, my mother would have her iced tea while my sister and I got our favorite green or red jasmine scented syrup with soda water in crushed ice. The combination of sea breezes, kaijiew hoynangrom and Sriracha sauce, with our favorite
drinks, made a perfect day for us two little girls!
What a precious childhood memory! Do you have a memorable moment you care to
Cooking Oil - We all have our favorite cooking oils and we have our own reasons. I used sunflower oil and safflower oil, but for the last
ten years, I switched to olive oil
, extra virgin or non. (Oh, please, do not go Rachel Ray and abbreviate that on me.
- Ground Thai chilli
I can't talk about my favorite ingredients without mentioning Thai chili or prikkeenoo.
Ground chili from the first photo was made by my mother, well, her kitchen help. She went out to buy the most expensive pure-bred prikkeenoo
she could find, after she cleaned them, pulled out stems and leaves, got rid of the bad ones, etc., she roasted them. When they were cool enough she grinded them in the
blender. She put the ground prikkeenoo in a Tupperware container and my sister carried it in her suitcase, along with other cooked goodies from my mother's own kitchen,
when she came to visit me last time. If you plan to bring food back from overseas, please follow regulations, and, declare your food when you go through customs.
- Rice (uncooked)/Jasmine scented rice and Kaosuoy
- not just "cooked" rice, but "beautifully" cooked rice
So, we Thais have a high standard when it comes to rice. Our best quality rice is the long grain Jasmine rice which - pre-cooked or cooked - has a natural fragrance
which resembles the scent of jasmine flower. When you buy rice in a store (a 25-pound bag size imported from Thailand) look for "Jasmine rice"
From time to time, I'd consider myself lucky when I find the words "new crop" labeled on the bag . Should this be the case, take new crop.
In Thailand I became a rice connaisseur and would go to a rice shop where 30-40 of giant size rice bags (around 100 kgs or 220 pounds,
each with a label showing its origin, what kind of crop, and price per kilo(gram) would be displayed. I'd walk around inspecting
the grains, scooped up each kind of rice with its large scoop and brought it up to my nose. I'm a rice addict, this, I admit!
People prefer their rice differently. My father likes shorter grained-rice, because it holds more moisture when it's cooked.
My mother prefers long grains and she likes it dry. I, too, like to cook the long grain rice with less water so it comes out dryer.
We always made two pots of rice at our house; a small porportion for my father, and a larger porportion for the rest of the family.
- sticky rice or gluten rice
More of a Northern and North-Eastern cuisine than a Central part of Thailand. But we all come to enjoy the aroma and the sweet taste of the hot sticky rice
when we form it into a ball in the palm of our hand, and dip the kaoniew ball into somtum, laab, ghaiyang, or various kinds of spicy and savory dipping sauces
and pastes. In our mouth-watering dessert "ripe mango with sticky rice", sticky rice is cooked the same way it would for serving with laab and somtum, but palm
or coconut sugar, coconut milk, and a dash of salt is also added to turn it into a great dessert.
I can't end my most favorite ingredients page without mentioning the noodles
I stock up on all kinds of noodles, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese,
and Italian pasta. When I am overdue for food shopping and barely have anything left except, for example, celery, a couple of eggs, a pack of meat of any kind.
I would use those few ingredients and grab a pack of noodle - large, small, flat, rice, egg, pasta, Chinese, Thai...etc. and make soup or stir fry. Noodles are
staple ingredients around my kitchen!