Thai devils: Chili pepper.

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  • If you walk over the big flower and vegetable market Pak Klong Talad in Bangkok, you will see some traders with the most beautiful peppers you can imagine. Green, red, yellow, small, large, you name it. They laugh at you, those chilies. You'd like to bite into them like that.

    Thailand has the most spicy food in the world. At least that's what the website worldatlas.com says, a platform for world citizens. In itself it doesn't matter whether in Thailand, India or Colombia they cook the most chili peppers. Anyway, we can conclude that in Thailand they don't look at a few peppers. In fact, without dried, fresh, fried or sour peppers it is not possible to eat them. Dishes that for some travelers result in a spreading fire, are just right on taste for most Thai people. Chances are - just to be on the safe side - they will add some chilies.

    The chili pepper or red pepper is actually the mother of all chilies. Green chilies are actually not ripe yet and therefore not yet red, but tasty anyway. Actually, what we call peppers botanically also belongs to the peppers, although they are of course not so sharp. When the need for variation arose, the yellow and orange peppers were grown, but in terms of taste and sharpness they do not really differ from the red and green peppers. The Carolina Reaper, it already sounds uncomfortable, is according to the Guinness Book of Records the sharpest pepper in the world (just a bit sharper than the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion). Don't you dare.

    The chili pepper may be popular in Thailand, but it doesn't come from there. Around the 15th century the Thai city of Ayutthaya was a prosperous trading place. It was intensively visited by traders who travelled between China and India. And so the pepper came to Thailand via the Portuguese. In turn, the Portuguese had picked up the pepper in South America.

    It is certainly not the case that the arrival of the small spicy vegetable was welcomed with cheers. It took a while before the Thai got used to it. As is often the case, the work of the famous Thai poet Sunthorn Pu, who lived a few hundred years ago, provides some insight. He writes that chili peppers and salt were used in the preparation of game. That tells something, but also not very much.

    About 80 years ago the royal cookbook Tamrab Sai Yaowapa appeared. It lists different kinds of chilies that were locally available at that time. The book explains which ones are actually used for dishes. There are only two: the Bang Chang chili (a pepper from the Thai province of Samut Songkhram, which was used a lot for chili paste, but is less common nowadays) and the rawit (internationally known as the bird's eye chili). Because we can learn that: not all chilies can be used in every dish. In the famous Thai wok dish pad krapao (with pork and basil) belongs the big rawit and in fried fish with sweet and sour sauce must be red Cayenne pepper.

    The red and green chilies most often found in Thailand are those we know best in the Netherlands: those little sharp duvels that add so much flavour and colour to curries. When they grow they stick with the tip up, as if they don't want to know the plant they were born from. That's why in Thailand they are called prick chee fah, the pepper that points to the air.

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