Like most young people, Tai Keattivanichvily really started to appreciate his mother’s cooking after he left home. The youngest of eight kids, Keattivanichvily grew up in a northern Thai village and was often by his mother’s side in and out of the kitchen. But it was only when he moved to Bangkok for university that Keattivanichvily realized the difference it makes to cook from scratch.
“If you can imagine, in those days, nothing came from packages on a shelf,” says the owner of Bob Likes Thai Food, a restaurant with two Vancouver locations (3755 Main Street and 1521 West Broadway). “I happened to like going to the market with my mom. We’re talking about 4:30 in the morning, but I didn’t care,” he tells the Georgia Straight at his Fairview location. “When I went to school in Bangkok, I thought the food was so bad because I was used to the home-cooked taste.”
That’s when Keattivanichvily began teaching himself to cook. However, it was a long time before he considered a career in the restaurant industry. After moving to Vancouver in 1997, he worked in animation until deciding three years ago that he wanted more than a desk job. Keattivanichvily opened his first restaurant in East Vancouver in 2011 and named it after a character in his imagination.
“Bob is an expat. He lived in Thailand and loves Thai food, and eventually moved back to North America, but couldn’t find a place he liked to eat at so he opened up a place himself. That’s how the name came about,” Keattivanichvily explains.
Most dishes at Bob Likes Thai Food are based on Keattivanichvily’s mother’s recipes. The restaurant owner says that making Thai food can be quite labour-intensive, but he insists on cooking it from scratch—just as his mother always did. He describes the way to enjoy Thai cuisine as similar to eating a turkey dinner: dishes are meant for sharing, and diners put a little bit of everything on their plates.
One of Keattivanichvily’s favourite ways to start a meal is with miang kham. The leafy snacks originate in Myanmar and Laos, and the name translates to “eating many things in one bite”.
“There are more than 50 types of miang. You can eat it with fish or fried cabbage—anything at all,” he says.
The recipe below contains ingredients that are easy to find in Vancouver. Miang kham is traditionally made with licorice-flavoured cha plu leaves, which are used widely in Southeast Asian cuisine. However, Keattivanichvily says you can substitute large spinach leaves instead. To drink, he suggests a dry Riesling.
Tai Keattivanichvily's miang kham
1 cup (250 mL) unsweetened, flaked coconut
12 cha plu leaves or fresh spinach leaves, stems removed
2 shallots, peeled and minced
1 cup (250 mL) roasted peanuts
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, thinly sliced
1 slice ginger, minced
Tamarind sauce (see recipe below)
- In a small frying pan over medium-low heat, toast the coconut flakes until golden. Remove from heat and cool.
- Set out 12 small cups, such as egg cups or small teacups, on the counter to hold finished miang kham for serving.
- To create each miang kham, make a cone from each leaf. Start with the pointed end downward. Hold the leaf from the base with your less dominant hand and place your thumb on the centre of the leaf. Using your free hand, pinch the two curves at the top of the leaf and bring towards the centre of the leaf. Fold the bottom of the leaf around the pinched top, forming a cone.
- Hold the cone in your less dominant hand. With your dominant hand, fill the cone with 1½ tsp (7 mL) of the coconut flakes, a pinch of shallot, 1 or 2 peanuts, 1 or 2 slices of lemongrass, and a pinch of ginger. Spoon about 1½ tsp (7 mL) of tamarind sauce over top, and place cone in a cup to serve. Repeat with remaining leaves to make 12 parcels.
4 oz (115 g) tamarind paste
4 cups (1 L) water
2 cups (500 mL) palm sugar
Salt to taste
- Six hours before cooking, soak the tamarind in water in a large bowl at room temperature. Break up the tamarind with a fork once soft.
- Strain the liquid through a sieve into a small saucepan, removing pulp and seeds. Bring the tamarind water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add sugar, and reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes. Add salt to taste, and cool. Tamarind sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Yield: 4 to 6 snack-size servings as part of a meal.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.