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Archive for March, 2010

Another Nakhon Buddha (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Buddha Statue in Nakhon Si Thammarat

Buddha Statue in Nakhon Si Thammarat

Buddha Statue in Nakhon Si Thammarat

The Dhamma isn’t far away, it’s right with us. The Dhamma isn’t about the angels on high or anything like that. It’s simply about us, about what we are doing right now. Observe yourself. Sometimes there is happiness, sometimes suffering, sometimes comfort, sometimes pain, sometimes love, sometimes hate. This is Dhamma, do you see? You have to read your experiences.

– Ajahn Chah, in Food for the Heart, p. 368.

From: Food for the Heart: The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah. Ajahn Chah. Wisdom Publications, Somerville, MA, 2002.


See also:


The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Grow Your Own Kaffir Lime Tree

Kasma Loha-unchit, Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Grow Your Own Kaffir Lime Tree for a Ready Supply of Aromatic Leaves

Ever thought about growing your own kaffir lime tree? Here are some good reasons why.

Kasma's Kaffir Lime Tree

Kasma's kaffir lime tree

Sunshine, warmth and the longer days of spring has brought my precious little kaffir* (see note at end of article) lime tree back to life. After shivering for several months in the cold and dark days of winter, this tropical gem has begun to sprout delicate bronzy leaves at the tips of its numerous branches while tiny purplish white flower buds form on other stems. To my relief, it has survived yet another winter.

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Slivering Kaffir Lime Leaves

Slivering kaffir lime leaves

The double leaves and knobby fruits of the kaffir lime tree are very important flavorings in Southeast Asian cuisines. Their unsurpassed perfume has no equivalent, and therefore, they cannot be substituted with other citrus varieties.

The leaves are used much like bay leaves to flavor soups, wet curries, sauces and stews. For dryer curries and stir-fries, they are finely slivered and tossed in with the foods to give them an aromatic punch and depth of flavor. In the popular hot-and-sour soup served in all Thai restaurants, kaffir lime leaves combine with lemon grass to give the broth a delightful herbal bouquet. (See Kasma’s Hot & Sour Prawn Souprecipe.)

Preparing Kaffir Lime Peel

Preparing kaffir lime peel

As for the fruit, the even more aromatic peel is minced and pounded with other herbs and spices to make curry pastes. Together with lemon grass and galangal, it is one of the essential foundation flavors of many Thai and Cambodian curries. (See Making a Curry Paste from Scratch) The sour juice is aromatic, too, but is seldom used in cooking, as its strong perfume can be distracting in dishes that require a sharp limy sour flavor. It is instead used in cleansers, shampoos and medicinal preparations.

But alas, this prized ingredient of Southeast Asian cuisines is not easy to find, especially if you are non-Asian. Only a handful of Bay Area stores carry them fresh or frozen, and although the dried leaves and peel are more readily available, they are often not clearly identified on the packaging. Asking for them by name may elicit from Asian shopkeepers the confusing response that kaffir lime products are illegal and that they do not carry them.

Ingredients for a Thai Dish

Ingredients for a Thai dish

Illegal? These shopkeepers are not pulling your leg but are protecting themselves. It is indeed illegal to import any kind of citrus into California without approval of state agricultural authorities. The California citrus crop is all too important a source of state revenues to risk the entry of any suspicious tropical bug which might wipe out the citrus groves.

Eighteen or more years ago, agricultural agents were brutal in confiscating all kaffir lime products they could get their hands on from Asian markets. In those days, Southeast Asians had a difficult time cooking their cuisines. But it was not entirely impossible to locate them. They were sold “under the counter” and the proper password is needed to acquire any from a “dealer.”

Thai Ingredients, Ready to Pound

Thai Ingredients, ready to pound

Those difficult days fortunately passed as immigrants began cultivating kaffir lime orchards in the central valley. Now California-grown, kaffir lime seemed to have gained a legal immigrant status. The ensuing years found the lime more readily available from Southeast Asian markets mushrooming all over the state – until recently, when state agricultural authorities went on the rampage again.

