For three years, I’ve had a nose for it. I’d been searching for a local chicken soup recipe all that time, though I didn’t know it.
In 2004, on a trip through Kota Bharu in the Malaysian state of Kelantan, Jerry and I met a Muslim man from Ghana who showed us around. We met the mufti, visited a madrassa (where we happened to find an Islamic scholar from Idaho), and sat down to a home-cooked lunch prepared by our guide’s wife. She made the most incredibly aromatic soup, a soup that left me puzzling over flavors for years. I eventually learned it was no singular spice that caught my attention, but something in the combination of ingredients that made my mouth go, “Wow!”
Well, we had it again in Pattani at a Muslim restaurant called Arine. Chicken soup. What kind of chicken soup? Local chicken soup. “Soup gai baan.” It’s really very simple, but the flavors, oh the flavors, you’ll just have to make the soup for yourself to understand. Here’s how, courtesy of Khun Wilaiwan and the Arine Restaurant:
1 local chicken (a.k.a. free-range)
2 lemongrass stalks
Healthy wedge of galangal
Healthy wedge of fresh turmeric (or substitute powdered)
Tablespoon of coriander seeds
A few pinches of salt
Slightly pounded bird chilies
Sliced green onion
Fried sliced shallot
Slightly pound lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, garlic and coriander using mortar and pestle. Chop the local chicken into bite-sized pieces and place in a pot of boiling water. When the chicken is cooked, add lemongrass, galangal, turmeric and garlic followed by salt. When all ingredients are cooked, season the soup with fish sauce, sugar and lime juice to taste. Put the soup into a bowl. Top it with slightly pounded bird chilies, sliced green onion and fried sliced shallot. Serve hot.