Above: The newly-found concoction of a staple dish with southern pineapple playing an extra in this usually stinky-bean-only dish of ‘Sator Pad Goong.’
May 15, 2021 – Many Phang Nga folks that we met seemed to be always making excuses about two things: the province’s famous perennial rains and the fruit flies that swarm everything during the fruit season, which, if the weathers are not too crazy, runs from late April until about June. They thought the two bother visitors. They apologised endlessly as if they could have done anything to prevent those natural causes. They didn’t know that we both mostly welcome the rain. And the fruit flies, although as bothersome as they truly are, signify the delicious and sweet season. A double jackpot for us for being there at the right time of the year.
Above: A bowl of southern-style ‘ultra-spicy Gang Som (sour curry with fish or shrimps) with southern pineapple adding to the sweet and sour tastes. Delicious.
Southern Thai dishes are on top of my favourite things to eat. Yet our repeating trips to the south always unveiled something new. On our most recent road trip down to Phang Nga, we encountered a new delicious concoction on the menu: pineapple + stinky beans + shrimps + shrimp paste (top picture). Pineapple in the typically stinky-bean-only dish? Awesome! For me, this unfamiliar recipe turned out to be, if not unexpectedly, so scrumptious! The pineapple gives this salt-heavy and spicy dish a naturally sweet and sour note plus a distinctive pineapple-only fragrance. It had confirmed my belief that foods can be as fluid and as delish when done right! I found out later that this is not a totally new dish either. It is a common concoction done quite widely among folks in Phang Nga and Phuket. Clever use of the abundant produce of the season.
Their texture, opaque, is crisp and rigid and not as watery as the pineapples from the eastern coast, those bearing a generic label of ‘Sapparos Sri Racha.’ The taste of the southern types is bright and sour. It is acidic enough to easily split your tongue.
I would define the ‘southern pineapples‘ as the types ubiquitous to the regions from Prachuap Khiri Khan, a coastal province about 300 kilometres south of Bangkok, all the way down to the southernmost area of our country. These pineapples look a bit different from other pineapples from elsewhere. They are more elongated and slim, their skin tout and glossy and bright yellow when fully ripe. Their texture is more opaque, more crisp and rigid and not as watery as the pineapples from the eastern coast, those bearing a generic label of ‘Sapparos Sri Racha.’ The taste of the southern types is bright and sour. It is acidic enough to easily split your tongue.
Above: A non-spicy dish for a change. Here, the southern crispy pineapple is stir-fried with pork skin, eggs, and crispy garlic.
Southern pineapples are all related to their famous and better-known cousin – the Phuket Pineapple or Sapparos Phuket (สับปะรดภูเก็ต), a pride of the island province. Those are touted as a premium kind, a registered GI (Geographical Indication) fruit that in good years can fetch as much as THB10,000 per head. Southern pineapples are good on their own. But being Thai, we usually zest our fruits up with Prik Gab Kleur (sugar + chilli fruit dip). And in the south, we found these delicious fruits made into wholesome and tasty savouries as well.
Above: This is what we call ‘Sapparos Sri Racha’ or pineapples from the east coast. Sri Racha is a district in Chonburi. The pineapple here is more transparent, more watery, and sweeter than the southern kinds.
I tried ordering it ‘mild’ or ‘as mild as you can go, please!’ in all the places that we ate, but nothing ever happened. Each bowl came and I wept.
Above: A plate of plain omelette acts as our saviour while eating dangerously on a bowl of Gang Som. 😀
From our over-a-month hunkering-down in Phang Nga, we found a lot of delicious dishes centred around their native pineapples. Apart from the aforementioned surprise in the stinky bean dish, the pineapple also makes a regular appearance in the super-fiery southern style Gaeng Som (sour curry) with fish and pineapple, another local dish I always order in and out of the fruit season. One caution though, this particular type of curry is always OTT spicy. I tried ordering it ‘mild’ or ‘as mild as you can go, please!’ in all the places that we ate, but nothing ever happened. Each bowl came and I wept. There’s no such thing as a non-spicy Gaeng Som when it comes to this beloved region of mine. So, here comes the solution. Easy! Just order something fried and mild to eat in between. A plate of omelette always works, but you can also go with Bai Miang Pad Kai ใบเหมียงผัดไข่ or salty-fried pork belly.
Above: Another delicious local southern-style dish of Bai Miang Pad Kai or stir-fried Bai Miang (Melinjo) with eggs, and sometimes for extra luxuries, shrimps and glass noodles.
Above: Among the assorted veggies and sides, collectively called ‘Pak Nor,’ that accompany southern-style Khanom Cheen, or rice vermicelli, is the pineapple that adds the sweet fragrance and subtle yet refreshing sour taste to the dish. Read more about the southern-style vermicelli here.
And once my attention is on pineapple, I seemed to spot them at every turn. Funny that now I kind of reckon them as a star ingredient in ‘Pak Nor,’ or southern-style side veggies. I find eating a small piece of the sweet and sour pineapple wedged on a spoonful of the spicy, high-on-herbs, vermicelli or Khanom Cheen in the morning a uniquely refreshing and southern thing to do.
Above: A Hawaiian Pizza with local southern pineapple instead of the canned watery type. Delicious.
Above: A lone pineapple plant as a garden decorative. The fruit, called Ya-Nad’ in local dialect or ‘Ong Lai’ in Hokkian term is deemed auspicious as it makes an appearance in the weddings and the annual merit makings of the Thai South. You can dive deep into all things southern pineapples here.