“The only time pineapples are acceptable in Thai food is in pineapple mussel curry (แกงคั่วสับปะรดหอยแมลงภู่; kaeng sapparot hoi malaeng phuu) or sweet and sour dish (ผัดเปรี้ยวหวาน; phat priaow waan),” said Mr. P insisted, who is adamant that fried rice and pineapples are a mismatch. “Pineapple fried rice are only seen on menus in MBK and places with lots of tourists. Have you seen your Thai gal friends ordering this dish before?”
It’s true that no Thai I have dined with had ever ordered this dish. And those roadside stalls thronging with office worker during lunchtime, pineapple fried rice is never written on the menu. Yet pineapple fried rice is perceived as standard Thai fare outside Thailand, and enjoys immense popularity among Singaporeans, which was apparent one evening when we ate at Nakhon Kitchen—all tables had a plate of pineapple fried rice, except ours.
I first became aware of the pineapple tussle many years ago during a meal with a couple of Thai language teachers at the university canteen. After listening to me speak Thai, one of them said to me, “To be truly good at a language, go beyond the vocabulary. You have to string sentences meaningfully together with the vocabulary learned, and that’s harder.” Somehow we digressed to pineapple fried rice, and she had an indignant look when she declared, “I don’t know why Singaporeans love pineapple fried rice so much. Pineapples don’t complement rice nicely, so Thais don’t like it.”
But kaeng sapparot hoi malaeng phuu is different. The sweetness is ameliorated by chilli paste and coconut milk to yield a more balanced concoction. For me, this dish was always created intuitively, so I never measure the amount of ingredients used. I just add sliced pineapple, mussels, coconut milk and naam phrik phao (or red Thai curry paste) together, giving the mixture a few stirs until cooked, and then balance the flavours with some fish sauce, palm sugar and a few kaffir leaves. Check out recipes by better cooks here and here.
After going through bouts of laziness in recent weeks, I finally stepped into my mum’s kitchen in Singapore to make pineapple and mussel curry over the weekend. Thank goodness my family seemed to like it too. But pardon the crumbly looks of the mussels—I overcooked them slightly. :p