Gaeng Paa Sri Yan offers super-spicy coconut- milk-free soups known among Thais as gaeng paa. Literally translated as "curry from the woods", a gaeng paa recipe consists of a typical red curry paste used in normal red curry soups, but without the smoothness of spice-neutralising coconut milk.
"I started making gaeng paa as the main dish in my restaurant when people began consuming less coconut milk over concerns about health," explains the 62-year-old Urasa Rudeechuen, or Paa Tim (Aunty Tim), the owner of Gaeng Paa Sri Yan, who founded this eatery more than 30 years ago to help her husband support their family of four children.
To its regular customers, Gaeng Paa Sri Yan has become an institution when it comes to affordable, tasty Thai dishes. The small restaurant with an open-air ground floor and air-conditioned second floor has come a long way. It used to sell simple assorted namprik sets. Now it serves a myriad of dishes, but its gaeng paa dishes are still its best-sellers.
We ordered a bowl of fiery gaeng paa pla duk yang (curry with fillets of grilled catfish, Bt60), which is made from Paa Tim's home-made red curry paste and lots of fresh Thai herbs. Julienned wild ginger (krachai), fresh young peppercorns, sliced Thai dragon chillies (prik chee fah), Devil's figs (makeur puang) and fresh bamboo shoots are the usual ingredients added to this dish. For those who don't like catfish and the look of its skin in the soup, you can order gaeng paa with other meats such as home-kneaded spotted featherback (pla krai), wild boar, chicken, minced beef or even belly of snake-head fish (Bt60 to Bt100).
The restaurant's menu lists various standard Thai dishes that go well with steamed rice. Since Paa Tim is also famous for her namprik kapi (chilli shrimp paste set, Bt50 to Bt70) served with assorted vegetables or Thai mackerel or grilled catfish, we decided to order one. Paa Tim's chilli paste is thick from pounded dried shrimp, and very spicy. As per the custom in the old days, she adds sliced figs to balance the spiciness of the dish, which is best when accompanied with blanched vegetables and a cha-om omelette.
We also ordered a plate of stir-fried sator (nitta beans) with shrimp (Bt100) which Paa Tim flavours with her home-made chilli paste. There's also a version of this dish made with kapi (shrimp paste) from Chanthaburi.
On the less spicy side, the restaurant also offers woon sen pad kai (stir-fried
glass noodles with egg and tomato, Bt80), which is quite effective at cooling down your palate. We also tried their delicious deep-fried snake-head fillets (Bt60), steamed pork with salted fish (Bt60) and minced pork with namleab olives (Bt60).
Gaeng Paa Sri Yan has a motorcycle delivery service, which will service any area of Bangkok for a fee.
Gaeng Paa Sri Yan
954/2 Nakhonchaisri Road (between Ratchawat and Sri Yan Market, near Dusit Post Office) 10am to 9pm Monday
to Saturday (02) 241 4216
Sirin P Wongpanit The writer can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.