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Gapi paste...acquired taste?


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Hi,

As a result of a few religious dietary limitations, I don't have the luxury of cooking with dry fermented shrimp pastes..

That being said, I'm definitely a fan of eating a lot of standard recipes in restaurants that use the stuff in dishes. However, the other day I ordered a papaya salad and was given the option of having it Thai or Lao style. According to the chef the Thai one does not have Gapi thrown in. So I ordered the other one to try it, while she insisted that I stick with Thai. When I got the salad, the smell was completely overwhelming. Is this is the same paste used in all the other common dishes? I noticed at each table they have a small container of Gapi... It is a dry and dark red powder. The smell is unbelieveable. Am I missing something? What does it take to get use to this, and what are the benefits in flavour.

Thanks!

Joel

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"Kapi" is Thai for "shrimp paste" ... it's not a dry powder but a paste that varies from quite moist to crumbly, so what you saw on the table must have been something else.

The two styles of som tam (green papaya salad) are Tai or Isaan (somtam tai, somtam bpuu) .... the former with dried shrimp and the latter with preserved pickled crab (bpuu). The crab *is* overwhelming in smell and flavor.

Kapi is generally not an ingredient in somtam .... are you sure you didn't get the version with the crab?

Kapi makes appearances in curries, stir-fries, and stews .... and dips (namcim).

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Right right... This was my understanding of the shrimp paste as well.. I was under the impression that it was a 'paste', not a powder. The little yellow containers on each table are labeled Kapi, and it is most definitely dry... and intense in smell. I have made shrimp paste previously from dried shrimp and it was never such a strong smell. The salad was refered to as Laotian style, and the difference being only the inclusion of the Kapi. I will go later this week and clarify though.

Joel

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Sometimes in Laos and Isaan, papaya salad is made with pla raa (they have another name for it in Laos that I can't remember), which is a chunky homemade or rustic-style fish sauce, much stronger than nam pla. Could you have gotten that? I've never heard of shrimp paste in papaya salad, although nothing's impossible.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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hmm chunky fish sauce........ has a lot of 'ew' to it. Don't think it was that. I'll have to ask.

While we're at it... What are the main differences within Laotian cuisine vs. Thai?

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"I have made shrimp paste ... from dried shrimp..."

Hmmm, now I wonder if we are talking about the same thing, bec I was under the impression that shrimp paste is made from fresh shrimp, ground and left to ferment and dry in the sun. You can see (and smell!!) big pinkish mounds of it by the seaside in Thailand, on Hong Kong's Lamma Island (maybe not anymore, but 15 yrs ago anyway), and no doubt countless other locations in Asia. I can't imagine how one could achieve the texture of what I know as kapi, or shrimp paste, by starting with dried shrimp. Hopefully an expert on this will weigh in....

I would go so far as to say that, based on my experience only, shrimp paste is not eaten uncooked. It's when it's dropped into hot oil (or a hot broth) that its flavor (and stench) is really released. One Thai dish that highlights the flavor of shrimp paste is gaeng luang (yellow curry) .... really more of a soup than a curry that gets it's bite from lots of black pepper rather than the ubiquitous chili.

Thailand's Issaan region is right next to Lao and most residents would describe themselves as "Lao" .... and there are alot of similarities in the cuisines. Issaan food is generally less sweet than "Tai" Thai food (ie food of the Bangkok region) .... stronger in flavor, hotter, more use of very pungent sauces (like the chunky fish sauce Mamster mentions) and myriad spicy and strong-flavored dips (for fresh veggies and to eat with rice). Lots of dried fish, and use of herbs that don't necessarily make their way into standard Thai food, like dill and that sawtooth-edged leaf (forgotten the name). Mushrooms (fresh) are big in Issaan as well, in season ---- wild mushroom foraging is a lucrative seasonal pursuit. Lots of innards, and grilling is a standard technique. Issaan dishes that you may be familiar with are laab and grilled chicken.

But this description does not characterize *all* Lao cuisine .... there are many relatively mild Lao dishes (chicken cooked in coconut milk with loads of fresh dill comes to mind). And of course ant egg omelets (not a personal favorite, I'll admit)... :wacko:

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ahh

wow

quite an informative post!

Its actually funny how I first came into contact with 'shrimp paste'. I took a year-long culinary arts program in Montreal, which naturally focused on French and Italian cuisines. Towards the end of the year we began branching out into a few further eastern cuisines like Thai and Indian. I was busy preparing a Paneng curry when I got to the part where I had to throw in the shrimp paste. I also knew that we had intended on not using the prepared ones that come in jars. Coming from a Kosher home, what I didn't know is that it isn't simply ground up shrimp. Upon doing that to a couple and throwing them into the curry paste, my teacher flipped out. He said that we were supposed to use the dried baby shrimp and now the paste was not room-temp safe. So.. This is how I came to the original conclusion. Now, based on what I've seen and tasted in this one particular restaurant, I can't explain what I thought it 'should' be. Interesting stuff though.

One other thing of note in this one thai-lao restaurant, all the curries that I've had are very different from that which I've had at other places or prepared at home. They are all much much thicker, and the red curry is nearly dark brown. The yellow one seemed to be overly tumeric based, I didn't think it was supposed to be so strong. The chef is a 35 year old Laotian lady and she barely speaks english, so asking her too many questions really throws her off. What didn't throw her off was when I mentioned the fact that I was going to be in Laos in March... She immediately yelled out that she'll call her brother tonight to tell him! Quite a funny experience.

Another item that I've tried at her suggestion was the Laotian sausages. I don't have much to compare them too. They were a bit sweet and chunky, served hot. Really incredible.

Anyway.. I'll keep pushing for more info next time I'm there.

joel

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