Blog : food



/ Chaiyaphum, Thailand /

/ Story: Trairat Songpao / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Photographs: Soopakorn Srisakul /

It was a journey through time as we paid a visit to ethnic Nyah Kur communities in Chaiyaphum Province, located in the heart of northeastern Thailand, also known as Isan.

Nyah Kur

The Nyah Kur are nonurban groups inhabiting several parts of the country. Their language is a branch of the larger Austroasiatic family indigenous to mainland Southeast Asia and eastern South Asia.

By way of introduction, the Nyah Kur is related to the Mons of Dvaravati, a kingdom that flourished from the 6th to the late 11th century in what is now Thailand. Studies show the modern Nyah Kur language shares extensive similarities in the vocabulary and sounds with Mon, the language of the ancient kingdom.

Narita Lert-utsahakul, liaison of the Nyah Kur Community Learning Center, told this writer:

“It will be nice for everyone to learn through hands-on experience the history of the community, its ethnic music, and the rural way of life.

“This way, they will get to appreciate the traditional music of the people native to the region. It’s a type of tourism activity that focuses on the conservation and restoration of cultural heritage assets.”

That was pretty much a great starting point for our journey to the Isan countryside. The trip took us to a community of descendants of the ancient Mon people located at Tambon Ban Rai in Chaiyaphum’s Thep Sathit District.

As we were witnessing history, we were also watching the present way of life unfold in real time, not to mention good food and the beautiful natural surroundings.

Ways of life

We arrived at Wang Ai Pho Village, Tambon Ban Rai to learn about the homes of the Nyah Kur people.  A remarkable lasting legacy of the past, they were built the old-fashioned way — with one exception.

As time passed, the homes once made of bamboo transformed in the appearance and character to ones built of wood for durability. What remained largely unchanged was house-on-stilts design with a three-level floor plan, each level serving a specific purpose.

The beams that supported the floors above them sat atop pile heads shaped like slingshot catapults. An unfamiliar sight for us city dwellers, it’s an age-old wisdom that’s been passed down from one generation to the next.

Nyah Kur

Nyah Kur

The Nyah Kur people originally settled in the Phang Hoei mountains located at Tambon Ban Rai in Thep Sathit District. Nowadays, ethnic Nyah Kur communities can be found in three provinces.

They made their permanent homes in two districts of Chaiyaphum Province namely, Ban Khwao and Thep Sathit. Their other communities are located in Petchabun Province, and in Pak Thong Chai District of Nakhon Ratchasima, aka Korat.

Nyah Kur

Nyah Kur

Altogether the Nyah Kur people now number more than six thousand. Their written language is adapted from visual symbols of Thai alphabetic writing. The Nyah Kur refer to themselves in the Thai language as “Khon Dong” or “Chao Bon”, literally translated as “People of the Mountains”.

Interestingly, “Nyah” is their native word for people, and “Kur” the mountains. Likewise, “Chao” also means people, whereas “Bon” refers to somewhere up there.


The simple ways of life of the Nyah Kur people are often manifested in smooth performances that combine singing and dancing.

Their musical instruments are made from objects readily available in nature, such as tree leaves. You got that right! They make music by blowing on leaves, a technique requiring practice to make perfect. And nobody does it better than the Nyah Kur, plus they can perform in a band alongside other instruments, too.

Nyah Kur

Nyah Kur

Nyah Kur

Since ancient times the Nyah Kur have perfected leaf blowing as a means of communication as they foraged for food in the forest. They made short musical sections to signal it was time to call it a day and go home.

And we got to try this technique ourselves on this trip. Sometimes we succeeded in doing it, but more than half the time, we failed.

The Nyah Kur could make music blowing on leaves, while we had fun imitating the songs of birds in the tree. Not bad, ha!

Nyah Kur

Nyah Kur

Nyah Kur

The Nyah Kur society is about caring and sharing. Traditionally women are skilled at performing rituals in their everyday lives.

