The ‘Khao Chae’ Royal Thai Summer Dish (ข้าวแช่)
The ‘Khao Chae’ (ข้าวแช่) dish was originally a Mon recipe that had been adapted as a royal Thai dish in the palace. It goes back to the times of King Rama II (r. 1809 to 1824). The Thai version of this meal has more side dishes and condiments compared to the original Mon recipe.
‘Khao Chae’, a Royal Thai Dish
Khao Chae, which means ‘rice soaked in cool water’, is a special dish because it is meant to be served particularly in the hot summer season. Hence, it is a refreshing Thai summer dish that is also eaten at Songkran, the Thai New Year Festival as a cooling meal. At the time of King Rama II, when people did not yet have the means to freeze water to ice cubes, the water was cooled by storing it in earthen ware pots in shady and dark places.
Traditionally, this was a Thai dish only served at the royal court but later, it was also made available for ordinary people. Since this is a special meal for the hot season, it is primarily prepared at this time of the year, from the middle of March to the end of April.
Today, the three main components of this dish are parboiled rice, water scented with jasmine (i.e. water which has jasmine flower floating in it) or Damask rose and crushed ice. The water is placed in a container with lid, it is called ‘Khuat Loh’, and left over night with a scented candle to give it the fragrance – the jasmine is only added when serving. It is also important to take parboiled rice so that the rice does not become too mashy when soaked in water. The side dishes are the components that make this dish tasty. In fact, there is a variety of recipes, nevertheless, the dishes and condiments are mostly the same.
There are commonly six different side dishes:
- Kapi balls (luk kapi, ลูกกะปิ) are made from shrimp paste. This paste consists, apart from shrimps, of shallots, garlic, wild ginger and palm sugar. These ingredients are mixed together, formed into balls and cooked.
- Stuffed shallots (hom daeng yat sai, หอมแดงยัดไส้), the shallots are stuffed with a mix of ground fish meat, herbs, fish sauce, spices and palm sugar.
- Stuffed sweet peppers (phrik yuak sot sai, พริกหยวกสอดไส้), this is steamed pepper stuffed with a mix of ground pork, spices and herbs. After cooling down, the pepper is fried and wrapped in a lacy egg coat.
- Shredded sweet beef or pork (mu foi or nua foi), the respective meat is shredded and seasoned with palm sugar and fish sauce. After it is dried, the meat shreds are deep fried.
- Stir-fried sweet pickled Chinese turnips with eggs (chai po phat khai, ไชโป๊ผัดไข่)
- Fresh fruits and vegetables, for example raw mango, cucumber, wild ginger, chillies and onions. They serve to balance the taste of the meal.
Although ‘Khao Chae’ appears similar to boiled rice soup (khao tom), the taste and the way of eating the ‘soup’ is different. To enjoy this dish, take a small amount of rice and add a suitable amount of scented water with crushed ice. You should not put the condiments into your bowl but rather have small bites of the dishes which are then followed by the icy rice. Sometimes this meal is served with two-toned rice and followed by a sweet treat of mangos in syrup.
For instance, the Jim Thompson Restaurant in Bangkok offers this delicacy until the end of April and there are also workshops to learn preparing this meal.
Summing up, I find that ‘Khao Chae’ seems to be an extraordinary and amazingly delicious looking Thai dish. The combination of rice and ice also appears to be suitable for the hot summer season. Additionally, it is an aesthetically arranged meal that is appealing to the eye. Maybe you have the opportunity to try this meal? I would highly suggest that 🙂
* photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram: @knack66