I hope everyone had a great holiday and New Year.
I saw my friends were doing various traditions according to their country of origin. Some ate grapes at midnight, reminding me of the new year I celebrated in Barcelona–12 grapes, one with each bell ring at midnight of the New Year’s Eve. Some were eating osechi–obviously this is the Japanese tradition, packed beautifully in a box–or maybe just some simple ozoni, rice cake soup. I don’t need to mention the champagne with the countdown, right?
I don’t actually know what the Thai New Year tradition is!…haha…(No wonder why I’m an expat.) I don’t know if we have anything in particular to eat on New Year’s Eve, but we do celebrate the new year like the Americans celebrate Christmas. The family gets together, we exchange gifts, we have fireworks, we exchange cards…etc.
Let me tell you how my New Year’s Eve and New Year day went in Thailand. New Year Eve is a national holiday, so we usually have two free days to be home. My dad and mom had to plan which day they would go visit relatives and which day they would stay home so others could come visit us.
Our road tour started with packing the trunk of the car with gifts as neatly as possible because we would have to go to half a dozen of spots or more. The gifts usually overflowed to my seat, so my sister and I would sit as close to the car doors as possible to leave space for the gifts in the middle.
We got to the oldest uncle’s house, handed out the gifts and received some too. I kinda preferred the gifts in the little envelope, just like the red envelope during the Chinese New Year. (No, this whole process wasn’t going to be repeated during the Chinese New Year. Our families, though half-Chinese, lost that heritage long before my dad was even born). These precious envelopes usually came from uncles; aunties were into gifts more than money. Uncles didn’t want to bother wrapping presents.
We would sit and talk for a bit at each house, then move to the next. Remember, we only had about 8-10 hours, so we couldn’t really hang out all day! If we arrived at some house during lunchtime, then we would eat with them and might spend a little more time there. (You can’t just eat and run, you know, bad manners). The foods was usually just typical, whatever they felt like eating that day, nothing special. We repeated the process at the next house until we gave away all the gifts and packed all the gifts we received back in the trunk. At the end, our car was normally as full as when we started.
Then we went home. We picked up some take-out food so we could give the cook a night off, too. If we had some fireworks left over from the Loy-Kra-Tong (late November), then we would shoot those off, then have dinner and…Ta,Ta, Taaaa…the most important gifts of the year time: the gifts from parents! No, they don’t need to disguise themselves as Santa or any other god. We’re Buddhists, we can’t lie. 😉
Near the end of New Year’s Eve night would be the time that my parents would exchange gifts and give some more to us. My dad was a very typical man. His gift to my mother could only go two ways—purse or watch. Simple, wasn’t it? If it was a big box, definitely a purse. Small box, a watch. No need to guess any further. Then our gifts were the exciting ones, just like American kids during Christmas. Our parents usually had a pretty good idea what we wanted, but to give them to us or not needed some executive decision.
We don’t do a countdown, or kiss at midnight (we don’t actually kiss or hug as part of our culture), or wait to hear some bell ring or ball drop or eat anything special. We just went to bed, no cookie dishes for anyone, but we would have to get up early on New Year’s Day to give food to the monks first thing in the morning.
Then we stay home and several guests come over to give our parents some New Year’s baskets filled with goodies, and we might get some more gifts. Some were our parents younger relatives (we already visited the older ones the day before) and some are people who worked for my parents—more for my dad than my mom—but both of them were very very strict with their “No gift” policy. They didn’t allow any current employees to give them anything but good hard work. They said a small gift can open the door to corruption, so the no-gift policy was the only way.
The ones that they allowed to give them some nominal gift would be ex-employees, or some employees who already transferred out of their jurisdiction, some younger friends, family friends and younger relatives. We liked them too. Even though their gift baskets were not our focus, their kids that they brought along were our long-awaited playmates.
On this occasion we would be the ones providing them with a meal, lunch, snack, or tea time. These also would not be anything special. Anything that was convenient to prepare and eat, and also can sit out until people arrive and still be good for the next set of guests, too.
The first menu that came to my head when I thought about the New Year all-day meal is the Chinese-style hot pot that the Thai would call “Suki”, short for sukiyaki, the Japanese hot pot.
