The non-national national dish

A staple and favourite, khao moo daeng can be found on nearly every street corner in Thailand

Khao moo daeng.

Chinese food served in Thailand can be divided by Chinese language groups. The Cantonese specialise in roasted and grilled dishes such as roast duck, grilled pork, bamee moo daeng (noodle with red pork), and bamee rad na naw mai (noodle topped with bamboo shoots in gravy). Hakka Chinese are very good at preparing noodles served with pork balls and tofu balls. The Hainanese are famous for khao man gai (Hainanese chicken rice) and stewed mutton while the Suchow Chinese (Teochew) are experts in boiled and stir-fried foods.

It is not certain which ethnic Chinese created the moo daeng (red pork) recipe. But judging from surrounding evidence roasted red pork most likely originated with the Cantonese, since moo daeng and crispy roasted pork are often seen along with roasted duck, grilled pork and bamee moo daeng offered in Cantonese food shops.

In a typical khao moo daeng food shop, the seller displays a large slab of crispy fried pork, some long strips of red pork, sweet Chinese pork sausages, or kunchiang, and boiled duck eggs in a cabinet, with a pot of gravy placed within reach. To prepare a serving, the seller chops up the crispy pork, slices red pork and kunchiang, cuts the boiled egg into halves and places on a plate of rice. Lastly, he ladles some gravy sauce on top of the ingredients and serves. Khao moo daeng is a favourite one-dish meal, filling and inexpensive

Making crispy pork requires a special technique. In the old days, this Chinese dish was cooked mainly in Nakhon Pathom and Ratchaburi, an area where there are many pig farms. Making crispy pork starts with rubbing large slabs of pork with salt and roasting it inside a tall concrete oven, with burning charcoal at the bottom. After cooking it thoroughly, the meat is lifted from the oven. The skin is pierced with a sharp object before being lowered into the oven again. When fully cooked, the perforated skin turns golden brown and crunchy. At this point, it is ready for sale.

Sweet Chinese sausage or kunchiang made specifically for khao moo daeng is longer than regular kunchiang. Suthon Sukphisit

Khao moo daeng restaurants that prepare their own crispy pork usually boil the meat until it is medium cooked. The chef then rubs the boiled pork with salt, piercing the skin thoroughly with a sharp knife before deep frying it. Each shop has its own cooking technique. A specialised way of boiling, salt rubbing and deep frying gives the pork a unique taste.

Most of the shops make the red pork themselves as it is not too difficult to prepare. Just roast pieces of lean pork rubbed with salt and angka seeds (an aromatic Chinese spice). Angka seeds enhance good flavour and aroma, but they impart a dark red colour to the meat as it cooks. Some people might find the colour unpalatable.

Chinese sausage is too complicated to cook. Therefore, shops prefer to obtain it from suppliers. Kunchiang served with khao moo daeng contains more fat. It is usually stuffed into a long casing (longer than that intended for household cooking). When deep fried, the shiny long kunchiang looks appetising and connotes a professional impression.

The gravy sauce recipe is a top secret of each restaurant. Delicious khao moo daeng is a combination of properly cooked red pork and tasty gravy sauce.

A number of sellers built up their business and fortune from their specialised technique and recipe. Many people who see their success want to follow in their footsteps.

Khao moo daeng is available everywhere -- food shops, pushcarts in fresh markets and food stalls. However, a really good one is not easy to find because many sellers neither have the cooking skills nor own a good recipe.

Crispy roasted pork.

Most sellers buy the ingredients, crispy pork, red pork and Chinese sausage, from the market at low prices. The cheap red pork is prepared by using food colouring. Despite its appealing red, it is tasteless. Moreover, they carelessly make their own gravy sauce by mixing flour, sugar, salt and water and colouring it red.

It is interesting that the shops that sell khao moo daeng always name themselves after Nakhon Pathom province. Whether it is located in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai or Ubon Ratchathani, you'd probably see the shop bearing the sign "Khao Moo Daeng Nakhon Pathom". But that doesn't mean the khao moo daeng recipe originated in Nakhon Pathom and there is no big Cantonese community in the province. Nakhon Pathom only represents the source of the meat used to make the red pork.

There was a khao moo daeng shop near the long-gone Nakhon Sanuk cinema on Charoen Krung Road. The shop provided pale red moo daeng and boiled pork liver. The gravy was kept in a Hennessy bottle. After cutting up and serving the crispy pork, red pork and kunchiang, the seller would pour gravy over it from the brandy bottle. The shop also had spring onions soaking in a bottle of pickled chillies, as well as prik chee faa (chopped fresh chillies) on a plate, and a bottle of see iew dam (sweet black soya sauce) that customers could use to season their khao moo daeng.

This shop was relocated to a soi next to Wang Burapha and still uses the name "Khao Moo Daeng Rong Nang Nakhon Sanuk". Another shop that makes its own crispy pork and red pork is on Chula 50, near Samyan market.

Although khao moo daeng is not a national dish, it is one of the most favourite one-dish meals available on every corner of Thailand.

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