The Shan people possess a distinct cultural identity that is particularly evident in their culinary practices, setting them apart from other northern regions of Thailand. Notably, their approach to rice consumption diverges from the norms of the northern populace. Unlike their northern counterparts who often favor sticky rice as a staple, the Shan people adhere to the traditional method of consuming cooked rice as their primary grain. Central to Shan cuisine is their reliance on chili sauces, exemplified by dishes like Numprig Ong, Numprig Kua, Numprig Uub, and Numprig Tuanao. These fiery condiments play a pivotal role in their gastronomic traditions and are typically composed of minced pork, onions, garlic, chili, salt, spring onions, coriander, and dried ground fish. The Shan people are renowned for their delectable and piquant offerings, among which Gang Hung Lay holds a prominent place. Additionally, they exhibit a knack for crafting flavorful vegetable curries, including varieties such as lettuce curry, ivy gourd curry, and an assortment of gourd-based curries. Salads also feature prominently in Shan cuisine, showcasing a diverse array of ingredients. Bamboo shoot salad, star fruit salad, mango salad, along with salads incorporating various other vegetables and even animal skin, further illustrate the rich tapestry of their culinary repertoire.
Shan confections are categorized into two main groups: general sweets and seasonal sweets. Here, our focus will be solely on the general sweets category, highlighting delights such as Suaytamin. This delicacy involves the fusion of sticky rice and sugar until a cohesive stickiness is achieved. The mixture is then generously drenched in coconut milk and subjected to baking until a rich texture is attained. A-la-wa, akin to Suaytamin, incorporates wheat flour into the mix. This variant also undergoes baking, complemented by a lavish application of coconut milk on its surface. Pengmong, another tempting offering, involves the use of fermented flour. This flour is combined with coconut milk and sugar, then melded with the fermented mixture. Thorough stirring results in the desired consistency before the mixture is spread onto a tray and baked. A final touch of coconut milk is applied to the top for a delectable finish. Among the array of other confections are the likes of khao tom mud, khao tom glawy, khao tom tua, and khao tom kati. These treats entail a process of encasing sticky rice within leaves, along with bananas and boiled beans. The packages are then steamed until perfection is achieved, yielding delectable morsels infused with the essence of the leaves and their fillings.
Tua Nao Cab (Dried Soya Bean Sheet):
Tua nao cab emerges as a remarkable creation derived from soybeans, cherished by the Shan community residing in Mae Hong Son. This innovative seasoning reflects the wisdom of ancient inhabitants who embraced simplicity in their culinary practices while achieving remarkable utility. The inclination of the people of Mae Hong Son toward incorporating Tua nao cab into their cuisine is underscored by its ability to elevate flavors and aromas, rendering it a preferred choice. Mae Hong Son province, boasting expansive terrains encompassing both plains and mountains, provides fertile ground for the cultivation of soybeans. This natural abundance has contributed to the province’s affinity for Tua nao cab, transforming it into a pivotal component of the local culinary landscape. In contemporary times, Tua nao cab stands as a cornerstone product of Mae Hong Son, extending its significance beyond mere sustenance. Within the Shan community, it has attained a pivotal role in daily sustenance. The multifaceted versatility of Tua nao cab shines through as it serves as a primary constituent in a myriad of dishes, notably finding its place in vegetable curries across the spectrum, barring preparations involving beef and fish. This culinary tradition embodies the essence of Shan cuisine, encapsulating a heritage that continues to thrive in modern times.
Pae Lor Bean:
“Pae Lor,” a notable legume plant, finds extensive cultivation across the landscapes of Muang Mae Hong Son District, Pang Mapha District, and Pai District. In its unprocessed state, it goes by the name “Pae Jee.” The versatility of Pae Jee beans manifests as they can be subjected to various processing methods, each yielding distinct forms and flavors. Fresh Pae Jee beans, referred to as the bean’s unprocessed seed, serve as a fundamental ingredient in curries when cooked. Should these seeds be taken for frying, they adopt the moniker “Pae Jor.” When the fried seeds are further processed, including their shells, they transform into “Pae Lor.” Notably, Pae Lor beans have gained a prominent reputation as a celebrated product hailing from Mae Hong Son Province. These beans, often presented as popular souvenir items for tourists, are cherished as delectable snacks. Their profile boasts an enticing combination of oiliness and saltiness, contributing to a flavor profile that is both indulgent and rich in protein.
