Friday, September 2, 2011

Thai Corn: On And Off The Cob

Steamed in the hull corn on the cob - warm and tasty
Not to take anything away from the sensory delights of those warm, light Chinese donuts known as youtiao in the morning, the satisfying heft of ice cream in a fresh bun on a hot afternoon or the dense, yeasty sweetness of a freshly pressed waffle most anytime - but there is more to snacking in Thailand than those carbo-heavy treats alone.  No, the Thai are snackers supremo, and we've just scratched the surface of things available as you go about your day there.

I've always loved corn, in almost any way you could think of to cook it. I even ate creamed corn with gusto when I was a child - something that horrified most of my friends at the time. Although we got whole corn on the cob from the grocery stores here in California cities, there was nothing that could compare to the field-fresh ears of it we'd have while visiting relatives back East.

Truly fresh corn was a treat worth suffering through the near-stultifying heat and humidity of a mid-Western July. Picked before dawn and just out of the fields a few hours the green hulls were so fresh they clung firmly to the golden niblets inside as we shucked ear after ear of it on the back porch of my grandparent's home in Minnesota, picking the clingy strands of corn silk off while anticipating the bountiful platters of steaming ears that would arrive at the mid-day dinner table an hour or so later. Even without butter these sugar-sweet golden cylinders from heaven were a treat I still occasionally think I can conjure up the aroma of if I really work at it.

Every so often while walking along a sidewalk or road in Thailand I get a teasing hint of that aroma, and it never fails to catch my attention. When I look around I usually find a vendor with one of a few types of corn for sale. It's rarely anywhere near as fresh as I remember from my childhood, but if you get out into the farmlands of the Kingdom, it's there!

Normally what you'll see are the wash-tubs of ears in their hulls, such as the guy up top had to sell. Those are good, but not really practical or very neat to eat on the street. If you're staying in an apartment with a kitchen, try them, though - odds are you'll like them. A couple of times I've taken then directly back to my room, added some butter brought up from the buffet and launched into one (OK, or two) ears of it, and it was pretty darned good.  I suppose it's fair to say most anything farther away from mass-produced is better tasting.

Simpler and almost as satisfying are the carts that sell corn along the street that's already been removed from the cob. You point to the size of cup you want to take away (often a disposable drinking cup), tell the seller what you want added to it - butter, sugar, salt, etc.) and they toss it into a hot wok to heat it before spooning it into a cup, sticking a spoon into it and handing it to you, steaming hot. It's very inexpensive, and a relatively healthy walk-away snack.

Kernels of corn on a steam table, waiting for a final heating and serving
The third type of corn you're likely to see is served as part of a pancake-like patty, made with corn, flour, salt, pepper and other spices. These you can eat with your fingers while you walk along, without trying to manage the spoon-to-mouth thing that's sometimes messy if you're carrying a bag, walking in any kind of hurry at all, or are in a crowd.

Griddled corn patties, as fresh as they get
My favorite of the three are the cups of take-away corn kernels, but like I said: I like them all. If you have a favorite that isn't listed here, leave a comment.  If you're planning your first trip to Thailand, keep an eye out for these, and let me know what you thought of them.


krobbie said...

Bobey and I got some corn shaved from the cob to add to our chicken dinner (also from a cart in Sathorn). That and some cauli & broccoli steamed in our microwave made a very nice meal indeed.

Bobey said he had only ever had it with butter and sugar and I explained that just a little butter with salt and cracked pepper was by far the way to go. He now concurs and hasn't had it with sugar since.

His dentist will be pleased.


Donald said...

I always look forward to a helping of corn in the evening walking the streets. The vendors selling whole steamed ears have never refused me to cut it from the cob and put it in a plastic bag with butter (or whatever substitute they use) and salt. Easy to eat as you walk as the kernels mostly stay together in a small bar-like fashion. Some offer a spoon for the bottom bits. Just ask. MMMMmmmm!

khunbaobao said...

Thanks, Donald... I'm a little peeved with myself that I hadn't ever thought of that myself. I'll give that a try, since the "whole cob" vendors are usually more available.

Good tip, thanks!