The Heart of Phuket Muslim Cuisine
When I was growing up I was always fond of the pungent flavor of Phuket Muslim cooking—it must have been the aroma and the ritual that came with this food that I experienced in the diverse culture of Southern Thailand. The flavors and aromas were different and exciting compared to my family’s traditional Thai-Chinese cooking.
While visiting Phuket just two weeks ago, my dream came true when Varunee, my long time friend and a chef for my culinary tour, shared many of her family’s recipes with me. The one that I am sharing with you today is a Sa Curry with Buffalo Meat and Sa Spice Mix. This recipe is part of her family’s traditional cooking and has been passed on for many generations.
I waited for Varunee at the Bangtao Mosque, a famous Phuket landmark, then followed her through the roads that snaked behind the mosque near the foot of the hill. My lesson on Aharn Muslim (Muslim food) began in her home with beautiful birds singing in the background.
We started by making an aromatic Sa spice mix (Krueng Sa), the heart of the cuisine. The Thai name for cumin is Yee Rah, but Phuketians call it Sa. Varunee called cumin “Sa Lek” (meaning small Sa), and fennel is “Sa Yai” (big Sa). Cumin has a pungent hot Sa feeling (numbing) and the fennel is cooling and sweet after the numbing sensation. Thais use cumin to reduce the meaty smell. The rest of the spices are typical Southeast Asian ones such as turmeric, black pepper, coriander and dried chili. You may toast the spices before grinding to intensify their flavor.
Water Buffalo meat is a more common meat in the Southern part of Thailand, especially in Phuket. Sa Curry with Buffalo Meat with Sa Spices is a stand out among Phuket Thai Muslim dishes.
Sa Spice Mix
Yield: 4 tablespoons
2 teaspoons cumin seeds 2 teaspoons fennel seeds 3 tablespoons coriander seeds 10 dried Thai chilies (Varunee recommended 20 to 30) 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
Place cumin, fennel, coriander, and Thai chilies in a small pan; toast the spices on medium heat until fragrant.
Let cool, then place them in a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder, or place them in a mortar and pound with a pestle to yield a fine powder.
Store cooled spices in an airtight jar and store for up to 3 months.
Sa Curry with Buffalo meat
Gaeng Kwai Kab Krueng Sa
Serves: 2 to 4
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 shallots, peeled and sliced, about ¼ cup
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced, about 3 tablespoons
4 tablespoons Sa spices mix from recipe above
¾ pound buffalo meat or beef top sirloin, thinly sliced
½ cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon palm sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Heat canola oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Stir in shallots and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Then add Sa spice mix and stir for 1 minute. Stir in buffalo meat and cook for 2 more minutes. Stir in coconut milk. Let cook until the meat is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in palm sugar, salt and fish sauce. Serve with warm jasmine rice and a vegetable side dish.