Hung Lae

19.01.2021

Gaeng Hung Lae, often referred to as 'Burmese curry' in Chiang Mai, is a great example of how Thai food has been shaped by cross border influences. It is thought to have first appeared between the 16th to 18th centuries in 'Lan Na', which is now Northern Thailand. At the time, Lan Na was a tributary state of the Burmese Toungoo Dynasty which meant flavour influences filtered down from from the ruling state of Myanmar.

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Hung lae is a curry with a flavour profile and spices originating just across the mountains in Myanmar, whose cuisine is itself heavily influenced by Indian flavours. It is made with a curry powder which varies slightly from region to region but the common features are that is heavy in earthy spices like yellow turmeric, cumin and coriander seed. Some even contain the citrussy 'makhwaen pepper' we have mentioned in previous blog posts.

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Speaking with Zaw Mahesh from Laphet in Shoreditch and Bo Min, a chef at som saa who is from Myanmar, they explain that the word 'hung lae' is thought to be a loanword from the Burmese “hin lay” meaning small dish. The closest dish that resembles that Thai version being “wet tha hin” which is a pork curry which also utilises a paste heavy in shallots, garlic and spices.

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Hung lae as we know it in Thailand today is a water or stock based curry and always has some combination of pickled vegetables, usually garlic, shredded ginger and peanuts. It is most commonly seen with pork but other varieties do appear including beef or chicken.

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The finished curry is heavy from the quantity of paste, mildly spiced with a regional spice mix, slightly oily with braised pork. It has a sweet and sour flavour profile, the sourness from tamarind or sometimes, more interestingly, santol (a fruit you can read more about here)

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Keep an eye out for it on the specials board over the coming weeks....

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