The Secret to Chiang Mai Spice

Northern Thai Chile Powder

Well, it’s not really a secret considering millions of Thais cook with this Northern Thai Chile Powder and eat it every day. But it is an exceptional concoction, found only in northern markets. Thai travelers take it home to Bangkok and points between (or beyond). Try to make a northern chicken soup or a Chiang Mai style laap without this, and you will fail. You will miss that certain something that gives your dish the quintessential Chiang Mai flavor (and scent! what a nose pleaser!).

So, just what is this spice mix? Many things (recipe to follow), including two critical but relatively obscure ingredients: the long pepper (Piper longum)… 

long peppers

Piper longum

and prickly ash, a member of the Sichuan pepper family. It’s a medicinal plant used throughout much of South and Southeast Asia, and has as many names as cultures that use it (ma khwaen in Thailand, ma khaen in Laos, mejinga in Nagaland….)

prickly ash

Northern Thai prickly ash

Most Thais buy their Northern Chile Powder already mixed and packaged in the market (I’ve been told Loong Ma is the best brand). But it’s possible to mix your own, should you get the urge — or should you be a long way from Chiang Mai:

Northern Thai Chile Powder (courtesy of the Mandarin Oriental chefs)

50 grams coriander seeds

20 grams long peppers

5 grams prickly ash

5 grams cumin

a pinch of mace

20 grams dried galangal

20 grams dried lemongrass

3-5 grams caraway

dried red chile (as much as you like)

Everything dried, everything pounded. Keep it in your kitchen for the next batch of grilled pork, northern Thai stew or Chiang Mai laap. Check your local Asian market for ingredients. No luck? Alibaba seems to sell everything.

By the way, are you wondering about my sudden jump from the Himalaya to northern Thailand? This is what happens when real life meets the blogosphere. I’m actually in Laos at the moment. Before that, Chiang Mai and Bangkok. India was last month, but I’m still catching up on that trip’s plethora of food goodies to post here. Bear with me. Eventually, I will tell you more about Darjeeling and Sikkim, more about Thailand and Laos. But I haven’t the time (or the Internet connections) to keep on top of my own toes. In the coming months, I’ll have a map of my actual whereabouts on the front of this blog. Until then, if you’re really curious, you can look here. It might even be accurate.

9 thoughts on “The Secret to Chiang Mai Spice

  1. Karen,
    Fascinating stuff, I’ve never heard of it before. Upon closer inspection the prickly ash looks a little like star anise without the sharp edges. The long pepper looks like something off a Norwegian Spruce tree!

  2. I really enjoy reading your posts !! I think you might have the best job in the world … traveling the world, eating the worlds food and blogging about it !! Where do I sign up !? 🙂

  3. Miles, you’re right. The prickly ash is much smaller, however. It’s used throughout northern Thailand, Laos, northeastern India and many other places.

    Bonnie, thank you! But the reality is much more difficult than it may appear. Believe me, I could go on for hours about that. Food is but one facet of my work; other subjects are far more exhausting. (Even food is exhausting, at times.) This week, I’m looking at UXO (unexploded ordnance) in Laos – not much happiness there.

  4. fascinating. I’m not sure we would find the ingredients here in Washington, DC, but we love Thai food and I love it even more know that this diversity exists within Thailand

  5. Wow,this spice looks fantastic. We are so in love with spices and our cupboards are chock full of them! We just found your blog and can’t wait to visit more often to experience your eating adventures and stories. Thank You!

  6. Thanks for the list of spices! I am addicted to Thai red chili paste, but your spice blend will be a wonderful change! Great blog- I am enjoying reading all of your posts.

  7. Here’s another naga recipe that u can use the roasted meijinga seeds.

    Beef ribs- 3lbs

    pounded galic- 10 big cloves

    naga ginger- 2 1/2 inches long

    naga chilly powder a mixture of the dried naga chilly a.k.a. bhut jalokia and regular dried red chillies- 4 tbs

    roasted and pounded mejinga seeds- 1tbs

    sliced onions

    salt according to taste.

    In a pot put beef ribs and enough water covering the ribs. Simmer and cook for 1 hour. next put in the garlic, chilly powder and salt.After ten miniutes put in the roasted pounded meijinga seeds and the sliced onions. This dish should have a little sauce and is served with rice, boiled vegetables and naga chutney. Entire cooking time is 2hrs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *