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Bo Klua – Visiting the Salt Ponds

Michael Babcock, Sunday, June 1st, 2014

We recently traveled to Bo Klua (also spelled Bo Kleua or Boklua) – บ่อเกลือ – a district in Eastern Nan province in Northern Thailand right on the border of Laos. A translation of the name would be “Salt Ponds”  (เกลือ (klua) means salt). This blog explores some of the sights we visited. Bo Klua is well worth a visit.

The town of บ่อเกลือใต้ – Bo Klua Tai  (ใต้,  tai, meaning south) is some 90 km from Nan, about a two-hour drive up twisty, windy mountain roads, to an elevation of around 1,100 meters. (Here’s the Google map of the route from Nan to Bo Klua Tai.) Along the way we stopped to enjoy numerous mountain views.

View #1

View on the way to Bo Klua

View #2

View on the way to Bo Klua

(Click images to see larger version.)

Doi Phu Kha National Park

Doi Phu Kha National Park – อุทยานแห่งชาติดอยภูคา – in the Luan Prabang Range in Nan province, is the largest National park in Northern Thailand. It is directly adjacent to the district of Bo Klua and a good place to visit on the way. Its most noticeable feature is Doi Phu Kha – Phu Kha Mountain – which is 1,980 meters high. There are numerous trails for hiking; accommodations (cabins) and camping are available.

Park Sign

Michael & Sun at the park

Park View #1

One of the views at the park

Above left are Michael (that’s me) and our driver, Sun, standing in front of a park sign on the way into Doi Phu Kha National Park, with Phu Kha mountain the background. The park is full of beautiful views, such as the one above right.

"Cherry" Blossoms

Flower blossoms at the park

Park View #2

Another beautiful view

The National Park is home to Chumpoo Phu Kha (Thai: ชมพูภูคา – Bretschneidera sinensis), a tree with attractive pink flower bunches. Although they were not in bloom when we visited in January (they bloom later, in the spring), there were other trees with beautiful pink blossoms. The trees we saw (see above left) are often mis-called “sakura,” after the Japanese cherry tree; they are actually a completely different tree (not a cherry) indigenous to Thailand.

I’ve put in another of the stunning views at the park above right.

For further exploration:

The Rock Salt Pits

The name of the district – บ่อเกลือ (Bo Klua) – “salt ponds” – tells you about the main attraction here. For centuries salt has been extracted from these ponds and the salt has provided prosperity and power for the region. People still come here to see how the salt is extracted and to purchase it for their own use.

Salt Pit #2

Getting salt water from a well

Salt Pit #2

Another way to draw salt water

Salt is still manufactured much as it has been for centuries here. The first step is to extract the salt water from the wells. On the left it is being extracted in the traditional fashion: by lowering a bucket down into the well, hauling it up and putting it in a clay pot. The second operation we saw (picture on the right) used more modern methods: pumps were used to draw up the water rather than relying on manual labor.

Salt Oven #2

The two ovens

Salt Oven #1

Boiling away the water

The next step in the extraction process is to boil the salt water until much of the water has evaporated. The resulting salt is then put in baskets and suspended over the ovens to further dry it out.

Then the salt is packaged and sold. These days, iodine is often added to the salt to prevent goiter due to iodine deficiency. We saw it for sale in both forms: iodized and non-iodized.

The following blog has some good information on how the salt is produced:

Town Walk

Strawberry Patch

Pick your own strawberries!

Temple Sign

Sign for Wat Bo Luang

The best way to see everything is to walk through the town, from the one salt operation to the other. On our walk, we passed a temple with a sign also in Northern script (above right) and continued to the edge of the buildings to a field where you could pick your own strawberries; you could also buy strawberry plants. On our way back, we stopped in at the temple.

Wat Bo Luang – วัดป่อหลวง

Temple

A temple building

Temple View

Temple view

The temple is a good example of a local northern Temple. There were two simple buildings open with different Buddha statues. As with many northern temples, there were murals on the walls, both behind the main altar and along the sides leading to the altar. When we were there towards the end of our day this January, the sky and clouds provided a lovely backdrop for one of the buildings and the naga protecting it.

Buddha #1

Buddha & Murals

Mural Close-up

Mural close-up

Here is the main Buddha statue and a close up of the wonderful mural behind it. (Click on the pictures for a larger image.)

Mural #1

Buddha’s moment of enlightenment

Mural #2

Buddha’s “Parinirvana”

These two images are murals that were found on the side walls of the same building. The mural to the left depicts the Buddha at his moment of Enlightenment. Mara (represented by the green demon and the black elephant to the left) is mocking Buddha and asking how can he say he is enlightened. Mara asks: “Who will vouch that you are enlightened?” Then the Earth Mother Goddess (in the center) arises and says: “I will vouch for his enlightenment.” She then wrings out her hair and the resulting flood washes Mara away.

On the right is a representation of the Parinirvana of Buddha, where he gives his final sermon, lying on his right side, prior to leaving his body for nirvana.

Buddha #2

Another Buddha statue at the temple

Mural Close-up #2

Another mural close-up

One of the other buildings was also quite interesting: it had two Buddha statues under a mural with yet another Buddha image. The mural behind these statues had two fantastical creatures, one of which is shown as a close-up on the right.

(Click pictures to see a larger image.)

A Bo Klua Breakfast

When we stayed in Bo Klua this last January, we went looking for a quick and easy breakfast place. We found a place typical of so many restaurants in Thailand, with very basic decor and basic food that was delicious.

This roadside place had a menu that was in Thai and English, indicating that Bo Klua gets a fair number of foreign tourists. The menu was called เมนูอาหาร – menu ahaan (ahaan means “food”) – and the English on the menu says “Fast Foods Menu.”

Restaurant

Roadside restaurant

Thai Omelette

Thai Omelette over Rice

You can see that there’s nothing fancy about it: a roadside restaurant that opens onto the street. Our driver ordered an omelet – ไข่เจียว (Khai Jiow) – over rice. The menu had a “Minced pork omelet” – ไข่เจียวหมูสับ (Khai Jiow Moo Sap)  – but our driver doesn’t eat pork so he ordered it without pork instead.

Noodle Dish

Rice Noodle Dish

Pork Dish

Stir-fried Pork dish

Kasma ordered a noodle dish (above left), which the menu called “Wide rice noodles with vegetables and meat” – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวแห้ง (Kway Tiow Haeng). The dish on the right, which I ordered, is called “Rice topped with stir-fried pork and Sacred basil + Fried egg” – ผัดกะเพรา + ไข่ดาว  (Pad Kaprao + Khai Dao). A dish made pad kaprao (stir-fried with holy basil) – prepared with any kind of meat or seafood you can imagine – is one of Thailand’s favorite dishes. (See my blog on Basil Pork – Moo Pad Kaprao.) Here the dish came with a typical Thai-style fried egg – ไข่ดาว (Khai Dao) – literally a “star egg” – with its crisp-fried edges.

Where to Stay or Eat Lunch or Dinner

My previous blog was on Pongza Restaurant and the Boklua View (Resort).

Further Exploration


Written by Michael Babcock, June 2014

Don’t Miss Naem Sour Sausage When Visiting Northern Thailand

Kasma Loha-unchit, Friday, March 1st, 2013

Naem (or nem), also known as jin som in the northern Thai dialect (jin = meat, som = sour) is a common way of preserving pork meat in several Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. In Thailand, it is mainly done in the northern and northeastern parts of the country – the land-locked regions where a lot of pigs are raised and pork features prominently in the local cuisines.

Wrapped Naem

Naem wrapped in banana leaves

(Click images to see larger version.)

