In a bid to enjoy the sudden rain in Dubai, i decided to take an early morning walk on the beach. As Sachi and i chased each other through the sand, the strong breeze blowing into our hair and almost blinding us, i noticed a group of men pulling in a fishing boat. Overcome with curiosity, we walked closer and discovered a horde of freshly caught fish that the fisherfolk were wiling to sell…. at a piddly sum!
Now … fresh ingredients, be it vegetables, meat, fish or gossip gets me VERY excited, and i ended up buying a of kilo of Shrimps and a few plump Red Snappers! As we walked back to the car on that cloudy wet morning with a big bag of fish, i was transported just for a moment to my visit to Phuket a few years back. I remembered staying in a remote little village cut away from any real civilization, and discovering on the first night itself that i had happily overlooked the possibility of any decent restaurants.
Asking around helped and we were instructed to walk some distance to a place called Aao Bo by the bay. Fingers crossed we decided to take a chance and must have walked a few miles before we reached a sea side pier with this lonesome house next to it. For an instance, murky thoughts of psycho’s and sadists crossed our minds but the call of our rumbling tummies was too much to handle. We entered, nervous and not knowing what to expect, but surprisingly into a makeshift restaurant, with bright lights, neat little tables and a lingering aroma of fresh thai ingredients!
As we enjoyed a frugal but an absolutely divine dinner of steamed fish and rice, we discovered that the restaurant was run by a family, the mother cooked, the son Aao Bo managed the place while his sisters and father helped and doubled up as servers.
During our entire stay, we went back every night, and tried everything on the menu. Seeing our enthusiasm towards the Thai cuisine, the family even cooked us traditional dishes that weren’t listed. An unforgettable experience and easily one of the best foods i have ever been served!
The recipe i am posting below is similar to the one i was served at Aao Bo’s. It is simplicity at its best but demands the freshest of fish, herbs and condiments. Serve hot with a bowl of steamed jasmine rice and maybe a lemon grass iced tea on the side to wash down the spice.
Cooking time: 40- 45 minutes
Whole Fresh fish ( I used red snapper). Scaled and de- finned
2-3 stalks of lemongrass, roughly chopped
2-3 Limes or lemons ( Limes are more tart than the yellow lemons so u might need more of the latter)
A big piece of Galangal OR Ginger, sliced
2 spoons of nam pla (fish sauce)
1/2 spoon sugar
Thai red chillies, roughly chopped. Please adjust according to taste as these little devils are very very spicy.
Fresh coriander. (I prefer chopping my herbs just before i add them to a dish)
2 garlic flakes, bruised or roughly chopped
1) Wash and make slits in the fish. Rub in a small amount of salt and place it in the steamer for 8 -10 minutes.
2) In a bowl, mix, all the ingredients except lime and coriander. Add salt if you like, but remember that the nam pla is salty already and the fish has been rubbed with salt too.
Coddle the whole mixture with the back of a spoon. I normally just put my hands in and give it a good rub. Leave to rest until the fish is steamed.
3) Spoon the fish onto a serving plate. Be very careful as a steamed snapper is very delicate.
4) Pour the above sauce onto the fish, squeeze 2 limes on top of it, dress with chopped corainder and serve immediately!
NOTE: This dish will not taste good if reheated as lime juice develops a bitter sour taste when heat is applied.
Use this recipe as a guide with any fish / shrimps/ crabs you might have at hand. Just make sure the fish you use is the fleshy variety and does not have too many bones as the process of steaming softens fish bones enough for you to not be able to see them easily but not enough for you to swallow.