But aren’t these leaves now grown in California? Yes, but agricultural officials can’t tell whether the leaves in the unlabeled plastic pouches found in mom-and-pop Southeast Asian markets are actually California grown or smuggled in from abroad.

Green Curry Paste

Green curry paste with kaffir lime peel

If you have trouble finding kaffir lime leaves as many of my students do, my advice is to grow your own. Four Winds, a specialty citrus grower, in Fremont supplies  Bay Area nurseries with kaffir lime trees. Ask any nursery near your home to order you one, preferably in a more established five-gallon size. Or if you prefer, you can order it yourself from Four Winds Growers in California. Plant in a warm sheltered location in your garden either in full sun or partial shade. If there is danger of frost in your area, plant in a large container that can be moved indoors on cold winter days.

Kasma's Tree

Fruit and leaf on Kasma's tree

Once established, the plant will grow abundant leaves during the warm summer months and a handful of limes. Prune during the active growing season to encourage bushiness, using the prunings in your summer Thai cooking spree and freezing the extras for the winter months when your plant goes dormant. Both leaves and fruit freeze well for up to a year when wrapped well in a few layers of plastic.

*A South African friend has informed me that the word “kaffir” is a very offensive word to non-whites on the continent from where she came. I have no idea how the word became the English name associated with this lime, but in Southeast Asia it is called something entirely different: makrut (Thailand), jeruk purut (Indonesia), daun limau purut (Malaysia and Singapore), krauch soeuch (Cambodia) and shauk-waing (Burma). I apologize for using the word “kaffir” to refer to the lime in this article; it is not my intention to offend anyone but to refer to it by the most common name by which you may be able to locate it in the Bay Area.


If you’re interested in growing your own kaffir lime tree, check out Kasma’s extensive article:

  • Contact Kasma and ask her to send you an Adobe Acrobat (PDF) version of the article

See also:

Order a kaffir lime tree from:

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Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, March 2010.

Thai Dragon (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Dragon & Michael & Sun

Dragon, Sun & Michael

Dragon, Sun & Michael

If you look, you’ll find any number of interesting dragons in Thailand, mostly at the temples. Kasma took this picture of myself and our Thai driver, Sun, on the coast of Chumphon back in 2004. Both Sun and I have a few more grey hairs since then!


The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Thong Lo Duck Noodles (Closed, alas)

Michael Babcock, Thursday, March 18th, 2010

UPDATE: Alas, my favorite noodle shop is now closed (probably in 2013, actually). If you’re looking for another noodle shop in Thong Lo, try Lee’s Noodles.

I’ll leave this blog posted for historical reasons.


I have a particularly fond spot in my heart for duck noodles in Thailand; luckily they are available at in a little duck noodle shop at the Thong Lo neighborhood where I often stay.

Duck Noodle Shop

“Mandarin” Duck Noodle Shop

On my very first trip to Thailand (in 1992) I arrived in the early morning and by the time I got to my hotel in Thong Lo* it was past 3:00 a.m. I was hungry so Kasma took me across Sukhumvit Road to the night market on Soi 38. I was amazed! The street was all lit up, as bright as daytime, and there were maybe 20 different food stalls, many with patrons sitting in front. We went to a duck noodle stall and I still can taste those noodles. (A recent Wednesday Photo showed a night market vendor at the same market.)

Duck Noodle Shop from Street

Duck Noodle Shop on Thong Lo

That very first year I discovered a duck noodle shop right around the corner from where we stay. It’s become a favorite place to eat ever since. It’s a fairly typical storefront eating place in Thailand, opening right up onto the street with the food assembled in the front and tables and chairs in back. The sign above the store says (in Thai) “Mandarin.”

Making Duck Noodles

Making duck noodles

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

It is on Thong Lo (Sukhumvit Soi 55) on the Soi 55 side somewhat more than a block in; so quite close to the Thong Lo Skytrain stop. It’s next to a Japanese bakery and on the other side it’s two buildings before a driveway for the Grand Tower Inn. (The bakery address is 25/15.) You’ll see the plump ducks hanging in the glass display case in front.

