I imagine that “there are as many ways to make yum as there are cooks” as the old chestnut goes. And probably as many ways to spell it too; transliterating Thai is not known to be an exact science.
It’s pretty hard to go to Thailand and not have it at least once, and frankly I don’t see why you’d bother going if you didn’t – that’s how good it is. With a perfect balance of the four important Thai tastes, hot (ped) and salty (kem) sour (priau) sweet (waan), and a generous dose of fresh herbs, it’s refreshing in summer yet somehow, in winter, comforting without the stodginess factor of the usual comfort food suspects.
You can swap out the ingredients too – I usually use pork mince but you can use chicken or beef (minced or otherwise), duck, shrimp, a mixture of seafood, or vegetables. Sometimes I put the flesh of a roasted eggplant (just roast it whole until collapsing and scrape out the flesh) in with the pork but I don’t see why you couldn’t just use eggplant only if you wanted a vegetarian-ish version – I say “ish” because there’s fish sauce in it.
Yum was the first Thai dish I ever learned how to cook. I made it in a wok over the single gas-burner that constituted the entire cooking apparatus of my kitchen in Koh Lanta on the Andaman coast of Thailand. I chopped the herbs on the bench my then-boyfriend Kit had made for me out of scrap wood and chucked the ends out for the goats who lived out the back door. I’d bought the meat and herbs for next to nothing that morning at the local market to which everyone thought I was crazy for walking to.
I seriously had neighbours who thought nothing of riding their mopeds next door, a distance which could be walked in all of twenty seconds. People would call out to ask if I wanted a lift every time they passed. “Gin khao reu yang?” they’d say (have you eaten rice yet?) and laugh when I’d say “chan cheop durn!” (I like to walk).
Once there was an elephant grazing in the field opposite my house. In monsoon season, Joefish who had come to stay would lean down with me and we’d stick our heads out the window and catch the warm rain on our faces.
When I got back to New Zealand after that trip, I missed Thailand desperately and made this yum every chance I got. It’s the first dish I taught F how to make. It still tasted just as new, just as fresh today for lunch with the snow falling softly outside. Yum.
What’s your comfort food?
Thai Pork Yum
I’d imagine this would serve 4 people as part of a feast or who aren’t greedy but we ate the lot, just the 2 of us. Like many Thai dishes, the work is in the preparation, the cooking takes barely a few minutes.
A bunch of coriander (cilantro), minced
About 10 mint leaves, minced
2 spring onions (green onions), sliced
1 red chilli (you can use dried flakes if you don’t have fresh), minced (I use it with the seeds in but if you prefer less heat you can remove the seeds)
A red onion, diced finely
1 – 2 teaspoons of grated palm sugar (white or brown sugar is okay here too)
3-4 tablespoons fish sauce
3-4 tablespoons lime juice (fresh is better but I used unsweetened out of a bottle)
300 grams pork mince
Stir-fry the pork mince in not much neutral flavoured oil (more will render out of the meat) until cooked and remove from heat. Sprinkle sugar over and stir until dissolved. Add the other ingredients and stir. You might prefer more saltiness (fish sauce) or sourness (lime juice) so adjust to taste.
Serve with jasmine rice.
If you really want to make a meal of it, you could do a curry and something fried too – Thai dishes are usually served family style and with a variety of textures – something stir-fried, a liquid element and something crispy.