Lai Suea Bean:
“Lai Suea Bean” stands as a distinguished variety of bean, securing its place as a registered Geographical Indication originating from Mae Hong Son Province. This botanical gem shares a kinship with peanuts, yet it possesses a notably delicate shell. The distinctive feature of the nutshell is the pronounced groove, encompassing generously sized beans. Within the bean’s membrane lies a canvas of white, adorned with a captivating, tiger-like purple scribble pattern. Through a meticulous processing journey rooted in local wisdom, the Mae Hong Son Lai Suea bean emerges. Employing the art of roasting with salt, this process yields a delightful outcome characterized by a satisfying crispiness. The resulting flavor profile harmoniously marries sweetness and saltiness, creating a distinctive taste. The cultivation, manufacturing, and processing of Mae Hong Son Lai Suea beans find their hub in the areas of Muang Mae Hong Son District, Pang Ma Pa District, Khun Yuam District, and Pai District within Mae Hong Son Province. The collective effort and regional expertise culminate in this esteemed bean variety, embodying the essence of Mae Hong Son’s agricultural heritage.
Puff Ball Mushroom:
The “Puffball Mushroom” stands as a indigenous fungal treasure, flourishing naturally and making its delectable appearance exclusively during the rainy season. Its growth cycle spans from May to June, coinciding with nature’s rain-soaked embrace. The hallmark of the puffball mushroom is its spherical form, an unmistakable feature that distinguishes it. In its tender stages, the puffball mushroom boasts an off-white interior, encased within a delightfully crispy outer shell. As the mushroom matures, a transformation occurs, leading to the development of a brown to black outer casing and corresponding black inner flesh. This shift in hues signals its passage from youth to maturity. Admired both by the local populace and Thai tourists, the puffball mushroom holds a special place in the hearts and palates of those who encounter it. Its culinary potential extends across an array of menus, ranging from the straightforward to the intricately composed. Among the culinary endeavors, one might choose to boil and subsequently dip the mushroom in chili sauce, or incorporate it into diverse curries. This mushroom’s ability to seamlessly meld with various preparations underscores its versatile nature, contributing to its widespread appreciation and appeal.
Red Ant Eggs:
From ancient times, “Red Ant Eggs” have held a significant role as a crucial protein source in the diet of rural communities. These diminutive yet potent morsels find their way into an array of culinary creations, ranging from vibrant red ant egg salads to delectable red ant egg curries. The red ant eggs themselves represent the embryonic stage of both worker ants and queen ants, embodying a spectrum of sizes and hues. Presenting as large, white grains with a subtle pink tint, these eggs hold the promise of nourishment. The embryonic form of worker ants and male ants measures approximately 5 mm in size, while queen ants’ eggs boast the most substantial dimension, reaching about 1 cm. The preservation of red ant eggs is a seasonal affair, unfolding during the balmy months of summer, from March to May. This period heralds a surge in red ant egg numbers within their nests, which often find residence on towering trees. The process of procuring red ant eggs is no simple task, as villagers must contend with the ants’ vigorous defense of their precious cargo. The tenacious efforts of the red ants to safeguard their eggs underscores the intricate dance between humans and nature in this age-old pursuit, a testament to the lengths individuals will go to procure a valued source of sustenance.
The banana blossom, an integral part of the banana tree’s cluster, comprises the true flower ensconced within its prominent red ornamental leaves. Its defining feature lies in the layered arrangement, reminiscent of the petals of a lotus bud, extending gracefully to the bouquet’s culmination. Once the female flower transitions into a developing banana, the need for pollination diminishes until the fruit matures into small, tightly grouped bananas. Cultivators deftly prune the banana blossom from the tip of the cluster, ensuring it does not deplete the nourishment destined for the emerging bananas. These trimmed blossoms, far from being discarded, find a culinary purpose. Their pale hue and crisp texture harmonize with the tangy notes of the fresh banana blossom. This unique combination complements dishes such as Pad Thai or rice noodles bathed in fish curry sauce with a medley of vegetables. The delightful interplay of sweetness and tanginess in blanched banana blossom also positions it as a sought-after vegetable component, especially when paired with chili paste. Further culinary adaptations elevate the banana blossom’s appeal. It seamlessly transforms into a banana blossom salad or features as a component in banana blossom curry. The versatile blossom makes appearances in dishes like Banana Blossoms Tom Yum, Steamed Fish with Curry Paste, Fried Fish Patty with Banana Blossom, and Steamed and Battered Fish with Curry Paste. The result is a symphony of flavors, resonating with a culinary value that rivals and even surpasses other vegetable varieties.