They use objects with supposed magical powers to make predictions, among them a betel nut wrapped in white cloth, which they suspend from somewhere and spin. Meantime, it’s the men who go out into the woods hunting and foraging for food.

Before going on a long journey, they would seek blessings from supernatural beings. And upon their return, it’s customary to offer veneration to good spirits as a way to boost morale.

Nyah Kur

Nyah Kur



For what it is worth, the Nyah Kur people are highly thought of for their ability to use natural resources wisely.

They know the forest like the back of their hands. They can tell by experience which plant is edible and which is not. Traditionally they were born hunters. Now they make a living doing agricultural work but still occasionally hunt and forage for food.

Before the advent of agriculture, the Nyah Kur had lived life strictly following every rule. They didn’t just go out into the woods cutting down trees and clearing forest land for farming. Instead, they relied on village elders for good spiritual blessings before making a move.

After that, they would go to bed as usual. If they had a bad dream, it’s regarded as a portent of evil, and the intended project must be scrapped. Otherwise, it was good to go. Their philosophy is simply this. Every forest has a guardian angel. If you want something, ask.

It’s their symbiotic associations with nature that have helped the Nyah Kur people to survive in the wilderness. To them, the forest provides food security plus the nutrition and water they need going forward.

Take for example, a favorite recipe known as “Miang,” or bite-sized appetizers wrapped in leaves. They are stuffed full of herbs and other good ingredients such as raw banana, eggplants, lemongrass, and elephant ear plants (Colocasia esculenta) that are grown for their edible corms.

To prepare, start by cutting the ingredients into small pieces, add salt and a little bit of hot chilli pepper and wrap with elephant ear leaves. And you’re good to go

The Nyah Kur rely on Miang for a healthy, balanced diet. Plus, it’s in keeping with the long-established tradition that values sharing and caring. It’s a forum for community members to meet as they sit in a circle to share a good meal.

Nyah Kur

The Nyah Kur group whom we met today coincidentally happened to be the first to discover of a famous Siam Tulip field located deep inside the Pa Hin Ngam National Park.

We spent two days and one night on this journey into the forest. The message is clear. It’s amazing how immersing yourself in nature benefits your health. If you have a chance, stop by a Nyah Kur village for a visit. Whether you’re planning to spend a night or two, or making a day trip to the Pa Hin Ngam National Park, trust us.

There is a lot to see. It’s a naturally beautiful place to sleep in a tent if you love stargazing and night sky watching. It’s the only national park open for year-round visits unconditionally. Serious!

The original article in Thai originated in บ้านและสวน Explorer’s Club
Different Names Same Good Food / Anyone for a Yong Tau Fu?

Different Names Same Good Food / Anyone for a Yong Tau Fu?

In Malaysia and Singapore, the popular noodle soup is known as “Yong Tau Fu”. In Thailand, it goes by the name “Yen Ta Fo”. Different names for the same good food!

A mix of crispy fries is readied for a Malaysian-style Yong Tau Fu.

Originally a part of traditional Hakka cuisine, the scrumptious noodle soup is enjoyed by many people across peninsular Southeast Asia. Particularly in Malaysia, it has pride of place among top 100 dishes with a national heritage status.

Yong Tau Fu has been among many big hits on the menu for hundreds of years. Its various recipes were brought in by the Hakka people, one of major groups who migrated into the Region from southeastern China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

Malaysian-style Yong Tau Fu with a side dish of crispy fried condiments. They can be added to soups or eaten with dipping sauces.

As its name implies, the recipe is made of tofu stuffed with ground pork and then deep-fried to give it a distinctive crispy flavor. It is the perfect match for a bowl of soup, good with dipping sauces, and makes a delicious accompaniment for noodle. Nowadays near-original versions of Yong Tau Fu can still be found everywhere in Malaysia.

Meantime, the Thais like their Yen Ta Fo slightly different from the original. They treat it as a noodle dish that comes either with or without deep-fried tofu. Instead, the Thai recipe features fish balls, pleasantly crisp calamari, pig’s blood cakes, and tender shoots and leaves of water spinach. Some Yen Ta Fo joints offer pork-stuffed tofu, while others may do without it entirely.

