So many times we just wish for the glories of the past.
Walking the streets of Bangkok Old Town today, and you could still get a good glimpse of the previous eras. The glories, as we know it, were the times long before the so-called Siamese Revolution that changed this country back in 1932.
The influx of foreign influences is still evident in many old colonial buildings of Bangkok. Palaces, monumental places, temples, and facades of shophouses that still stand side by side with the new gleaming structures.
And the food is no different. Many Thai chefs who studied old recipes usually couldn’t get enough of the tasty treasures. There’re so much more of Thai foods than meets the eye. And there’s no recipe that could represent the exotic spirit of that time better than a good bowl of ‘Jee Juan’ curry.
Over a century and a half ago, King Chulalongkorn, or King Rama V, made many visits to foreign territories. When the trips ended, and the troops resettled, it was a happy ritual for his entourage to create new dishes that recalled those faraway journeys.
Gaeng Jee Juan first appeared in the royal court in the late 1800s, after King Chulalongkorn returned from Java or Indonesia and India. But the recipe of the dish hadn’t been printed until 65 years after, or in 1935. As a part of the large repertoire by พระสุจริตสุดา the first consort of King Rama VI.
Jee Juan or Jeen Juan is a thick, luscious curry. Not unlike the popular Massamun, but with an aromatic punch of the foreign spices. Cumin, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves – never a part of a typical Thai curry – became the essence in this particular bowl. The local adaptations, as it happened so often, include the inclusion of sugar cane and som sa juices.
So there you have it. Gaeng Jee Juan – a rare recipe revived by the curious mind of a veteran Thai chef who is now passing her know-how as a teacher. This is an edible glimpse into the glories of the past. A delicious one, as always.