Have you ever come across brinjals (egg plants/ aubergines) with an identity crisis?
Well Thai brinjals are a bit like Babe the piglet who thought that he was a sheep dog.
In fact I used to think they were little chillies. I was wrong!
My orientation into Thai food happened when I was new to Mumbai and we used to hang out at a place called Thai Baan at Pali Naka. I remember that pronouncing the names of the dishes were an even bigger draw for us than the food. It's been ten years and fifteen kilos since then, most of my friends from those days have moved out, but some of the staff from Thai Baan still smile and wave at me when I pass by.
I fell in love with Thai food and curries during a trip there in 2005. That's when I first experienced the sea salt magic of chopped fiery, red chillies in fish oil dips which accompanied the food. And these angry little green balls which came in the green curries. They were scrunchy to bite and were tantalisingly hot. I though they were chillies. I was mesmerised by them.
I had Thai green curries in Mumbai at quite a few place since the trip. These inexplicably had cauliflowers, beans, carrots and broccoli with meat ... but there no sign of the little green devils in Thai curries in Mumbai.
Then I spotted it at our local bhaaji waali (vegetable seller) at the Pali Market, Bandra. That's when I found out that these 'chillies' were actually brinjals! In fact the pack label described them as 'pungent'. These are grown by Trikaya here and cost around Rs 30 (0.6 USD) a pack.
In fact Pali Market at Bandra is a treasure trove of 'exotic' produce. Basil, thyme, oregano, asparagus, dill, bird chillies, shitake mushroom, avocados, parsley and, of course, Thai Brinjals, you name it and you will get it here. The names sound a bit funny rolling off the tongue of the thin, sprightly, vegetable lady in a sari who sells ... but she sure knows her stuff.
I used the Thai Brinjals when I made a Thai style hakka wok which I called Sukhumvit Wok. They gave a nice, fiery bite to the noodles.
You can't have too many of them so I experimented with the remaining brinjals in the pack. I once tossed some chopped pumpkin with the brinjals, basil and bird chillies. It turned out be a nice sandwich filler. I added some Thai Brinjals to a Bengali spinach dish another time.
My take is that they give a sharp relief to the dish, breaks the taste and can even give a new take to an existing dish (like the spinach one). All you have to do is toss in a few of the Babe Brinjals while you are cooking a dish.
The best thing is that they seem to go with all cuisines - Oriental, Coninental and even Indian.
I wonder why local restaurants don't add it to their Thai curries. I must write to the President about this.