In the days before refrigeration, when a pig was slaughtered, there was usually too much meat to cook and eat up fresh in dishes like laab, soups, curries and stir-fries. The remaining meat would be chopped up and preserved with salt. Pork skin, also often too much to eat up by cooking fresh, was added to improve texture.

Now as then, cooked sticky rice or plain steamed rice is used to make the meat develop a sour flavor. Garlic and Thai chillies are added to further improve flavor. In the olden days, pork fat was in the mixture as well, but in more modern times, naem is made mostly of lean pork meat, which gives a better color to the soured meat.

Naem Maw 1

Naem maw (made in a large pot)

The sour flavor imparted to the meat from fermenting rice is distinctive and unique and is unlike the sour from citrus, vinegar, tamarind, or any other tart fruits. It is simply delicious and quite addicting for those of us who like foods with sour flavors.

Originally, the meat was cured by placing the mixture in a pot or a large bowl and covered to make it airtight, thus giving the name naem maw (maw = pot). Market vendors still sell naem in this form – that is, it’s sold bulk in a large bowl, the vendor cutting and scooping up the amount customers want and wrapping it in pieces of banana leaf, secured with a bamboo pick. In city markets nowadays, this form of naem is usually already pre-cut into uniform chunks and wrapped in plastic with a label slapped on.

Naem Maw 2

More naem maw

Naem Maw 3

Naem maw on top of naem taeng

Naem Taeng 2

Banana-leaf wrapped naem taeng

Later, naem began to be made in short, cylindrical bundles tightly wrapped in several layers of banana leaf and tied tightly with bamboo strings. Nowadays they are mostly made in long, sausage-like logs tightly wrapped and sealed in heavy-duty plastic wrap. Both these forms of naem are called naem taeng (taeng = cylinder). Naem is also tightly wrapped in small pyramidal shapes tied with bamboo strings. Often the leaf-wrapped packages are hung in a cool place (in the tropical room temperature) out of direct sun exposure and allowed to cure until the sour flavor develops. The banana leaf helps moderate the temperature of the meat so that the internal temperature does not get too warm. These days, these banana leaf-wrapped packages are often wrapped again in plastic wrap to keep the banana leaf from drying out.

Naem Taeng 1

Naem taeng (cylinder naem)

In modern times, plastic wrap has become prevalently used in wrapping naem, because it is easy to use and makes it possible for buyers to see the color of the meat. In the tropics where room temperature is fairly warm, it usually takes only 2 to 3 days for the sour flavor to develop, but in temperate climate kitchens such as in the Bay Area, it takes about a week. When juice or moistness can be seen through the plastic wrapping, the naem is usually ready. With the banana leaf-wrapped packages, buyers look for leaf wrappings that are not too freshly green, but not too dried out either.

2 Naem Taeng

Traditional & modern naem taeng

Naem Taeng Unwrapped

Naem Taeng Unwrapped

Grilled Naem Sausages

Grilled naem sausages

Sticky rice was originally used as the souring agent, but later the preference turned to regular cooked rice because it keeps the meat sour for longer after the sour flavor has developed and gives the meat a better pink color. Sticky rice, on the other hand, develops the sour flavor more quickly, but also loses the sour flavor faster, giving the meat a shorter window of opportunity for consumption at its optimal sourness.

Food Platter

Food platter, naem on the left

One reason why many northern Thais still prefer to have some of their naem wrapped in banana leaf is that it can be cooked by roasting in the ashes of their charcoal brazier, burning the outer layers of leaf to give the meat a smoky flavor. Often, naem is eaten raw and the small pyramidal leaf-wrapped packets are pretty and easy to serve individual people in a meal. Raw naem, appearing as those translucent, pinkish slices of meat, is a common part of the northern hors d’oeuvre platter, accompanying slices of spicy sai oa northern sausage, baloney-like moo yaw, crispy fried pork belly with skin (kaep moo), an assortment of steamed or boiled vegetables, and the favorite spicy green chilli dip called nam prik nuum.

