Khao khluk kapi: The best Thai dish you’ve never heard of

Khao khluk kapi: The best Thai dish you’ve never heard of

Highly underrated, this lunch-time favorite unites all the best flavors and textures of Thai cooking
khao khluk kapi
A dish of khao khluk kapi at Khao Khluk Kapi Phra Athit, a street stall in Bangkok’s Banglamphu district.

Some would say it’s the stuff of dreams: a one-dish meal that unites virtually every favorable flavor and texture in Thai cooking. But it's a reality in the case of “khao khluk kapi” (rice mixed with shrimp paste), the all too literal name of a vibrant dish that few visitors to Thailand are aware of.

With origins in central Thailand, and generally available only at lunch, khao khluk kapi is based around rice that has been fried, or sometimes boiled or mixed, with shrimp paste (kapi). The rice, which gains a pleasantly pungent taste and a greyish-brown hue, is served with a variety of toppings and sides that typically include shredded green mango, slices of cucumber, a thin omelet that that has been sliced into strips, thinly sliced shallots, sliced green beans, crispy deep-fried dried shrimp, dried chilies deep-fried until crispy and a slice of lime.

Khao khluk kapiKhao khluk kapi as served at Ratana, a curry stall in Bangkok’s Nang Loeng Market.A few slices of kun chiang, Chinese-style pork sausage, and muu waan, pork belly that has been braised in palm sugar and fish sauce, provide the protein. Some versions also include thin slices of pineapple or fresh herbs, and the dish is often served with a bowl of clear broth.

The result is something of an all-encompassing rice-based salad that is salty from the shrimp paste, fresh and crispy from the veggies, sweet from the fruit and muu waan, and spicy, if you decide to mix in the chilies.

Some of the better places in Bangkok to get khao khluk kapi include:

Ratana

Ratana (+66 (0)2 281 0237, Thanon Nakhorn Sawan Road, 10am-2pm, Mon-Fri. Price: 30 baht per plate), a longstanding and lauded curry stall located in the historic Nang Loeng Market, does a slightly unusual and delicate take on the dish, which is topped with a few sprigs of a pungent herb called cha om.

Khao Khluk Kapi Phra Athit

Diverging little from the norm, but relying on fresh, high-quality ingredients, Khao Khluk Kapi Phra Athit (directly across from Banglamphu Road on Phra Athit Road, 11am-2pm. Price: 30 baht) is a streetside stall that puts together a dictionary-definition version of the eponymous dish.

Baan Phat Thai

khao khluk kapiA dish of khao khluk kapi at Baan Phat Thai, a Muslim restaurant in Bangkok’s Banglamphu neighborhood.

As the name suggests, Baan Phat Thai (105 Mahanop Road, 9:30am-5pm. Price: 30 baht), serves the famous fried noodle dish, but they also do a very good khao khluk kapi. A highlight here is the rice, which is rich and savory while lacking the oiliness that lesser versions of this dish have. And because this is a Muslim restaurant, the dish is served with beef, rather than the more traditional sweet pork.

Khao Khluk Kapi Chao Wang

In new Bangkok, Khao Khluk Kapi Chao Wang (+66 (0)2 392 5886, Soi 42, Soi Pridi Banomyong, Soi 72, Sukhumvit Road, 7am-9pm, Mon-Sat. Price: 30 baht) claims to follow a former palace recipe for their version of the dish, which has earned them a very dedicated lunchtime following.

This is part one in a series that highlights some of Thailand's finest little known dishes.

Austin Bush is an American writer/photographer based in Bangkok, Thailand. His photos have been published in variety of magazines, books and newspapers including DestinAsian, Food & Travel, Olive, Saveur, Travel + Leisure, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, as well as numerous Lonely Planet publications. For an online portfolio and samples of his work, check out www.austinbushphotography.com.

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