It’s hard to know what, if anything, can be said about traffic in Bangkok. There’s a lot of it. Early this morning it took 5 minutes to safely cross my two-lane street. Most impressive is the entrepreneurial endeavors that emerge and thrive as a result of the traffic. Street food vendors are constantly finding new ways to take advantage of the stalled (and one would assume, hungry) drivers.
When traffic is this bad on my street, a woman who makes grilled fish (and grilled every-part-of-pig-imaginable), does a great business. She packs the goods up in bags and makes her way through the cars, selling hot-off-the-grill snacks to commuters on their way in to work.
Last week I was in a taxi that took 30 minutes to drive 15 blocks. (Yes, I would have liked to walk, but we were hosting dinner that night, and I had too many groceries to carry the 15 blocks.) As the driver and I were at a standstill in the middle of a busy road, he was zen-like, listening calmly to the radio. I have been working on mimicking this degree of patience, but my American brain immediately gets restless.
Next to the taxi, also frozen in the traffic standstill, a fruit vendor on a motorcycle-driven-cart decided to seize the opportunity and make some sales. He sprung into action, chopping guava and tossing it into small bags. All around us, windows rolled down and pleasant requests were shouted out of open windows. When the traffic started moving, the vendor tossed his supplies back into the cart and resumed his drive.
This recipe for Chicken Satay might not be something that can be tossed together on a cart in the middle of traffic, but its fragrance and taste embody such a distinct combination of bright, rich, sweet savoriness that they even help me to feel a little bit zen.
- 2 small skinless, boneless chicken breast (about 8 oz.)
- 1 lemongrass stalk, bottom 2 inches only (discard top green stalk)
- 2 1-inch pieces of fresh turmeric, peeled (substitute 2 tsp. ground turmeric if prefered)
- 2 peels of lime zest
- 1 tsp. fresh grated galangal
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 3 Tbsp. coconut milk
- 1 Tbsp. roasted peanuts
- Thinly slice chicken into 15 strips that are about ¼ inch thick and several inches in length. The length of the pieces can be irregular, but try to slice them to even thickness so that they will all take about the same amount of time to cook.
- Combine all remaining ingredients, excluding chicken, in a food processor. Pulse until mixture becomes a paste and only small pieces of the ingredients remain. Transfer the paste to a bowl and add chicken to the bowl, stirring to evenly coat the chicken. Refrigerate and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to 5 hours.
- Thread a skewer through each piece of chicken. Grill the chicken skewers on an outdoor grill or a grill pan, until cooked through. Serve immediately with the dipping sauces below.
- 1 cup coconut milk
- ½ cup finely crushed roasted peanuts
- 1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. granulated sugar
- 2 Tbsp. tamarind paste
- 1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. soy sauce
- ¼ tsp. curry powder
- ¼ tsp. ground cumin
- pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
- Heat the coconut milk until boiling. Allow to boil for 1 minute, stirring continuously to prevent it from boiling over. Reduce heat to a low simmer. Add all remaining Heat the coconut milk until boiling. Allow to boil for 1 minute, stirring continuously to prevent it from boiling over. Reduce heat to a low simmer. Add all remaining ingredients. Continue heating, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
- ½ cup white sugar
- ¼ cup white distilled vinegar
- ¼ cup water
- 1 long red chili, cut into thin slices
- ½ a small cucumber, cut into thin slices
- cilantro, for garnish (optional)
- Heat the sugar, vinegar and water in a small pan over medium-high heat until sugar disolves. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Add chili and cucumber to sauce and garnish with cilantro.