“River shrimp are a very valuable ingredient for us Thais,” says Chudaree Tam Debhakam, chef and owner of Baan Tepa in Bangkok, Thailand. “I think it’s one of the most expensive Thai ingredients.” In his kitchen, Debhakam uses his world-renowned skills to prepare dishes that honor traditional Thai ingredients.
Today, she travels to the Sam Khok district outside of Bangkok to fish for huge river shrimp. She is joined by one of her mentors, legendary chef Prin Polsuk of Samrub Samrub Thai, known for discovering old Thai recipes and reinventing them. Together, they collect ingredients to cook kanom jeen nam ya, from an ancient Polsuk text discovered. “It’s my passion to collect old cookbooks and cook foods from the past,” says Polsuk. “I wanted to make this dish because it reflects the traditional way of life in Thailand – living by the river and cooking with fish, shrimp and shellfish.”
The couple set off on a small boat at dusk to fish. After enthusiastically catching shrimp closer to lobsters, they head to the forest to cook their meal over an open flame. When killing the shrimp, they are careful not to ruin “the most valuable part” as Debhakam calls it – the fat in the head. They chop and mash the spices and aromatics into a curry paste and squeeze the milk from the grated coconut flesh. They start to prepare their curry by combining these ingredients, pla ma fish, Kapi or fermented krill paste, raw sugar, Nam Koei (a by-product of Kapi), fish sauce and flakes. of dried chili. For the base, they prepare fine fermented rice noodles.
Once the base is ready, they make an impromptu grill outside in the forest, using bamboo stems as a grill grid. The shrimp are cut in half and placed on the bamboo, then quickly sautéed to be added to the curry. They dress the noodles by adding the curry sauce, vegetables and grilled shrimp.
“I think going on a trip is very important,” says Debhakam. “We learn all the different ways of preparing the dish and how different each person’s recipes are. I also love when I find new ingredients that I can take back into the kitchen and use.
“Thai culture is a culture of sharing; we eat together, ”adds Polsuk. “When we eat together, it’s a form of love language between the cooks and the people who eat. It is a way of expressing love and happiness.