A bowlful of offal can be purely delightful
The wealthy may turn up their noses, but there's no denying the taste and practicality of dishes made with beef and pork innards, first introduced to Thai consumers by Chinese vendors outside of opium dens
Pork and beef offal are foods many poor people consider to be choice eating, while wealthier classes may not find them as enticing. But they have been historically important in Thailand for several reasons. They were cheap and not in huge demand, as they weren't used for anything except a few very basic dishes.
different froms of ‘kui jap’
Preparing these dishes wasn't difficult and the other ingredients needed were very easy to come by. But once they were cooked they were tasty, and when they were served, people ate their fill. If they were made for sale they could be offered at a low price, and they could be eaten every day.
So historically, offal has played an important role in the diet of poor people, and today as well in its basic form it is enjoyed by a portion of society that far outnumbers the higher classes who may avoid such dishes. Finally, offal has always been easy to come by through every era. During some periods and in some locations perhaps less abundant than in others, but always available.
Boiled beef and pork offal recipes were probably originally introduced by the Chinese.
Those who came in great numbers almost 200 years ago introduced many ways of preparing offal, but before that recipes were described in writing by Chinese who came to the country even earlier. Chinese people began migrating to Thailand in the Sukhothai period, at first working as artisans making ceramics.
There were many Chinese in Thailand during the Ayutthaya period, and a canal in the ancient part of the city of Ayutthaya named after the Chinese who collected taxes from commercial businesses and sent the money to the central treasury. At that time the Chinese had adapted well to Thai society and intermarried with local Thais. They worked as farmers and merchants and were fully assimilated.
Chinese began arriving in Thailand in large numbers at the beginning of the Rattanakosin period, driven out of their country by drought and the persecutions of unjust rulers. During the three or four months when the sea was calm, these emigrants would board large processions of sailing ships and come to Thailand with hopes of a better future. Most of them were men, many with families left at home in China until they found work. If they were successful, the family would follow later. When they arrived in the Gulf of Thailand and saw the dense green vegetation along the shore they felt their lives had been saved, and many asked to disembark on Koh Sichang and then crossed to the mainland at Chon Buri.
Some vessels entered the gulf at Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram and Phetchaburi, and many Chinese came ashore and settled in these places. It was easy for them to work as boat builders, to catch fish for sale, or to burn mangrove wood to make charcoal for sale. It was heavy work but they kept at it and made it worth their while. There is a canal located far up the Phetchaburi River called the Hainan Canal, evidence of the remarkable fact that Chinese lived there when that area was covered with dense, wild jungle.
Chinese passengers who disembarked in Bangkok arrived hoping to find jobs as labourers, but work of that kind was extremely arduous in those days. If they were lucky they might be hired to work as porters carrying sacks of rice in the mills and warehouses along the banks of the Chao Phraya, or unloading freighters at the port, but work of that kind was scarce. Most had to accept other kinds of labour, like carrying stones for road construction, delivering water to private homes and picking up sewage, or pulling rickshaws. Since they didn't have houses, they put up in niches between buildings. Some went to opium dens where they could sleep for the entire night.
Cheap food was available from vendors in front of the opium dens, and it was usually boiled beef or pork offal, which could make a filling meal when eaten with rice. The Chinese prepared beef offal by boiling them together with lemon grass and galangal in a big, basin-like pot, where they continued to simmer as the vendor removed pieces to slice and serve to customers. Pork offal was boiled with sour pickled cabbage.
Both types of boiled offal had their start in Thailand as cheap food sold in front of opium dens by itinerant vendors who wandered around with their ingredients and cooking equipment suspended from a plank that was balanced on a shoulder. With time their availability and the clientele who bought them expanded.
Chinese labourers and opium dens are gone from Bangkok now, but the boiled offal dishes did not disappear along with them. The original recipes are still used and people still like them, but today they are being sold in market stalls.
The old boiled beef offal recipe has branched off to become the noodle dish called kui tio nuea puay. Here, the beef innards and the meat attached to tendons, the toughest of all, are cooked until they become so tender they can be cut with a fork, then served in a bowl with rice noodles and bean sprouts. The original pork offal recipe has also diversified to yield tue huan, a tastier variant. It consists of sticky rice stuffed with peanuts and boiled pork offal. When it is served it is sliced into pieces and eaten with black soy sauce that has been boiled until it becomes thick.
Boiled pork offal has also evolved into kui jap nam khon. Originally this was a noodle dish with thick broth that included boiled rice noodle sheets in starch-thickened water that had been boiled until it was quite viscous. It was flavoured with the liquid from pork offal boiled with pha lo seasonings (Chinese five-spice powder), giving it a salty taste. Boiled eggs were also added. When a serving was ordered, sliced pork offal and a boiled egg were put into a bowl with the noodles and their broth together with fresh coriander and spring onion.
There is another form of the dish with thin broth. The noodles and offal are served in broth that contains no pha lo seasonings, so that it lacks the brown colour of the thick, nam khon, version. If no noodles are added and congealed pork blood is included it is called kao lao luead moo.
All of these more modern dishes branched off from the old boiled beef and pork offal eaten by the poor. Over time they evolved into kui tio nuea puay, tue huan, two types of kui jap and kao lao luead moo.
If a cook offers an especially delicious version of any of these dishes his restaurant becomes famous, and foodies _ even affluent ones _ flock in to vie for tables and order bowls at a price that would have stupefied the old-time vendors and their hard-working Chinese clientele. This is another example of familiar Bangkok fare with a history that has much to say about the develoment of our society.
About the author
- Writer: Suthon Sukphisit