I am going to categorize this blog under “food adventures” because it was just that, for me, an adventure in food. I like to pride myself as someone who knows a bit about food and is willing to try new and different foods. As a human, I am a creature of habit and when I find a food I like I will eat it like it is my new-found religion. So, while still consuming my favorites, I have decided to try something new (hopefully, at least once a week) and blog about it.
If you have read some of my previous blogs you will remember me mentioning I frequent Ranch 99 (a local Asian market chain in the Bay Area). On one of my many trips to Ranch 99, I found this interesting glass jar with a bright red lid and a label that marked “Fermented Sweet Rice.” This one in particular is from Taiwan. I have come to learn that sweet rice is another name for glutinous rice, that when soaked and steamed it transforms into the ever so delicious sticky rice (khao neow, in Thai). I bought it with the intention that I would try it, blog about it and check it off of the infinite list of foods in the world.
I had never heard of this before so I did a little research and discovered that the contents in this jar are called Khao Mahk in Thai, and Jiuniang in Chinese cuisine (to my Chinese readers, please correct me if I am wrong). I enlisted the help of some of my Thai friends to see their input on this food topic. The general consensus was that it is delicious as a dessert and especially chilled. So, now it was my turn to give it a whirl. I took a spoon from the drawer, unscrewed the lid and instantly a very strong alcoholic odor came wafting up my nose. I scooped out a little, gave it another good smell for a couple of seconds and then ate it. Khao Mahk has a very strong taste and an interesting texture. The only thing I can relate it to is almost like a wet cotton ball that creates a starchy film (and this is not a bad thing!).
It was a bit strong for my taste buds in its raw form so I did some further research and found that some people like to eat it with ice cream. I figured that would be a good match because, to me, it needed a little bit of sweetness to cut the strong fermented flavor.So, now with my scoop of vanilla ice cream and a spoonful of khao mahk I was ready for some more. The ice cream, just as suspected, cut the strong flavor and nicely complimented the texture of the khao mahk. Yes, it is not the traditional method of eating this dessert but for a Westerner like me, it is a necessity until my Western palate becomes more Easternized. I was trying to think about what would be the equivalent to my friends in Asia coming here…something unfamiliar with a strong flavor and odor. What did I come up with? Blue Cheese. I will have to follow-up with my Thai friends and see if they have ever had blue cheese and what they think.
When I first moved to Thailand, fish sauce (naam plaa) was something in everything but not something I openly added to my food. It had a very strong fishy and fermented odor and was not something I craved. Slowly but surely, I was adding it to everything, buying it in bulk and it is always in my kitchen cupboard. Khao Mahk is something that has started out like fish sauce but is slowly growing on me.
P.S. Be careful not to get drunk, as the fermentation does create alcohol but it would take quite a bit.
Cheers and happy eating!