Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sai Mai - Another Special Isaan Treat

Roadside Vendor Making "Crepes" for Sai Mai

We had to go out to Tahsang Village on Sunday for Duang to take her father to the hospital for his scheduled appointment.  I have often mentioned that there are no secrets here in Isaan,  Well once again it was proven in regards to our planned trip out to the village.  On Saturday during one of my wife's daily calls with her family, a message from our 4-1/2 year old grandson, Peelawat, was conveyed to Duang.  Peelawat reminded her to stop along the road and buy him some Sai Mai.

We live very close to Highway 2 the main road from the Lao border south to the Bangkok area.  We travel on Highway 2 on our journeys out to Tahsang Village.  Highway 2 is typically a 4 lane separated modern road.  Despite being a modern thoroughfare, the highway can be quite interesting.  The King has sponsored a program, OTOP (One Tambon, One Product) where sub-districts (over 7,000 of them) focus on marketing a single handicraft or product.  Along the road just before the turn off to Kumphawapi, the road in both directions is lined with little stands built out of bamboo and sheltered by a large umbrella where local people sell a local specialty - sticky rice cooked inside of bamboo with coconut milk and a few beans.  If I understood my wife properly and have spelled it correctly, it is known as "Pan Kao Thai".

Further south along the road you will find villages where Isaan Sausages are cooked and sold to motorists.  In other locations, bottles of honey are for sale.  Not all the products are edible along the road.  In some areas, pottery, walking canes, rattan furniture, and textiles are featured.

Of course anywhere along the road, you will come upon places where people are grilling chickens and serving other foods to passersbys.

I have written about the seasonal treat, kao tawtek, that is now being prepared for Kao Sa on 19 September.  September is also the time for preparing and consuming another special treat - Sai Mai.  Spotted along Highway 2 on the way to Kumphawapi are stalls that are selling Sai Mai.  We stopped at one just before the Udonthani Mail Sorting Facility.

Sai Mai is a two component treat that is assembled by the consumer.  Sai Mai consists of small thin crepes that have a sugar product placed on it and rolled up to be eaten.   The sugar product resembles asbestos in texture as well as coloring.  It seems to be a Thai form of cotton candy.  It melts quickly and completely in your mouth.  It is softer and less stiff than American cotton candy.  It resembles chopped soft fibers rather than spun filaments of cotton candy.  The Thai product can be rolled and molded into compact balls quite easily but that it not the accepted practice for eating it.  This component is purchased from manufacturers. Sai Mai vendors distribute the product in various sized plastic bags sealed with elastic bands for sale.

The second component of Sai Mai is a small diameter thin crepe.  The crepes are made freshly at the stall and several are placed in small plastic bags.  The crepes are made out of rice flour and water.  Unlike crepes that include eggs, salt, and vanilla, in a runny matter these crepes are a thick paste that is smeared on the hot griddle BY HAND.

The griddle is a typical propane gas open flame device - just like I have seen used in Europe to make crepes.  I watched in awe as the vendor grabbed a handful of rice flour paste and smeared three small circles on the hot plate.  Almost immediately after finishing the third circle, the vendor used a thin pastry scraper in his other hand to remove and stack the one millimeter thick crepes on a table near the stove.  After creating a stack of around one centimeter thick, the stacked crepes were carefully placed in a small plastic bag after the vendor washed his "paste" hand in a nearby tub of water.

We bought two bags of Sai Mai and associated bags of crepes for 50 baht ($1.50 USD).

Upon arrival in Tahsang Village we were enthusiastically welcomed by Peelawat, Kwan, Tey, Mai, Phere, and Phu.  We sat upon the raised platform outside of the home and laid out the Sai Mai. components.  In a process very much like "rolling your own", the children carefully separated a crepe from the stack, laid it flat in their hand, grabbed some of the sugar product in their other hand, sprinkled the sugar fibers across the center-line of the crepe, folded the filled crepe in half and rolled it into a tube.  The completed treat was then consumed in two to three bites.  Duang and I joined in the feeding frenzy.  In very little time, the treats were completely consumed.

I suspect that we will be enjoying some more Sai Mai before the season is over.

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