Jeo Kapi and Eggplant Tempura…

If I had to choose something easy to cook and tasty to eat, this would be my choice: ແຈ່ວກະປິ (‘Jeo Kapi‘) or Shrimp Paste Dipping Sauce accompanied by steamed vegetables and rice. Such a simple dish yet filled with bitter sweet memory and symbolizing significant changes in my childhood…

As a result of the Vietnam War, neutral Laos fell in the hands of the popular Communist Party in 1975 and the lives of many Lao people changed dramatically, including mine. My father was sent to re-education camp in northern Laos where he stayed for about 5 years. My sisters were sent to join Pah Mani (my mother’s older sister, ‘pah’ means ‘older aunt’) and her 5 children in a refugee camp in Nongkhai, Thailand, to seek refuge in a third country in hopes for a better future and a chance at an education. Though apart, my parents made the decision together through letters they exchanged over a long period of time. They discussed it in codes, about sending my sisters to help an aunt with farming needs… I believe it was the most difficult decision my parents have had to make in their life, which was to let go of their children at such a young age. My sisters were mere teenagers…

My younger brother, Dharinthorn (aka Titi, aka Dee) and I stayed back with my mother and my grandparents at the house on the Mekong, waiting patiently and anxiously for my father’s return. Life was uncertain, pulsed by the daily drum beat of the neighboring temples, fueled by rare and sporadic news of my father, and kept alive by the optimistic thought of speedy relocation news from my sisters. But one thing remained: I was still queen, left to reign over the garden with my brother as minion, but who decisively gained by the day a much higher level of deference for insanely good behavior! Needless to say, my adventurous-self got in as much trouble for my naughty escapades as for my conviction that no one could be as docile by implicating my brother.

Back in the days traveling to Thailand was a difficult and sometimes deadly process. Either people escaped at night by boat or by swimming across the Mekong River to enter one of the refugee camps, or we had to apply for a visa and visit legally. When approved it was as easy as crossing the murky river on a shallow motorized boat from Thadeua, a small port just outside of Vientiane. I still don’t know what kind of ordeal my mother had to go through to get us to Nongkhai, but all I can remember were the steep stairs going up the Thai shore. I recall visiting a relative there, Grandma See, who took us into the camp to visit my sisters, my aunt, and my cousins. I remember feeling a tinge of jealousy: the children there did not have to go to school, and they seemed to have so much fun exploring all day! It was extremely hot under the tin roof, but people made due with attaching a large cardboard to a beam, attaching a long string to its bottom, and taking turn pulling on it so it acted as a ceiling fan. How creative is that? I remember not wanting to leave. At least they had each other. And they also had lots of salted mackerels, ration and main staple for refugees. I happen to love salted mackerels, especially when eaten for the first time there with Jeo Kapi and sautéed morning glories, surrounded by loved ones…

Since then, this salty and spicy dipping sauce has meant so much more to me than just a mouthwatering pungent sauce. It symbolizes the coming together of a family, even in need and on rationed food, to share a meal.

Ingredients:

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  • 4 fresh chilies
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • juice of half a lime
  • 2 tbs of fish sauce
  • 2 tbs of sugar
  • 1 tbs of kapi (shrimp paste)

How to make ‘Jeo Kapi’:

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In a mortar, with a pestle crush the chilies and garlic with a pinch of salt

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Add kapi and sugar, crush and mix all together

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Add fish sauce and lime juice, mix well

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Adjust to your taste by adding a little more sugar, lime juice, or fish sauce

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Serve with steamed and/or raw assorted vegetables

Through the years, I have served this dipping sauce with so many kinds of vegetables and stir fries, even experimenting with noodles and rice. But my all time favorite combination is to pair it with eggplant tempura. You will learn through this blog that I will try to add eggplant of any type to everything I cook and eat 😉

Ingredients for Eggplant Tempura:

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  • 1 cup of tempura mix
  • 3/4 cup of ice water
  • 2 Chinese eggplants, cut in medallions, 1/4 inch thick

How to cook eggplant tempura:

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Dip eggplant medallions in the batter and coat well

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Heat 1.5 inch oil in a pan on medium heat and slowly drop eggplant

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When slightly golden, flip over eggplants

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Remove from oil and let drain on paper towel

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Serve Jeo Kapi accompanied by eggplant tempura, steamed and/or fresh assorted vegetables (carrots, snake beans, cabbage, cucumber, Thai eggplants, etc.), and hot steamed jasmine rice. Enjoy!!!

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4 Responses to Jeo Kapi and Eggplant Tempura…

  1. Maly Chandravongsri says:

    I made jeo kapi the other day but it didn’t taste quite right. Will definitely use your recipe to try again. Have also been meaning to make eggplant tempura. Bob said he’s never had it. How is that possible!!

    • I know, right? Our family has been eating this combo for so long… I was also surprised to find out that some of my Lao friends/acquaintances have never had jeo kapi either!

  2. hapachicana says:

    That looks delicious! I am so glad I found your blog – my husband is Lao and learning how to cook the food can be quite difficult since we don’t get to see his family as often as we like. I’ve tried mastering some dishes, but sometimes they are not as good as his mom’s.

    • Hello! Welcome to the House on the Mekong: I am glad you found me! I’m hoping to play a small part in your quest to master Lao cooking 😉 I am also looking forward to reading your culinary and cultural adventures ~ good luck getting your blog up and running!

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