Known as Yen Ta Fo, the Thai noodle meal with its signature pink soup is served with pig’s blood cakes and tender shoots and leaves of water spinach.
Hakka noodle, as the Thais call it, is a variation of the Yen Ta Fo recipe.

The Thai version is distinguished by the signature pink soup that gets its color from fermented red bean curd. The Thais also like their Yen Ta Fo with a variety of condiments, including taro fries, shrimp balls, jellyfish, and wood ear, aka black fungus. Some like their Yen Ta Fo the Thai way in spicy chili soups. A lot of people confuse Yen Ta Fo with a similar recipe without the pink soup. Although made with the same ingredients, the latter is known as “Kuaytaew Khae”, literally Hakka noodle.

Ingredient of Malaysian-style Yong Tau Fu
Be spoilt for choice! There’s nothing like a full-course Yong Tau Fu served Malaysian-style.

Traditionally, a Malaysian-style Yong Tau Fu begins with first-course meals consisting of a mix of crispy fries, such as tofu, purple eggplant, stuffed meals, and sweet pepper, aka bell pepper. It’s hard to beat a good dipping sauce to start with. Then it’s time to eat them with a soup and add noodle to complement a great meal. Yong Tau Fu is ranked among Malaysia’s top 100 dishes with a national heritage status, along with other big hits such as Nasi Lemak (a rice dish cooked in coconut milk with anchovies and hot sauces), Nasi Ayam (chicken rice), and Ketupat (rice dumpling in palm leaf pouch).

Queueing for a Yong Tau Fu in Singapore. If you’re patient, it will get to your turn.
(Left) A Singapore-style Yong Tau Fu comes in a noodle soup. (Right) Crispy fried anchovies, locally known as “Ikan Bilis”, add flavor to a Yong Tau Fu meal.

In Singapore, where Yong Tau Fu is a culinary success story, rice vermicelli is served on a plate along with a bowl of spicy soup called Laksa. It is recommended to try this with Chee Cheong Fun, a rice noodle roll that comes in either dry or wet versions. There are plenty of Yong Tau Fu joints to be found. The price is reasonable, but keep in mind the line is rather long. If you are patient, it will get to your turn. Enjoy your meal!


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Which is the real Pad Thai?

Which is the real Pad Thai?

Pad Thai is one of Thailand’s best-known dishes. What’s not so well known is that some noodles sold to tourists under that name isn’t Pad Thai at all, and this is especially true with what you’re liable to find sold from cart vendors around Khao San Road. Let’s take a look at what Pad Thai is really all about.

/// Thailand ///

Story: Samutcha Viraporn /// English Version: Peter Montalbano /// Photography: Rithirong Chanthongsuk, Supawan Sa-ard

Pad Thai at a famous restaurant it the Pratu Phi district. Here, it’s said, the prime minister who invented the dish came to eat and gave the taste a big “thumbs up.”

In fact 99% of the restaurants in Thailand sell authentic Pad Thai with only slightly varying recipes, and all with the same ingredients. The basic recipe calls for kuai tiao rice noodles stir-fried with tofu, chopped garlic chive, chopped sweet radish, dried shrimp, bean sprout, flavored with mandarin juice, sugar, and roasted peanuts, and eaten with fresh vegetables like garlic chive, raw bean sprout, and banana blossom. Another very popular variation includes the addition of big shrimp into the stir-fry mix. Pad Thai sold from Khao San tourist area carts, though, has quite a different taste. If you gave some of that to a Thai, that person might say, “this is actually pad si iw (soya-flavored stir-fry) with skinny noodles, more like.”

Cart selling Pad Thai along Khao San Road. Look, the cook is a foreigner!
Some cart vendors offer a variety of noodle types to chose from.