To my taste, the duck in Thailand tastes a whole lot better than what we get in the states. They seem plumper and tastier. There is somewhat less fat (it is a warm climate, presumably they don’t need it there) and the taste is just exquisite.

Duck Noodles

Duck Noodles at the Mandarin

Like most noodle shops, this one specializes in one type of noodle, in this case, duck, roast duck (such as you find hanging in Chinatown stores here in the U.S.); there are other shops that serve, instead, stewed duck noodles. This shop also sell pork dishes, and though the crispy pork looks very appetizing, the only thing I’ve ever ordered there is duck. On occasion with Kasma we’ll order a plate of the duck and some chinese kroccoli cooked with oyster sauce. The other 90% of the time, I’ll get “Dry Duck Noodles” – Ba Mee Bped Haeng. The cost is 55 baht. This might be considered somewhat pricey compared to street stalls but there is a substantial amount of duck and I think it’s well worth it.

Condiment Set

Condiment set for adding flavors

When you order noodles in Thailand you first specify the type of noodle; in this case it is ba mee, a thin wheat noodle. Next you specify the meat – bped, meaning duck. Then you specify whether you want soup noodles by saying nahm (water, meaning soup) or haeng, meaning dry.

Each bowl is made to order and will include some greens along with the noodles and duck. The noodles come largely without flavoring – you are expected to spice them up according to your taste preference. I have a theory that this learning to balance and harmonize flavors from an early age (whenever they eat noodles) helps Thais to be such excellent cooks.

Duck Noodle Shop Inside

Inside the Mandarin

To flavor your foods, you’ll use the condiment set on the table; although the exact contents vary slightly from place to place, here you have 4 containers with fish sauce or soy (for salty), chilies in vinegar (for sour), dried chillies and roasted chillies in oil. There’s also sugar available on the table, to add sweetness but also to balance the other flavors. (See Kasma’s article, Balancing Flavors: An Exercise .)

I like to add a fair amount of the chillies in oil (I take it to the edge of my heat tolerance) along with some sour, salty and a bit of sugar to balance. After the initial additions, I’ll take a taste and then adjust as needed until it’s just right.

Roast Duck To Go

Roast duck to go

They offer various soft drinks but I usually just get the tea in a glass; it’s free, but the ice is 3 baht. Some noodle shops have a plastic container of weak tea (or water) on the table.

We often get a half a duck to go when we leave. They package it up in a styrofoam container and give you a package of gravy, package of soy sauce based dipping sauce, and a package of pickles. We’ll eat it later, sharing with Kasma’s sister and mom.

* Note: I use the official spelling for Sukhumvit Soi 55, which is Thong Lo (though sometimes Thong Lor, or Thonglor). A more phonetic spelling for the soi would be “Tawng Law.” (See A Note on Thai Pronunciation and Spelling.)

Duck Noodle Close-up

Duck Noodles, spiced, ready to eat


Written by Michael Babcock, March 2010. Updated December 2014.

Cute Hmong Baby (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Hmong Hilltribe Infant

Cute Hmong Baby

Cute Hmong Baby

Everyone in Thailand loves children and the Hmong are no exception. Kasma took this picture up North of Chiang Mai on one of her trips.


The Wednesday Photo is a new picture  each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Soi 38 Night Market (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Vendor at a Night Market

Night Market Vendor

Night market vendor, Sukhumvit Soi 38

This is vendor at the Sukhumvit Soi 38 night market is cooking dishes to order. My first meal in Thailand was a dish of duck noodles from this market at around 3:00 a.m. in November, 1992. There were about 20+ stalls set up and the whole area was lit up as bright as day. And I was not the only one eating – they were doing a brisk business!

(Elsewhere on the website there’s another picture of a stall at the night market.)


The Wednesday Photo is a new picture  each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.