"Like so much else about Thai cuisine, making the perfect miang kum is all about balance."
When I picked up the above package of miang kum at Sugar Club, a wonderful Thai grocery store in Elmhurst, Queens, I asked the fellow behind the counter if it was a kit for a salad (or yum, as Thai cold dishes are known). He enthusiastically nodded yes. In addition to offering Thai videos, the Sugar Club stocks a lot of delicious prepared dishes, like papaya salad, so I was excited to try this make-your-own one, since I'd never seen it anywhere else before.
When I got home and opened the foil container, I had no idea what to do with the contents. There was a baggie of about 20 cabbage leaves cut into triangles; a Ziplock packed with toasted, shredded coconut; a tub of what tasted like sweet tamarind paste spiked with fish sauce; a bipartite zippie, half filled with tiny dried shrimp and half with peanuts; another bipartite baggie with small cubes of ginger and teeny wedges of lime; and another two-compartment affair with chopped shallots and about five or six red Thai chilies.
A quick web search provided me with all the info I needed to get started. Miang kum is a Thai snack that involves wrapping a variety of savory items in a green leaf, whether it be lettuce, spinach leaf or in the case of my kit, cabbage. Even though this one didn't include it, sometimes you'll add garlic. My research indicated that it's often eaten with beer, so I popped open a can of Sapporo and got to work.
First I placed a blob of the fishy tamarind paste in the center of the leaf. Then I added three wedges of lime and some dried shrimp and peanuts. Next came the shallot, a few cubes of ginger, and a bit of toasted coconut. Last, I crowned the whole affair with a single Thai chili, bundled the whole thing up, and popped it in my mouth. I was hit with a wave of flavor that encompassed all of Thai cuisine in one tiny package. Mostly, I got the heat from that Thai chile and soon found myself drinking half a glass of beer in a single gulp. I guess there is a reason there were only a few peppers in the kit to go along with 20 leaves. Clearly, you're supposed to cut them up, using just a bit for each bundle.
Andy Yang, the executive chef of the soon-to-open Kurve in the East Village, tells me that miang kum, translates roughly to "a lot of ingredients in one bite." Like so much else about Thai cuisine, making the perfect miang kum is all about balance. On subsequent attempts I used just a schmear of tamarind paste, since the sweetness tended to overpower everything else. You can be damn sure I also used a lot less pepper. Experiment on your own or have a miang kum party, and let guests customize their own.
81-20 Broadway, Elmhurst NY 11373 (map)