Today’s shared plate is a piping hot bowl of mushroom soup known by locals as ‘gaeng hed‘. The soup’s popularity pales in comparison to Thai cuisine’s soup juggernauts such as tom yam, and tom kha soups. However, despite not having as strong a reputation, we believe this enchanting green soup too, will leave newcomers craving a second taste.
The soup isn’t only great tasting, with a sneakily slow and building brand of spiciness, but gaeng hed is also good for you. Contrary to popular belief, the soup base isn’t tinted green from the mix of herbs and mushrooms added, but is given its color by blending together ‘yanang‘ leaves (ใบย่านาง).
Unfortunately, there isn’t a great name for yanang in English. The scientific name is tiliacora triandra, and it’s popular with older folks in the countryside, especially the area called ‘issan‘ that borders Laos. Wise in their years, they will often drink the grassy tasting herb as a juice, to most quickly benefit from yanang’s anti-inflamatory, anti-cancer, and pain relieving properties.
When you factor in the benefits from the fresh acacia herb (cha om or ใบชะอม), sweet Thai pumpkin, and a flurry of mushrooms, you’d be hard pressed to find a healthier Thai soup. The health benefits from the acacia alone, a common ingredient in gaeng hed, include antioxidant properties, a source of vitamin A, and helping to regulate body temperature.
These amazing herbal properties and their Lao-issan origin, made the dish our choice to cook for US Embassy guests, including Dr. Joanne Hyppolite, curator of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Both the dish, and the often appropriated Lao-issan cuisine in general share some commonalities, and ingredients with African American soul food. This ranges from the darker skin, socio-economically disadvantaged people of the region, to gaeng hed’s culinary versatility allowing it to be easily supplemented with herbs and vegetables you may have on hand.
Most interestingly is the texture of the soup. Named as a ‘gaeng’ in Thai, which implies a curry or curry-like, thick consistency, however, this is a bit of a misnomer. Instead gaeng hed is eaten as more of a thickened soup, with many recipes calling for the addition of tapioca starch. The starch, used similarly to how many people use corn starch, gives the soup a consistency that is similar in mouthfeel to the natural thickener of African American cooks in generations past, okra.
Although not commonly included in this soup, Thais too love their okra. The young soft okra (aka ladyfingers, kra jiap, or กระเจี๊ยบ) fruits are steamed or eaten raw as an accompaniment to traditional Thai chili pastes. Fortunately, Courageous Kitchen has 3 six-foot okra trees which produce fruit every 2-3 days. This made it easy to grab a few from the garden and quickly slice them for our guests from the US Embassy.
Gaeng hed may be a little known dish outside of Thailand, but it certainly brought two seemingly disparate food histories together at Courageous Kitchen recently. We’re all about using food to start discussions, break down barriers between people, and heal ourselves. We hope you’ll be intrigued to find out more about this healing soup and the spice and herbs that make it special. Happy eating, please share this plate with someone!
If you’re curious about Thai food, especially any of the ingredients mentioned in this article, be sure to let us know to include them in your cooking class or street food tour with us in Bangkok.
Today’s shared plate is a favorite Thai street food snack! Known as ‘hoi tod’ (หอยทอด) in Thai, this concoction of batter fried mussels is hawked most commonly by street food vendors selling pad thai. While the dish may be overshadowed by pad thai’s fame outside of Thailand, in the country in can go head to head with any greasy, super satisfying street food dish you can imagine.
If you’ve never seen this dish cooking before you’re in for a treat, it looks like a savory asian funnel cake is being created before your eyes!
With the cost of all the ingredients for pad thai, most street food hawkers outside the tourist hot spots can’t enjoy much success by selling it solely. So many of the vendors you see in Bangkok, whether you know it or not, may be making this delicious snack as well. The thing to look out for when you’re roaming Bangkok’s street food filled streets, are the carts with oversized iron woks. Great for cooking at a consistent temperature, the pure size of the woks allow the most skillful vendors to be making several plates at a time, often simultaneously cooking hoy tod, pad thai, and interacting with customers.
Making the dish at home without starting a grease fire can be a task. This is because you’ll need to get the batter frying in hot oil, and as it crisps up transfer it to a pan where in can continue to cook, but only shallow frying. This makes it easier to flip and get an even fry on all side, while allowing you to add an egg to spruce it up!
We prefer our hoy tod omelette crispy fried and golden brown. Normally, you will serve it with a chili sauce, and if you like the heat— you’ll love it with our homemade sriracha sauce.
When you visit Bangkok, you can request this dish in our cooking class or street food tour! We’re happy whether teaching you to make it, or encouraging you to hunt down a version to try it on your own. Happy eating, and remember to share this plate!
