Let’s Talk Food: Southeast Asian cuisine

  • Courtesy Audrey Wilson Thai Sweet Chili Sauce.

With the Delta Variant around the world, many of us are unable to travel yet. Our plans to Southeast Asia have been canceled in October as many countries have shut down. It is disappointing but we can “travel” through food and stay at home. In Vietnam, their chili-garlic sauce adds subtle heat and yet deep flavors over rice and noodle dishes.

Vietnamese Chili-Garlic Sauce


In a blender, combine:

1 cup vegetable oil

12 Fresno chilies — stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped

2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed to the lower 5 to 6 inches, dry outer layers discarded, roughly chopped

4 garlic cloves, pressed

2 small shallots, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Blend until finely minced, 30 to 60 seconds. Scrape the mixture into a 10-inch skillet. Heat over medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat to maintain gently bubbling, until the solids are completely broken down and paste-like, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl or glass jar and cool completely. Keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

• • •

Gai tod hat yai or Thai fried chicken from the Southern region of Thailand.

Thai Fried Chicken

Serves 4

Do not marinate the chicken for longer than one hour or it will be too salty.

In a 10-inch skillet over medium, toast until fragrant and just beginning to color, 2 to 3 minutes:

3 tablespoons ground cumin

3 tablespoons ground coriander

Transfer to a small bowl and stir in:

1 tablespoon ground white pepper

In a large bowl, whisk together:

1 large egg white

1/4 cup fish sauce

Stir in:

1 bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped

2 serrano chilies, stemmed and finely chopped

3 tablespoons of the toasted spice mixture

Add and stir to coat thoroughly, then cover and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes:

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed, and cut crosswise into 3 strips

Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. In a large bowl, whisk :

2 cups cornstarch

2 tablespoons white pepper

2 teaspoons salt

Drain the chicken in a colander. Scraping off excess marinade, add 1/3 of the chicken to the cornstarch mixture and toss to coat completely, then firmly press the pieces into the cornstarch. Transfer the pieces to the prepared rack in a single layer, shaking to remove excess coating. Repeat with the remaining chicken and cornstarch mixture, as third at a time.

Set another wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat to 350 degrees:

2 quarts peanut oil (the oil should be at least 2 inches deep)

Add 1/3 of the chicken pieces and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent pieces and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or wire skimmer, transfer the chicken to the second rack and season on all sides with about 1/3 of the reserved spice mixture. Allow the oil to return to 350 degrees, then repeat with the remaining chicken and spice mixture, a third at a time.

Serve with lime wedges and sweet chili sauce.

Thai Sweet Chili Sauce

Makes 1-1/2 cups

To a non-stick pan, heat over medium heat while stirring, to dissolve the sugar. Increase to medium-high and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 2 minutes:

1/2 cup rice vinegar

3/4 cup water

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

5 garlic cloves, chopped finely

1/2 tablespoons fish sauce

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Add and mix thoroughly:

2-1/2 tablespoons sambal oelek

Mix to form a slurry and add to sauce above:

4 teaspoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

Simmer the sauce for another 2-5 minutes, until the cornstarch cooks and thickens.

Foodie Bites

The Hawaii Community College’s Culinary Da’Ohana Corner Cafe is open for takeout/grab and go orders only. Open 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday or call 934-2591 during business hours. When calling an order in, please provide your name, phone number and pick up time.

The menu includes breakfast sandwiches, burritos, breakfast plates, salads, burgers, chicken katsu or teri beef bento, and SPAM musubi.


The Cafeteria is also open from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Call 934-2559 to place a takeout order. Same procedure — no dining in and give the info needed for pick up orders. There are specials everyday so check their website. Besides sandwiches, salads and baked goods, there are always two entrees to select from. Last week, entrees included Asian Baked Chicken, Korean Fried Chicken, Zucchini Parmesan and Smoked BBQ Chicken, just to name a few.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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