If you don’t know what “Hot Pot” is, you are so far behind, like a thousand years behind. You need to try it at least once. It is a steamboat cooking right on the table top, and everyone participates in the cooking process. The hot pot usually has a steaming hot soup continuously cooking in a specifically designed electric pot in the middle of the table. There will be many fresh ingredients such as sliced raw meat, seafood, dumplings, vegetables, mushrooms, noodles and sauce.
The whole family would sit around the table and pick the pieces of fresh raw food they wanted and add them to the pot, wait for them to be cooked, then scoop the food up into their bowl, add some broth and sauce, and eat. They would continue to do that until they were full. This is the ideal situation in a civilized family at a hot pot dinner.
The real world is this: The pot of soup in the middle is the battleground. The utensils used — are a ladle to share among the solders, a little sieve with a long handle, a pair of chopsticks and a spoon are your personal weapons (the spoon you eat with are not suppose to go in the pot, remember the Thai Etiquette). The sieve is your bunker, the chopsticks are the necessity battle weapon that you use to wag the other chopsticks away from your piece of foods that you claimed yours but can also act as an underground unit that sneak in while the enemy isn’t looking and steal their foods.
Once you drop food into your little sieve, you protect it with your life, while never ignoring other people sieves. You need to look if their piece of meat is cooking ahead of yours or behind it. Their piece might finish before yours. In that case, when the owner of the sieve blinks, you can actually steal it. “What?” (usually you don’t speak with a mouth full of food but to protect your honor, you can)…”It’s in the pot…any problem? Well, in that case, you can have my piece of shrimp here. You only have to wait a few more minutes.”…haha…get the idea?
Don’t forget to watch out and fight for the piece of food in your own sieve while you’re stealing others. Try not to drop food outside of your sieve, too. I don’t need to tell you why, do I? The vegetables are not fought over. We break them in pieces and drop them in the pot, and anyone can scoop them up and there will be more to come. I know the meat and dumplings are also unlimited, but they take time to cook–too long! 😉
Hot pot is an ancient tradition of the Chinese, starting way back in Mongolian time, even before the Kingdom of Siam was even born, over 1,000 years ago. Many tribes in China had adopted the tradition and developed their own dipping sauce and their own soups. I can’t even keep track on how many types of hot pot there are nowadays.
The two most known and most popular styles of suki in Thailand are Hainanese style and Cantonese style. The biggest difference between the two is the dipping sauce. The Hainanese style has fermented tofu and pickled garlic as ingredients, and also the type of meat that goes in the pot will be more land animals than seafood. I will write about this style later.
The most familiar style to the Thais, offered in hundreds of restaurants all over the country under a few chains, MK, Coca, Canton and the weirdest name, Texas Suki, all selling suki that was originally Cantonese style, and now I think we own it. We successfully fooled the original owner by using the Japanese name “Suki”. The Japanese saw the dish and wouldn’t dare claim the mess we made “sukiyaki”. The Chinese saw the Japanese name and wouldn’t even take a look at the dish; win-win for the Thais!
Haha…I’m just joking. The Thai didn’t mean to disguise anything. The folktales said when the first suki restaurant opened in Thailand (way before I was even born, just so you know how loooong ago it was) under the name “Coca”, it was about the same time that the song “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto became so popular. (If you want to know more about this song, wikipedia has the whole history here)
So the owner of the Chinese hot pot shop, Coca, started to advertise the restaurant as Coca Suki, because it not only resembled the Japanese sukiyaki, but you got a song to go with it. Oh…oh, don’t ask me are how are these two issues related…someone else already stole your meatball from your sieve!
Back in the day, before the electric hot pot had entered the scene of suki in Thailand, most suki restaurants used a charcoal steamboat that you had to add real hot charcoal into the funnel in the middle of the pot. My memory of it is not quite pleasant because I had to keep moving pieces of food around the donut-shaped pot. Then a fire at the famous suki restaurant moved the charcoal steamboat out of use, and the electrical steamboat replaced it.
If you visit Thailand and watch the TV on the plane, you might see the “MK Suki Restaurant” ad right before landing. That’s one of the most well-known suki restaurants in Thailand. They were the first to use the electrical steamboat, and have expanded their chain rapidly. They almost wiped out the old brands like Coca or Canton, but Coca has recently made a come back. I’m glad.
