Thai-style biryani set to tickle tastebuds in China

PHOTO: The Nation/Asia News Network

In further proof that Thailand's cuisine is a world-beater, Thai researchers have hatched plans to export the recipe for Thai biryani or Khao Mok to China after completing a project to develop local cuisine in the far South.

Titled "Development of Potential of Thai Foods Innovation Using Ingredients from the Southern Border Provinces for the Chinese Market", the study aimed to tap the distinctive flavours of far South cuisine in a bid to tease Chinese taste buds, research leader Wanasnan Kanokpattanangkul said.

Though there is already a Chinese influence in the three southernmost provinces due to the ethnic-Chinese minority living there, the cuisine in the South is very different from anything available in China, Wanasnan said. Wanasnan normally works as a chef, holding Thai cooking classes in China's Kunming city.

The study was completed last year and funded jointly by the Thailand Research Fund (TRF) and Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC) to promote development in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces.

During the two years of research, the team sought local ingredients and developed recipes for Chinese sample groups to taste, before deciding on khao mok as the best fit for Chinese palates.

Khao mok is an aromatic, well-seasoned one-pot dish hailing originally from India. The most popular version is khao mok kai, or curried chicken (or sometimes goat) cooked in spiced rice.

"We chose this recipe because the rice is yellow, an auspicious colour for Chinese people, and it was the most popular among the tasting group," the researcher said.

The team plans to market the dish under the brand "Papa Tagu", which will cost each franchise in Kunming about Bt3 million to launch, she added.

The capital of China's Yunnan province was chosen as the launch pad for the Thai version of biryani because there are many Thai-Muslims living there, Wanasnan said.

The business idea stems from a memorandum of understanding signed by SBPAC and a Thai-Chinese business association to develop Thai recipes for commercial use. They are waiting for approval from both Thai and Chinese import and export regulators.

The "Papa Tagu" brand was named after the shop "De Tagu" in Pattani's Muang district, whose owner Muhammad Hajeeamsah, a researcher in the team, played a major role in creating the recipe. Muhammad quit his job as a lecturer to open his khao mok shop three years ago, where he serves a less spicy version of biryani. He has also produced a sauce to go with the dish.

As a researcher, he spent seven months adjusting the recipe to appeal to the Chinese palate. Unlike khao mok, his version looks much like the original version of biryani, in that the rice is white, orange, yellow and saffron in colour. "My secret is that I cook it slowly using good-quality ingredients," said the 42-year-old lecturer turned chef. The dish needs three hours on the stove before its ready. "I call my recipe the 'rice of peace', as people from different cultures will feel happy eating it," he added.

The spice powder he uses in the dish has already been introduced to the Chinese market, and Wanasnan has been using it in her cooking classes in China.

Kitti Satjawattana, director of TRF's collaborative research unit, said further development of local cuisine for export to China, where the market is huge, would help boost the quality of life and earnings for villagers in the far South.