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),Â including two critical but relatively obscure ingredients: theÂ long pepper (Piper longum)…Â
and prickly ash, a member of the Sichuan pepper family. It’s a medicinal plant used throughout much of South and Southeast Asia,Â and has as many names as cultures that use it (ma khwaen in Thailand, ma khaen in Laos, mejinga in Nagaland….)
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 gramsÂ 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.