Suki is a very healthy meal, unless of course you overeat! As you sit down (maybe after a long wait), the waitress hands you a menu. Then you pick what you want to eat in your suki—meat, seafood, vegetables and noodles—then the order would arrive —-each in its own separate plates—-. Then the games begin.
The first time I took my husband to a suki restaurant, he didn’t eat until we were half way through because he thought the pot in the middle of the table was filled with hot oil! I have no idea why he thought so. There is no smell of oil in the place and the whole restaurant was filled with tables with clouds of steam. Until I told him that the liquid in the pot was soup and not oil, then he relaxed and enjoyed it.
The most important part of a suki meal is the dipping sauce, which is added to your bowl after you’ve taken and stolen your cooked ingredients and broth.
Ingredients (for 2)
Sriracha sauce 1/4 cup, preferably NOT the Huy Fong brand with the one chicken logo in the front*
Oyster sauce 2 tablespoons
Light soy sauce 3 tablespoons
Lime juice 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon
(optional) Sugar 3-4 tablespoons I used brown sugar
Chopped cilantro, as much as you prefer. I used a lot, like 1/2 cup because I like it that way, but 2-4 tablespoons are about right.
Chopped garlic 1 teaspoon
Sesame oil 1 tablespoon
Roasted white sesame seeds, also as much as you like. I used 1/4 cup, which is a lot too. Normally at the restaurants they probably use only 1-2 tablespoons
One step; just mix them all together.
The proportion of these ingredients is based on my own taste. You might want to adjust the taste to your liking.
If you have left over just boil the sauce over the stove until it bubble then you store it in the clean jar, It keeps for a long time but you might need to add cilantro and chopped garlic again when you want to use it.
Once you have the dipping sauce, the rest is up to you. What do you want to put in the broth? Anything goes.
So, how to make the soup?
Water about 8 cups
Sliced daikon root 6-8 slices
Garlic 2-3 cloves
Chicken backs and pork bones, if you have them. If not, Knorr seasoning or nothing at all is okay.
Boil them together on the stove until the daikon roots slices look clear, then you will add this broth to the steamboat and keep it boiling.
A few tips about the meat and vegetables to be put in hot pot.
1) Use the freshest ingredients you can find.
2) The vegetables should be cut right before you put them in. Do not prepare them way beforehand.
3) I usually marinate the meat with sesame oil and light soy sauce.
4) You can buy a lot of meatballs, shrimp balls, and fish balls at the Asian market. They either come frozen in a package, or you can buy them freshly made from the same place you get fresh fish.
5) I made my own dumplings, too. Usually just shrimp dumplings, because that’s my favorite. I also marinate the shrimp with sesame oil and soy sauce. Sometimes I add a little ground pork in, and wrap them together.
A few tips about cooking in the steamboat.
1) Add vegetables first and wait until the water is boiling again, then add the meats.
2) Only take the meat out when it floats in water, meaning that it is fully cooked.
3) If you have to refill the soup, wait until it is back to boiling again before you add more meats.
Let’s the game begin. I hope you win 🙂 And the Thai eating etiquette I wrote about last year doesn’t apply. Well, not to me. I don’t offer my pieces of meat to anyone. You have your own sieve and a pair of chopsticks, same as me. (Well may be I’m a little quicker from experience, that’s all. You only need to watch the shrimp dumplings, though. I don’t eat other the other stuff.)
* The original chili sauce is made by “Sriraja Panich”, in the Sri- Racha district, Chonburi province of Thailand. Huy Fong Foods version wasn’t made the same way. The taste of REAL Sriracha sauce is a balancing blend between the heat, the sour and the sweet, which is lacking in the Huy Fong brand. I also don’t like the thick texture of the Huy Fong brand either. I prefer it more pourable, like the original. Huy Fong brand chili sauce just feels like a cheap imitation to me compared to the original Sriracha. It is so sour I might use it in place of vinegar instead of chili sauce, or better yet, don’t use it at all. But I just grew up with the original sauce, you know. If your experience with the hot sauce is the lone chicken brand, you might think it’s good. I just don’t.