Ceremonial curry of chicken and pork from the North 'Gaeng Ho', with banana blossoms, rice vermicelli, coconut cream and coriander.
The land around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in Thailand's north is covered in jungles and mountains. The traditional food of the region shares some characteristics with that of the Shan State in Myanmar, with salty, sour and bitter flavours, a large variety of vegetables and a strong presence of roots and herbs.
Gaeng means 'curry' and Ho means ‘mixed’, and that’s what this dry curry dish is all about. Traditionally fashioned from stir-fried kitchen leftovers, Gaeng Ho's base consists mostly of fermented bamboo shoots and a mixture of curry pastes - red curry paste, hang lay curry paste (a yellow tamarind-based pork curry with Burmese origins and rich in spices) and kae curry paste (a spicy curry with herbs, vegetables, and meat like chicken or water buffalo). These are then mixed with a good variety of herbs and vegetables, pork belly meat, shrimp paste, dried chillies and rice vermicelli - a distinctive feature of Gaeng Ho, as the North is noodle heaven, being made up of a rich ethnic mix of Yunnanese, Shan and Burmese.
Traditionally Gaeng Ho would have been made without coconut cream as coconuts don't grow well in the North due to the cooler mountain climate, but this version with coconut cream was still effective in enhancing the aromas and flavours of the mixed curry base without drowning out the slight tang from slices of banana blossom hearts (an elevated substitute for fermented bamboo shoots, often treated with acidulated water to prevent oxidation, with an equally crunchy texture and earthy bittersweet edge that is often compared to artichokes). The vermicelli also lent this dish a very satisfying weight.
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