Naem Ready To Eat

Naem, ready to eat

Raw naem is frequently made into hot-and-sour yum salads with shallots, pickled garlic, Thai chillies, aromatic herbs and fried nuts, but if you are squeamish about eating raw, cured meat, cook the naem by roasting in banana leaves or by lightly steaming or baking before slicing to make the salad. But if you wish to enjoy the delicate texture of raw meat like Southeast Asians do in a safe manner, you may wish to freeze the sausage for about two weeks to kill off any parasites before consuming.

Naem With Garlic

Sliced Naem with Pickled Garlic and Chillies

Naem Fried Rice

Naem Fried Rice

Other common ways naem is eaten in northern Thailand are: stir-fried with pickled garlic/leeks and chillies; scrambled with eggs and onions; incorporated into fried rice; deep-fried by itself in slices or round balls and eaten with fried peanuts, diced ginger and chillies; added to curries, spicy soups or stir-fries with mucilaginous vegetables like pak bpang (zan choi in Chinese or the “slippery vegetable”) or okra to reduce the mucilaginous property; sliced and tossed with crisp-fried rice, slivered cooked pork skin, fried dried Thai chillies, slivered ginger, fried peanuts and other ingredients to make a crisped rice and sour sausage salad – a delicious street and market food that has now become popular in many restaurants that serve regional cuisines in Bangkok and other major cities throughout the country.


Some More Thai Dishes with Naem Sour Sausage

Fried Naem Maw

Fried Naem Maw

Crispy Fried Naem

Crispy Fried Naem Sour Sausage Balls

The picture to the above left shows naem maw cut into cubes, dipped in egg and deep-fried (naem tawd) at Kaeng Ron Ban Suan in Chiang Mai. On the right is deep-fried, crispy naem sour sausage balls in a crispy taro basket in a Chiang Mai restaurant.

Soup With Naem

Soup with naem

Stir-fried Naem

Naem Stir-fried with Egg and Spinach

To the above left is a soup made with the flowers of pak bpang (zan choi in Chinese) and naem to reduce the mucilaginous property of the vegetable at Come Dara restaurant in Chiang Mai. To the right is naem stir-fried with egg and spinach at Keuy Chiang Mai restaurant.

Naem Salad

Crispy Rice and Naem Sour Sausage Salad

Naem Salad 2

Crispy Rice and Naem Sour Sausage Salad

To the above left is Crispy Rice and Naem Sour Sausage Salad (Naem Kluk Kao Tawd) at Ton Kreuang in Bangkok. To the right is Crispy Rice and Naem Sour Sausage Salad (Yum Naem Kao Tawd) at the Isan restaurant of Vientiane Kitchen in Bangkok.


Naem Slideshow From Kasma’s Classes

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Rolling Naem
Prepped Naem
Assembling Naem Salad
Naem Salad 3
Fried Naem
Stir-fried Naem
Stir-fried Naem 2

Rolling the naem sausages into a tight cylinder in Kasma's class

The soured naem sausages sliced and ready for cooking in a weeklong intensive class

Assembling the Crispy Rice and Naem Sour Sausage Salad in a weeklong intensive class

Crispy Rice and Sour Sausage Salad made by students in Kasma's Advanced B weeklong intensive class

Fried Naem Slices on Crispy Taro Baskets, in Kasma's Advanced D weeklong intensive class - students made the naem and fermented it for 5 days

Naem Sour Sausage (made by students) Stir-fried with Pickled Leeks and Thai Chillies in Kasma's Advanced D weeklong intensive

Naem Sour Sausage (made by students) Stir-fried with Bitter Melon, Eggs and Thai Chillies in Kasma's Advanced D weeklong intensive

Rolling Naem thumbnail
Prepped Naem thumbnail
Assembling Naem Salad thumbnail
Naem Salad 3 thumbnail
Fried Naem thumbnail
Stir-fried Naem thumbnail
Stir-fried Naem 2 thumbnail

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, March 2013