Of course, if you aren’t yourself too familiar with Pad Thai you probably won’t suffer much, because whatever noodle dish it is probably won’t taste too horrible, but if you’re looking for the real thing, this is not Pad Thai. Starting off with the flavor, they use dark soy sauce instead of the delicate tamarind juice with its hidden sour and sweet flavor. They follow up by putting cabbage, khana (Chinese kale), and carrots instead of those pungently fragrant garlic chive leaves. Done that way, Pad Thai becomes a completely different kind of stir-fried noodles.


Fresh shrimp Pad Thai adds large shrimp, and the tamarind sauce/shrimp oil combination gives the noodles a more reddish tint.
False Pad Thai. This has a very salty and oily taste, and also uses the wrong vegetables.

So, then, what is that real Pad Thai all about? In the early days of the Thai republic, around World War II, Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram was Prime Minister, and he wanted to create a Thai dish which would express Thai national identity. The following video clip, produced by the Thai Tourism Authority, does a good job explaining the origin and composition of Pad Thai:



10 Delicious Malay Dishes You Must Try

10 Delicious Malay Dishes You Must Try

The Malay kitchen is often overflowing with heavenly scents and beautifully complex flavours, thanks to the vast range of fresh herbs and spices used in most of its dishes. Generally hearty and wholesome, Malay dishes are the ultimate comfort food with a spicy twist. Its beautiful flavours are best showcased by these 10 iconic dishes:


Nasi Lemak

This national dish has a special place in every Malaysian’s heart and for good reason: the coconut milk-infused rice is the perfect mix of flavours and textures when paired with its staple sides: spicy sambal, hard-boiled egg, fried anchovies, peanuts, and cucumbers. You’ll see this dish being served at any time of the day, from breakfast all the way until 3 a.m. suppers.



Mee Rebus

This comforting bowlful of blanched yellow noodles is especially loved for its rich stew-like gravy, made from sweet potatoes, beef stock, and an intricate mix of herbs and spices. Top it all off with some fried tofu, fresh green chillies and a refreshing spritz of lime and you’re good to go!




These marinated meats on sticks are roasted over charcoal to get its signature smoky flavour. Having satay is not complete without a side chunky peanut sauce, rice cubes, cucumber, and fresh onions. Most places serve beef and chicken versions, but you could get more exotic meats like venison and rabbit at more dedicated satay stalls.



Ayam Kampung

The Malay take on fried chicken uses spring chicken that is deep-fried to a crisp and savoured simply with white rice, raw vegetables, and some hearty curry. This simple yet unbelievably satisfying dish is mostly served for lunch.



Asam Pedas

This highly popular dish in the Southern states of Johor and Melaka is at its best when the spicy-sour balance is just right. The kesum leaves and torch ginger flowers are often used to give the gravy its signature fragrant scent. This dish is almost always cooked with stingray, although sometimes chicken or fatty beef is used instead.



Nasi Kerabu

The rice gets its trademark blue hue from butterfly-pea flowers and is usually served with ayam percik (grilled chicken topped with spiced coconut gravy). The richness of the dish is beautifully contrasted with fresh, raw ingredients like long beans, cucumbers, and cabbage. Some salted egg adds a little extra flavour to this colourful dish.



Roti Jala

Watching Roti Jala being made is mesmerising in itself; the turmeric-infused batter is drizzled on a hot griddle until cooked, and the web-like crepe is rolled to form its distinct look. They are best eaten with a side of thick chicken curry. You can have these as desserts too, by pairing them with a creamy durian dip.



Laksa Johor

Laksa, which generally refers to rice noodles served in a fish-based gravy, has various interpretations according to the different states in Malaysia. The Johoreans are famous for their own take on this classic dish; savour its chunky gravy with flaked mackerel, ladled over spaghetti and topped with shredded cucumber, onions, kesum leaves, sambal, and lime. Although it’s a noodle dish, it’s traditionally eaten by hand.



Masak Lemak

This instantly-recognisable dish, with its trademark yellow hue, is ever-present at any Malay restaurant. Made from freshly-ground turmeric, this decadent gravy uses bird’s eye chillies to offset the creaminess of the coconut milk. It’s usually served with white rice but one sip of this flavourful dish and you may be tempted to have it on its own.



