Pak Wah Pah – ผักหวานป่า – Melientha Suavis Pierre
My favorite vegetable from the wild—Pak Wah Pah—is high in antioxidants and Thai research shows that it has amazing health benefits. I used to enjoy harvesting them with my three aunts.
I was home in Phuket again in August and September this year. It was like taking a culinary vacation for real Thai food. At almost every meal with family and friends in my Thai village we ate authentic Thai food just like my grandma and our ancestors used to eat. Thai cuisine is famous for its harmonious balance of pungent hot, sweet, sour and salty. However, only native Thais embrace the bitter side of Thai food. What I learned from my grandmother is that the bitter is medicine.
Before leaving for Thailand, I was lucky to receive a precious book, “Eating on the Wild Side,” by Jo Robinson. Jo encourages people to “eat on the wild side,” by which she means finding the modern-day fruits and vegetables that come closest to matching the nutritional values of our original wild plants. I was delighted to find that Jo recognizes the fundamentals of Thai food ways and understands how Thai cuisine embraces bitter tastes. Please read more in Jo’s book about the link between the bitter taste of some foods and the health benefits one can get from them.
I am my grandma’s grand-daughter and I love to eat Thai on the wild side and all thing bitter in Thai cuisine. I either eat on the wild side, or as wild as I can. Without a doubt I have become a fan of Jo Robinson and her work and I have been following Jo on the news and through her talks. I am excited to continue to follow Jo’s work and find out more about her study of fruits and vegetables and their health benefits. I hope you learn a lot from this short interview video.
I hope you will also enjoy these photos from my previous visits to Thailand. They highlight some of the practices that still exist in my hometown. Most of these photos are from the Thalang Open Air Market – Talad Nud Thalang – in Phuket.
If asked what is the most authentic Thai dish, I think most Thais would say, Nam Prik – chili dip. It is the number one most-served dish, and a must-have, along with soup, stir-fry and curry dishes, for a real Thai family table. There are many kinds of chili dip throughout the four regions of Thailand. Nam Prik is never served alone, it is usually accompanied by Pak Kred – ผักเกร็ดi – fresh wide leaves or a vegetable accompaniment. The dip and its accompaniment are equally important; both embrace each other. I never think of Nam Prik as a peasant food. Our ancestors wittingly created this as a health food. Nam Prik is just one example of how Thais include fresh healthy choices with our meals. Thank you to the many villagers who still preserve, domesticate and grow this edible plant that is so close to the wild, despite the threat of lifestyle changes that locals in Phuket are facing.
Now that I am back to Seattle, I can’t wait to continue reading the rest of “Eating on the Wild Side.” I hope you too will have a chance to read it and check out all of the reference articles and videos regarding Jo’s works and books at Eat Wild. You won’t need to travel with me to Thailand to find wild vegetables, “Eating on the Wild Side” will help you choose vegetables from your grocery store that are as close to wild as you can get (Huffingtonpost) in order to enjoy optimal health.
In Thailand, the wet market, open air market, and even the mall supermarket will have a variety of fresh nam prik ready to order.
Choose your bitter green and pair it with your nam prik. This is a daily option for my family and Thai villagers or even large city dwellers.
© 2012 Pranee Khruasanit HalvorsenI Love Thai cooking Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area. Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com
- Jo Robinson Interview (epicurious.com)
- CBS Interview
- Stir-fried Bitter Melon with Egg Recipe (praneesthaikitchen.com)