There are many Thai delicacies to try during your stay in Thailand, but there is only one classic Thai summertime treat that has captured the hearts of many who have come to visit, whether it was for a short-term vacation or long-term stay. That treat is none other than the Khao Chae dish. For those who are wondering about what “Khao chae” means - it quite literally means “rice” (khao) and “to soak” (chae), and is often translated to “rice soaked in water”. While it might sound like a basic dish at first, there is much more complexity than meets the eye.
About The Dish
First and foremost, the rice involved in the dish has to be of a very particular texture. While jasmine rice is often used in many Thai dishes, this particular rice is “too soft” for khao chae, which is why khao tee huungis typically utilized. The khao tee huungis not only cooked, but also rinsed in a colander to remove any extra starch involved, as well.
What comes next? You guessed it: water. However, khao chae isn’t made with just any kind of water, but with flower-scented water, the courtesy of a large pot of water and six jasmine blossoms to add a fresh flavor to the dish. As if that wasn’t enough “flower” influence, a flower-scented candle is then floated atop the water, with the pot only loosely covered by the lid. This process takes fifteen minutes, and then is repeated again. As a result, the scent from the candles is meant to naturally dissipate into the water.
After the rice is cooked, scented water is sprinkled heavily on top of the rice, which is then transferred to a chaeesecloth and steamed over boiling water. Finally, it is time to serve - which means the rice should be transferred to a bowl and served with several ice cubes.
Of course, like many Asian dishes - the star of the khao chae is often not the rice, but what is served with the rice. There are countless variations, with some who prefer shallots and peppers, and others who take the opportunity to devour their khao chae with some delicious pork or beef. This obviously all depends on the preference and diet of the particular individual, but there is sure to be a variation to accommodate your needs.
While there are many Thai dishes that can be enjoyed year-round, the khao chae is meant for a very specific time of year. That time of year is typically from mid-March to the end of April, meaning that there is little more than a month for the dish to be enjoyed. For those wondering why the time is so limited - Thailand did not have copious amounts of ice available over history, so the water was kept cool using shade and specific vessels during the “hot” season. This has likely had an effect on the season that it is typically served.
The dish is adopted from a traditional Mon recipe. For those who might be unaware, the Mon are an ethnic group native to the Mon state of Myanmar, and the recipe was adapted from around the time of King Rama II. There are also many that point out that King Rama V was especially fond of the dish, and that its popularity increased tremendously around the late 1800s.
Interestingly enough, the khao chae is considered a thanksgiving dish, and is well-known as part of Thai culture as part of the Songkran Festival. Many consider it the only “royal Thai” dish that is still consumed to this day. The Songkran is the national holiday that is the Thai New Year, and is celebrated on April 13th every year.
There are obviously all sorts of different variations when it comes to how healthy khao chae can be, as the individual can choose exactly how much rice they want to consume, or whether they want to incorporate meat. This obviously isn’t ideal for vegetarians, who might prefer shallots and peppers as side dishes. Since khao chae is a dish with so many variations, it can be made more healthy with more fresh vegetables, or might involve more sodium/fat with more meat and rice.
Where Can I Find It?
While it is a bit far of a walk or ride from many of the other hotels, one incredible place to enjoy the dish is the Khao restaurant, which is only 1 km away from the Centre Point Sukhumvit Thong-Lo.
For those staying at Centre Point Hotel Pratanum, one great location to eat Khao Chae nearby actually has Khao Chae in its name, to show you how seriously it takes the dish! That would be Khao Chae Mae Siri, a quick 20-minute ride away (depending on traffic).