Courageous Kitchen typically provides weekly English and cooking class to students from marginalized communities. This is important work and partially funded by our efforts to host cooking classes and street food tours for tourists visiting Bangkok. However, a few times a year we invite the youth we serve to take part in a multi day cooking camp. We recently hosted the first camp for this year and invite you to watch the following slideshow from the event:
During the camp we have more time to review and drill the English vocabulary the students are usually learning in Saturday classes. Since the kids are usually cooking every meal, they have extra time to develop in the kitchen as well. During the camps we invite teachers from outside the charity to help us expand what we can offer students including specialized cooking, art, drama, and music activities.
We believe all of the classes work well in tandem with our English teaching curricula, by giving the students plenty of opportunity to practice their English in the kitchen, and during other fun activities. The biggest challenge is that the students all come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have participated in our classes since they were very young, with our pre-school teaching being their first organized classroom experience. Others may still be new to our classes, and have only rudimentary knowledge of English. Each camp is special because with more time to spend with the students, we can more easily identify where a student may be excelling, or needing more encouragement and assistance.
If you’ve visited us before, you know our specialty is teaching and cooking Thai cuisine. However, in the slideshow from the most recent camp we were able to offer a variety of dishes, thanks to our volunteer chefs, teaching the kids to make Vietnamese cuisine, and western dishes such as hamburgers and pizza. Since the majority of our students don’t usually have an opportunity to eat in restaurants, they cherish the chance to try new dishes and learn about how people in different cultures eat in other parts of the world.
We are so grateful to everyone involved, especially visiting teachers who braved through Thailand’s summer weather, and all of our sponsors. If you’re interested in to sponsor a future camp, just leave a note when you donate online that the funds are for our cooking camp. As a small organization with no institutional funding, your support is so important to us!
Last December, we had a special guest in the kitchen who has not only made a tremendous impact on our young women, but on many of her peers across the globe. Sixteen year old Lara Cortes, who was traveling Southeast Asia for the first time with her parents, stopped by for a market tour and Thai cooking class!
Holding the 2018 title of Miss Teen Puerto Rico, Lara is an accomplished athlete, artist, and musician. She loves swimming, and is often found snorkeling in her beach hometown of Isabela, PR. Here we ask her what her favorite part of hanging in the Courageous Kitchen was and how she enjoys giving back to her community in Isabela.
CK: Did you have any expectations of Bangkok before your arrival?
LC: Not really, once I found out I was going to Thailand I was just ecstatic to travel and broaden my horizons. I wanted to fill my mind with experiences and stories to learn and tell to others.
CK: How did it live up to that?
LC: Thailand surpassed my expectations, everything was just amazing and so filled with culture, beautiful sights to see and especially amazing, friendly people.
CK: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with Courageous Kitchen?
LC: It was an amazing experience meeting the girls who run the class. I believe they are capable of amazing things if they keep working as hard as they do.
I also enjoyed going to the market and learning about the vegetables and fruit we were going to cook with in the class. My favorite dishes to make were Tom Yum and Mango Sticky Rice.
CK: What was your favorite memory from your trip?
LC: My favorite memory of the trip would be when we went to Chiang Mai and spent the whole day at the elephant sanctuary, feeding them, walking with them and of course bathing them.
CK: Any advice for first time young travelers to Bangkok?
LC: The best advice I can give any young traveler like myself is do your research and have fun! Things will inevitably go wrong, but if you’ve done your research, it’s easier to keep your cool and focus on getting past big obstacles young travelers face like homesickness, fatigue, and culture shock.
CK: What’s the best part of holding the ‘Miss Teen Puerto Rico’ title?
LC: The best part of holding the title is being able to use it to inspire others while giving a helping hand to those in need. I give back to my community by visiting children with down syndrome and I encourage other teens like myself to give back by helping the less fortunate.
The best part of holding the title is being able to use it to inspire others while giving a helping hand to those in need…
We want to thank Lara and her parents for taking our cooking class and volunteering with our young women. We appreciate Lara’s courageous spirit, and are confident that if she continues to be so passionate about giving back, great things await in her future!
In addition to the services we provide to marginalized families in Bangkok, co-founder Christy Innouvong has been helping a special new family learn to thrive in San Diego, California. After helping launch our cooking classes in Bangkok in 2017, Christy returned to live in San Diego where she hosts cooking classes to help spread the word of our efforts in Thailand. Although the context for helping refugees in the US is very different, Christy has never forgotten her passion for helping families, and has been making efforts to connect with refugee communities in her area.
Just shy of six months ago she received word that a few families had been granted resettlement and she jumped at the chance to meet the new arrivals. We’re pleased to announce that Christy is now a Family Advocate for a Congolese family of five. The family came from Uganda where they lived in the uncertainty of a large refugee camp for the last 18 years. Needless to say, it has been a long and tiring journey for the courageous new family.
