JAEW bong (แจ่วบอง), the spicy chilli dip of Northeastern Thailand, is the best culinary representation of Mr. P’s mum’s love for her sons. A type of chilli relish in Thailand, jaew bong is what naam phrik num is to the northerners and naam phrik kapi is to the central Thais, and somewhat like what sambal is to the Malaysians, Singaporeans and Indonesians.
Whenever Mr. P is back home, his mum never tires in whipping up her son’s favourite dishes. Like maeng kork—it isn’t Mr. P’s favourite though but he had a sudden craving and the parents obliged—MIL whipped up her version of jaew bong during our recent visit back to Mr. P’s hometown in Udon Thani. When Mr P’s brother lived apart from the parents, he also requested for their mum’s jaew bong whenever he was home.
Plaa raa, the fermented fish—fragrant to some, pungent to others, but definitely intense—is a vital component. Chopped shallots, lemongrass, kaffir leaves and bird’s eye chillies were first roasted over a slow fire to release the fragrance and increase their brittleness before combining the mixture with minced plaa raa to be pounded in a mortar to create the paste, according to MIL’s recipe. Just as how naam phrik differs from region to region, the ingredients and steps of making jaew bong also vary from mother to mother.
On the morning we departed from Udon, MIL handed over her special concoction, reminding me at the same time to store the paste in the fridge. “It can last for several months,” she said.
Back in Bangkok, we assembled a raw vegetable set of cabbage, winged beans, string beans and cucumber, blanched bai tamlueng (ivy gourd leaves), together with sticky rice, to eat with jaew bong. The ideal way is to dip the greens into jaew bong, while interspersing the fiery flavours with knobs of sticky rice kneaded up from the woven bamboo basket. I especially liked the slight smoky flavour of the jaew bong, the result of grilling the ingredients over a slow fire.
And now whenever hunger pangs strike, Mr. P just have to reach into the fridge for doses of his mum’s love, all across the 500km of physical distance.