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Sunday, 20 December 2015

Fruits of Thailand - 1 - The Banana - 'kluai' - กล้วย

Plate 1. - BANANA / KLUAI, (or GLUAY) ( กล้วย )

Thailand has a lot of banana varieties – all with a preferred use. Some are better eaten raw, some stand out when cooking. Sometimes it’s even the flowers you’re after. In general, there are two types of bananas: the sweet type, which is the large type that most people are used to eating; and the cooking type, which is smaller, and also known as plantains. But all are rich in Vitamin A and carbohydrates, both essential nutritional replenishments in tropical climates such as Thailand's. Bananas also contain a substantial amount of Vitamin C, and are a valuable source of potassium in the diet.

The banana fruit is processed in a number of ways, depending on the variety. Some varieties, for example, are used primarily for making banana flour or ground into powder. This in turn is a major ingredient in baby foods, because it is rich in amino acids, mineral salts and special sugars which make calcium easy to absorb. The flour is used in baking cookies, cakes and etc. Pureed ripe bananas are part of every Thai baby's diet, and puree is also used as the basis for a delicious and nutritious banana milk shake, or a tasty and moist banana cake.

The fruit is very versatile. It can be boiled, fried, grilled, steamed, pickled or dried in the sun or special ovens. Dried bananas make a delightful snack, as do those thinly sliced and deep-fried like potato chips. There are also butter-steamed banana chips, crispy rice cake and banana crackers, raw banana pellets (of special appeal to those with stomach problems), cooked with syrup, grilled kebab style, raw banana green curry, banana cooked in coconut milk, raw banana and papaya salad, boiled banana without syrup, preserved and fried bananas, and even banana jam. Another delicious treat is "Paen Baang", which is made by grinding up preserved Numwah bananas, then steaming in very thin layers. This is then cut into pieces which are rolled into small tubes, and dried. Very brittle and flaky, and melts in your mouth. There is almost no limit to the number of tempting ways bananas are prepared here in Thailand, any of which is worth a try.

The leaves are constantly used for containers, cooking and wrapping, and are everywhere in evidence. Many Thai dishes are prepared by wrapping in banana leaves and then boiled, steamed or grilled. The moisture in the leaves helps keep the food fresh longer. Foods cooked in banana leaves will also absorb small amounts of flavour and aroma from the leaves, giving them a special, and subtle, taste and smell. You will see many of these wrapped foods sold by street vendors and in small markets. The green leaves are also adeptly folded into trays, which are used for serving or transporting food, or can be used to hold flower arrangements. These trays also have a prominent place in various Thai rituals. They are used to hold bridal gifts, for example. When people are terminally ill, a tray is prepared containing flowers, candles and incense to prepare them for departure to the next world. Many rituals involve the preparation of elaborate floral offerings for parades, special ceremonies, or presentation to monks, temples, spirit houses, etc., and most of the traditional designs involve a combination of green banana leaves and flowers.

Green banana leaves can be used to cover a pan when cooking, or can be put in the pan before frying an egg. They are frequently used for wrapping small fish prior to grilling, keeping the moisture and flavor in while cooking. Dry banana leaves also have their uses. They are used to provide a seal when closing jar lids, provide a cover lid for water jars, and are also used as the outer wrapping in rolling a cigar-type of cigarette. They are also mixed with coconut oil to use in polishing articles made from animal horn or bone, and with oil, ash and lime to use as a metal polish.

My favourite way to eat the banana, is in desserts - namely, 'kluai buat chee', and the delighful 'Kluai Cheuam'', using the 'egg banana', 'kluai kai'.

REFERENCE: 'The Ubiquitous Banana'


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