Currently, the three children are all enrolled in school and getting high remarks from their peers and teachers. They have made friends and found a local church with other Congolese families to have fellowship with. Dad, John, a former Pastor in his home country has found work at a furniture manufacturer and makes the two hour bus ride to and from work everyday. It is not an ideal situation, but he takes pride in being able to bring home a steady paycheck for the family. His wife, Alice, is an amazing seamstress and has started ESL classes at a community center. She enjoys being able to see her children attend school full time. Back in Uganda, school was often pushed to the back burner since bills took precedence. Christy is currently assisting them with budget and meal planning, but with the high price of housing in San Diego the family unfortunately still falls short every month. The looming uncertainty to put food on the table is still a reality; something they expected would improve coming to America.
San Diego is home to approximately 85,000 resettled refugees, and one of the highest concentrated cities for resettlement in the US — arriving by the thousands each year. With skyrocketing housing prices, many of the families sent here end up being shuffled to different cities or even states due to the lack of affordability and employment opportunities. There are several agencies who are serving as a launchpad for the new arrivals. Yet most organizations are stretched thin and services are limited. Food stamps and cash aid have been cut due to the government shutdown, and we’re doing our best to ensure the family’s food doesn’t run dry. John’s family, and other new arrivals like them still need our support.
At the moment we’re in need of extra supplies and hands to volunteer their time to mentor and help with English studies. We’re so thankful to the past donors who sponsored school supplies for the children privately, and now we’re others will allow us to continue to support this courageous family with clothing, food, and transportation fees. With Winter months still lingering, heavy coats, umbrellas, and scarves, are also still on the wishlist.
February is an exciting month for Courageous Kitchen! Not only have our weekend classes for at risk youth began again, but there are lots of other food and travel happenings this time of year. Most notably, one of our founders, Dwight Turner, will be speaking at The Seasons press conference this week. The event is hosted by the Thailand Authority of Tourism (TAT), and has rounded up a panel of people from varying backgrounds whose businesses or personal passion are impacting Thailand for the better.
Here’s a sneak peek into TAT’s interview with Dwight, where he discusses starting Courageous Kitchen, and connecting his personal passion for food with his mission to feed and educate more children in Bangkok.
How did you start CK and what is your objective?
Courageous Kitchen began because I was looking for a way to give back in my free time, but I didn’t know what to do. When a friend invited me to help teach English in a few poorer communities, I fell in love with it. Gradually I wanted to contribute more and more.
Later when I moved outside of the city center, we had space for a kitchen and I began to combine these two passions. Quickly we learned that the kitchen is a great classroom. Students who were shy about speaking English suddenly had context, an application, and an urgency to speak in the kitchen. As their language skills improved, so did their confidence.
Why do you use food as a medium to help you achieve your goals?
I love to eat and Bangkok is full of food and food enthusiasts. So it’s a great way to get people’s attention and bring them together for a purpose. This is true even when it may seem like we don’t have anything in common. We may speak a different language, have different skin color, but when we sit at the table together, we share and learn about each other.
What do you think of Thai food? What makes Thai cuisine outstanding to you?
I love Thai food because of the diversity of influences on the cuisine. There is such a pronounced Indian influence, the Chinese influence is probably the strongest, and there’s an interesting impact from the hill tribes and neighboring countries in the region as well.
This makes Thai food versatile for different types of people. You may not love chili and chicken feet curry, you may be vegetarian, or have another preference, but there’s likely a Thai dish out there for you.
Why are you interested in helping society, and helping underprivileged kids in Bangkok?
As a Black American I was raised with very strong sense of social justice. That all people are valuable, and that all people should be treated equally. Until this becomes a reality, we have a lot of work to do to create a better future for today’s kids. That’s true all over the world, but trying to solve global problems can seem overwhelming. That’s why it’s best to start by being the change we want to see in our local communities.
As a nonprofit, what do you expect to get in return for you work?
As a nonprofit, my job is challenging and rewarding everyday. There’s a very real challenge to captivate people’s attention long enough to share about people in need, and convince them to take action. However, seeing students, who may have never been in a real restaurant before, imagining themselves as chefs, speaking English more confidently, and becoming leaders in their families is a pretty great reward.
Any upcoming plans for CK?
At the moment we’re looking into ways to grow and strengthen our business. We don’t want to be solely dependent on people’s donations, so we’re looking to offer more to tourists who love food, and are passionate about making a difference with their visit to Thailand.
Is there a place in Thailand that you’re especially impressed by and why?
I recently got married in Langsuan, Chumporn. Each time we visit my wife’s family there I usually spend time in the gardens picking fruit off of the nutmeg, taling pling, and other trees in the yard. We have one cousin with a palm orchard, and another growing durian! I know you may expect me to say mountains or beaches, but it’s hard to beat family and food!
Thank you to TAT for hosting Dwight this week! We look forward to continuing this discussion as Thailand’s responsible tourism scene continues to develop. Other guests on the panel include representatives from Pop Art Bann 36, Immanuel Music School, Tlejourn Shoes, and Thai celebrity Top Pipat Apirakthanakorn.