Nasi Goreng Kampung

This wok-fried rice dish packs a punch with its distinctive flavour – the rice is cooked with anchovies, shrimp paste and water spinach – and is never complete without a sunny side up! Just like the Nasi Lemak, this crowd favourite is a common choice regardless of the time of the day.

Durian: The Irresistible King of Fruit

Durian: The Irresistible King of Fruit


/ Story: Samutcha Viraporn / Photograph: Sitthisak Namkham, Samutcha Viraporn /

LivingASEAN proudly presents different durian cultures unique to the ASEAN region. Perhaps it’s something you have never heard of, including five interesting ways of making eating the spiky fruit more fun than you would ever imagine.

A wall is covered with durian graffiti in Kuala Lumpur.


The majority of durians are grown in Thailand and Malaysia with other varieties available in Indonesia. Some are also grown in the Philippines, southern Vietnam and other Southeast Asia countries.


Out of more than 200 varieties of durians in Thailand, the three most sought-after are Mon Thong, Chanee, and Kan Yao.

Mon Thong (meaning “golden pillow”) comes with a sweet taste and a firm texture. Chanee is smaller in size but less sweet, softer and creamier. And Kan Yao has mild, not-so-sharp sweetness.




The quality that most Thais look for in the fruit is its firmness. Durian aficionados can tell a good fruit apart from plain ones simply by knocking on the spiky skin and judging the sounds. Hollow sounds tend to indicate the fruit is too soft. In contrary, solid sounds indicate the fruit is a firm one.

Due to their pungent odor, the spiky fruits are not allowed in many places including aboard the BTS Skytrain and the MRT.


Malaysians prefer their durians to be soft and buttery. In Malaysia, the fruit is eaten within the day they are ripe and drop from the trees to the ground. It is said that the best ones are the ones that fall down in the morning.

Malaysia seems to have it all from Musang King durian puree to Musang King durian mochi to durian flavored popsicle sticks.
Malaysia seems to have it all from Musang King durian puree to Musang King durian mochi to durian flavored popsicle sticks.


Durian flavored cheesecakes come in the guise of a simple cupcake appearance.
Durian flavored cheesecakes come in the guise of a simple cupcake appearance.


There are many products made from the fruit in different, perhaps quirky, ways that are available in Malaysia. They include durian-flavored ice creams, candies, cakes, pastes, freeze-dried snacks, and a wide variety of parfaits.


The keyword for getting a nice durian experience here is “Kampung”. In Malaysia and Indonesia, the word means “village.” So, when you visit a fruit stall, make sure to look for the “Kampung” sign. It means that the fruits are products of indigenous durian trees grown in the villages, and not from any genetically modified tree.




Often you will come across durians that are either too ripe or too raw. So, one useful thing to know is not to buy a fruit that had been cut open. It is a normal practice that a “Takung Duren” (durian seller) will always select the fruit, cut it open and pass on an amount of its creamy flesh for you to taste. After that it’s your turn to decide whether to take the fruit or ask for a new one.

Well, choose wisely. We hope you all have a chance to meet your fruit soul mate!

A little note to the fruit lovers: In an unfortunate case, you may encounter an unscrupulous vendor trying to sell you a rotten or spoiled durian for high prices. No need to overreact like a buyer did in this hyperlink: Just keep calm and buy from other stall instead.


Creative Ways to Eat Durian


Crispy freeze-dried durian makes a perfect snack. It's light and also full of nutrients. /// Malaysia
Crispy freeze-dried durian makes a perfect snack. It’s light and also full of nutrients.


This Hello-Kitty durian ice cream is a combination of cute and cool. /// Malaysia
This Hello-Kitty ice cream is a combination of cute and cool.



Dubbed “durian pancake” or “durian crepe,” this bite-size sweet pack has loads of fresh cream wrapped inside a thin layer of durian crepe like a little golden treasure box.