Khao Kluk Kapi: The Tastiest Thai Dish You've Never Ordered
Exploring cuisines other than the ones we grew up with is a badge of honor for many of us, foodies or not. However hard you've worked to expand your palate, though, there are certainly dishes you haven't tried, buried deep in the far corner of your menu or on another "secret" menu entirely. We're here to help you push the boundaries of your palate to try dishes you've never even considered. Here's the best Thai dish you probably haven't ordered—yet.
Khao Kluk Kapi
Roughly translated, khao kluk kapi, also known as "khao khluk kapi," means rice mixed with shrimp paste (kapi), an ingredient that's popular in many Asian cuisines, not just Thai. To Western palates, shrimp paste does not have a delicious ring to it; for many, it doesn't have a delicious aroma either. In fact, the salty and pungent pink paste might be the biggest obstacle to entry for this dish.
To craft kapi, cooks mix crushed shrimp with salt and let it ferment for a few weeks. It's precisely this fermented, funky flavor that Westerners are often not used to, though with the popularity of dishes such as kimchi, this is changing quickly.
In the Philippines, shrimp paste complements the tangy flavors of unripe mangos—that's how I grew up watching my parents eat it. In other cuisines, including Thai, it lends its funkiness to omelets and fish, or cooked eggplant and curries. Shrimp paste straddles the line between side dish and condiment, like many Asian foodstuffs.
Years ago, Chicago restaurant Spoon Thai's "secret" menu—the one written entirely in Thai—got outed, sparking an interest in "real" authentic Thai food. Back then, khao kluk kapi appeared only on that Thai-language menu. Today it appears on Spoon Thai's English-language menu, sometimes as shrimp-paste fried rice, and on the menus of many other Thai eateries.
We've talked about the shrimp paste, which is delicious to many diners on its own, but what really rounds out the dish is its array of accompaniments, meant to balance kapi's pungent saltiness.
Surrounding the mauve-tinted mound of rice and paste are items meant to touch on all taste buds. There's the sweet umami of chinese sausage or pork, paired with crisp long beans and cucumber. Then there are the sour notes of fresh guava or mango, plus fresh cilantro and green onions to round out the dish.
Variations include egg, sliced shallots, crispy fried shrimp, sour apples, and sliced chilies.
It's a memorable dish full of flavor, maybe even your new Thai favorite. Care to find out?
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