Bangkok is getting hotter by the day as summer approaches. Fortunately, the Thais have some delicious treats to help you stay cool as the city swelters.
Over the years the Thais have devised numerous ways to beat the heat, from lobbing water over one another (this month) to spending much of their time in air-conditioned malls (every month). One of the tastiest is a sumptuous rice dish called khao chae.
Comprised of rice (khao) soaked (chae) in icy water and served with a selection of traditional side dishes, this elaborate summer delicacy is said to have been used during the reign of King Rama II to help him regain his appetite during the oppressive heat of summer.
Not until the reign of King Rama V (1868 – 1910), however, did word of its popularity as a coolant spread outside the palace walls.
As for its true origins, these are thought to be traceable to the Mon, a tribe who occupied the Central Plains and would offer it the female guardian spirit of Songkran, the Thai New Year which falls this month.
The painstaking preparation process and its regal back-story explains why it tends only to be served in upmarket Thai restaurants. The boiled rice is easy enough to prepare, but the jasmine-scented water is a different story. Water is added to a pot, along with fresh jasmine, rose petals and a tien hom, a candle scented with a fragrance that’s often used in Thai desserts. The pot is then covered and left so that the fumes of the candle and oils of the flower permeate the water.
A short while later, the rice is then sprinkled with the fragrant water, steamed and then served in a bowl of it along with crushed ice and yet more jasmine and rose.
If the rice sounds labour-intensive, it’s nothing compared to the sides that come with it. Offering a potpourri of flavours and textures, these elaborate dishes typically include deep fried shrimp balls, sweet dried turnips, deep-fried shallots with shredded pork, and neua waan, or caramelised strips of beef.
The Sukhothai Bangkok, 3/3 South Sathorn Road BTS Saladaeng 02-344-8888 | www.sukhothai.com | Lunch only
99 Sukhumvit Soi 6 | 02-207-9999 | www.grandsukhumvithotel.com
120/4-5 Sukhumvit Soi 49, opposite Samitvej Hospital BTS Phrom Phong | 02-391-3193 | 11am-10pm
Ariyasom Villa Hotel, 65 Sukhumvit Soi 1, Sukhumvit Rd BTS Ploenchit | 02-254-8880 | www.ariyasom.com | 6:30am-10:30 pm
Banyan Tree Bangkok, 21/100 Sathorn Tai Rd |BTS Chong Nonsi/MRT Lumphini | 02-679-1200 | www.banyantree.com | 6 am-10:30am; noon- 2:30pm, 6pm-10.30pm
10 Pramuan Rd, between Silom Soi 17 and 19 | BTS Surasak | 02-236- 4361 | www.thanying.com | 11:30am-1pm