Never before on this blog have I devoted an entire post to only one single dish. But the following is completely deserving of this special treatment. After 2 months of traveling through Thailand, this is the single best Thai dish I have ever had.
On our first full day in Koh Chang, our AirBnB host, Jum, came around to our cottage to take us on a grocery run in her car. Along the way, we briefly got to know each other and chatted about our home country in a broken English conversation. As usual, the conversation steered towards food, to which we said we’re huge fans of Thai food.
“Wow! You know about Thai food?” she exclaimed, genuinely surprised. (Earlier, she had also asked if we’re from America, how come we’re so brown.)
We explained how California is a whole mix of cultures, filled with people from all over the world. We can eat food from all different countries, and Thai food is already one of our favorites.
A spark ignited in her eye, “Are you hungry now? Do you want lunch?”
“Yes!” In fact, it’s only been a couple of hours since a huge brunch, but we never turn down opportunities for eating.
“Good! I know a place!” She immediately swerved her car across the road to the other side, coming into park in front of a little roadside restaurant with a thatched straw roof.
Nothing is in English there, so we trusted Jum to order for us, telling her to get “whatever you like”. After a few minutes, our table started to fill with food: a bowl of noodle soup with blood broth, a different noodle soup for her, pad thai, and a rice & pork dish.
Indeed, I consider myself very lucky to have grown up in such a melting pot. Southern California may not have a culture of its own, but we get to borrow everyone else’s and create a place that’s pretty unique in its own right. As such, I’ve been intimately acquainted with the flavors of Thailand even before ever setting foot in the country. Perhaps this is the reason for my lack of Thailand food posts as of yet. Even though we’ve had so much good food here, there’s not much that has been super different from what I already knew.
But even with all the Thai food I’ve had, I’ve never, ever had the simple pork and rice.
After some instructions from Jum on how to prep it, I took one bite… and my tastebuds danced. I was in love.
Where has this dish been all my life?? As soon as I had a bite, I knew I wanted more and more.
A couple of days later, as soon as D and I rented a scooter, we rode to that little restaurant, looking out for the thatched straw roof. We ordered 2 orders of the pork and rice. I even pulled up the picture on my phone to make sure that we get the correct dish.
It looks so simple: a handful of stewed pork leg over a bed of fluffy white rice, soaking up the succulent stew. Oftentimes, a blanket of gelatinous fatty pork skin top the fork-tender meat. Pickled mustard greens, Chinese kale, and a hard boiled egg complete the dish on the side. Now, mix in a vinegary, garlicky sauce, and add raw garlic cloves and tiny green chilies. The final result is an explosion of textures and flavors like none other I’ve had.
As Jum originally instructed, I like to mix the vinegary sauce thoroughly into the rice and pork (though I’ve seen others just drizzling the sauce on top of the meat). The garlic cloves, I’d peel one by one, and eat raw along with each spoonful (I love any dish that allows me to eat raw garlic by the mouthful!… gross, I know…). Those braver than me can take nibbles of the green peppers for an extra kick, but be warned: they are mind-numbingly spicy.
And of course, all this is best washed down with an icy cold glass of sweet Thai tea.
After that, we went back again and again. Sometimes, we’d skip a day, but for the most part, we went daily. After a couple of visits, the restaurant lady started to remember us.
At first, we’d say “two pork and rice” and “two iced tea.” After the 3rd or 4th time there, she would walk over and ask “two, and two?”, and we would all smile and nod in mutual silent understanding. And then one day, several more visits later, she simply brought out the little dishes of sauce and garlic/chili to our table as soon as we sat down. Words were no longer needed.
Finally, on our last visit, I asked her what this dish is called. “Khao kha moo” she told us, patiently drawing out each syllable.
So next time you’re in Thailand and see khao kha moo on the menu, just order it! Apparently, this is one of the more popular dishes in Thailand, though I have no idea how I missed it for so long!
Just don’t be kissing anyone for the rest of the day. :)
Should you ever go to Koh Chang and want to look for this place, here is the best I can tell you: I don’t know the name of this eatery (it’s in Thai anyway), but it is on the main road near the turning point between the east and west sides, about 100m across the street from Ayapura Resort. It has a straw thatched roof and wooden tables and chairs. I know this is very helpful, but there aren’t a lot of eateries there.
What is your favorite Thai dish? And if you’ve been to Thailand, what’s the best thing you’ve ever had?