Royal Thai dish that beats the heat

Photo courtesy of The Nation

In scorching Thailand, with temperatures soaring to a sizzling 40 degrees Celsius during the summer, one Thai dish has proved effective for our ancestors to keep cool in the absence of modern refrigeration.

During the reign of King Rama IV (1851-1868), culinary wizards at the royal court concocted a dish boasting an unparalleled cooling effect on the body. Khao Chae is a tantalising blend of cooked rice bathed in fragrant flower-scented water and accompanied by an array of condiments. While locating this culinary gem can be a challenge, it remains the quintessential summer indulgence.

Jantararat Hemvej, an interior designer with an insatiable appetite for Thai culinary heritage, unearths traditional recipes, pores over ancient tomes, and gleans insights from palace inhabitants and her lineage. She imparted the secrets of royal cuisine to notable Thai chefs, establishing Studio Chan, a hub for culinary enlightenment, where workshops enlighten enthusiasts on these obscure Thai delicacies.

According to Jantararat, Khao Chae’s origins trace back to King Rama IV’s era, when his beloved concubine, Chao Chom Manda Klin, bestowed this creation upon him, instantly capturing the monarch’s palate. Originally a Mon dish, Chao Chom Manda Klin adapted Khao Chae, serving it at the Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace in Phetchaburi. Over time, its popularity transcended palace walls, becoming a seasonal staple by the early 1900s.

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The Khao Chae experience is as much about the ritual as it is about the taste, as Jantararat explains. Each condiment is savoured separately, followed by a delicate bite of rice immersed in floral-scented water, preserving its freshness. But Khao Chae’s evolution didn’t stop with tradition. At Studio Chan, Jantararat offers a staggering 19 condiments, showcasing innovative ways to savour this timeless dish.

As Thai culture dictates, seasonal ingredients hold sway, aligning with the philosophy of food as medicine. In summer, dishes boasting cooling properties reign supreme, while winter heralds heartier fare to maintain balance, reported The Nation.

Jantararat’s mission isn’t just to preserve culinary heritage but to ignite a passion for it in future generations. Her efforts, echoed by enthusiastic disciples like Vasispol Thonguthaisri, promise to safeguard this rich tapestry of flavours for posterity.

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Puntid Tantivangphaisal

Originally from Hong Kong, Puntid moved to Bangkok in 2020 to pursue further studies in translation. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Comparative Literature from the University of Hong Kong. Puntid spent 8 years living in Manchester, UK. Before joining The Thaiger, Puntid has been a freelance translator for 2 years. In her free time, she enjoys swimming and listening to music, as well as writing short fiction and poetry.

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