Not long ago, I detailed the influence Burmese cuisine had on the exalted Thai Khao Soi. This got me to thinking of what other dishes were swayed by the flavors of Thailand’s Northwesterly neighbors. Researching Burmese food, I speculated mohinga to be the cousin of Thai kanom jeen. Though I’ve yet to find any information that wholly proves or discredits my theory, as it turns out, the rice noodles for the dish came directly from the Mon people. From there, I found out that the Mon left an indelible mark on Thai cuisine with their contribution of gabpi maawn (fermented fish paste) to the country’s already impressive list of funky flavorings. Interesting.
My mind went off in different directions for a while but kept coming back to the Mon. There is a Mon desert of bananas in coconut milk and I wondered if this is from where gluay buat chi was derived. Maybe The Thai dessert so many of us know and love isn’t indigenous to Thailand at all.
Soon enough I was attempting to dredge from the deepest recesses of my mind dishes eaten in Thailand that are entirely Burmese. This is no easy task for a man who has a painfully limited knowledge of Burmese cuisine. Immediately I thought of gaeng gai Bama (Burmese chicken curry). The modicum of pride one gleans from connecting one fishy, noodly curry to another was dashed to bits by the realization that the only dish I could think of being from Burma actually had the country’s name in it.
Perhaps I subconsciously made the connection that khao soi – the dish that sparked this whole tangent - and gaeng gai Bama utilize both red and yellow curry. Maybe I thought of gaeng gai Bama because of how delicious it is. Either way, I realized quickly that this was a delicacy you need to eat.
Gaeng gai Bama is a balancing act. Red curry paste brings spice to the dish while milk tempers the heat and adds sweetness; yellow curry offers a savory dimension as fried shallots lend an earthy one; crispy chicken skins shroud succulent meat and contrast the softness of simmered tomatoes; the saltiness of fish sauce subtly binds each element together. Served with rice, this dish makes a wonderful winter stew but can easily be eaten during the peak of summer.
I felt compelled to cook up a batch and, since I don’t think it’s particularly easy to find the dish outside of Thailand, figured I’d share the recipe.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 8 shallots, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons red curry paste
- 2 tablespoons yellow curry powder
- 1 3-pound chicken, butchered (skin on)
- 6 cups water
- 1/3 cup fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tomato cut into wedges
- Heat a large pan and add ¾ of the butter and all of the shallot slices. Cook shallots until golden, then remove and set aside.
- Add remainder of butter into pan. When melted, add curry paste and curry powder. Cook for a couple of minutes before adding the chicken. Cook until the chicken is caramelized on both sides (about five minutes). Add all ingredients except the shallots and bring to a boil. Simmer approximately 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
- Serve the curry with rice and top with the fried shallots.
- I’ve seen recipes where people have used coconut milk instead of cow’s milk. Give it a shot, if you like.
- I’ve reduced or completely omitted the water portion of this recipe on a few occasions. It’s fantastic either way.
Want to experience Thai and Burmese-influence Thai food? Come on a tour!