Chef Chat Mingkwan, Asian Fusion


Chat Mingkwan grew up in Bangkok, Thailand. He has apprenticed in provincial French cuisine at La Cagouille in Rayon, France, traveled extensively in Southeast Asia, and worked in restaurants in the San Francisco area. Currently Chat runs Unusual Touch, a business specializing in catering, food consulting, and restaurant design, Thai cooking classes, and culinary expeditions to Thailand. He is the author of the cookbooks “Buddha’s Table” and “Vietnamese Fusion” and “Asian fusion.”


Caryn Hartglass: Hi, I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Welcome today. I want to make a disclaimer before we get started. Do not listen to this particular show on an empty stomach. We’re going to be talking about lots of yummy, delicious foods and great recipes. Very often on the show, I talk about food choices and how food affects health, environment, and the treatment of animals. We get really serious about a lot of serious issues, but right now I want to lighten it up and talk about the beautiful thing about eating delicious, healthy plant foods. I want to welcome Chat Mingkwan, our guest. He grew up in Bangkok, Thailand. He has apprenticed in provincial French cuisine at La Cagouille in Rayon, France, and traveled extensively in Southeast Asia and worked in restaurants in the San Francisco area. Currently, he runs Unusual Touch, a business specializing in catering, food consulting, and restaurant design, Thai cooking classes, and culinary expositions to Thailand. He is the author of the cookbooks Buddhist Table, Vietnamese Fusion, and Asian Fusion. Welcome, Chat!

Chat Mingkwan: Sawatdi khrap!

Caryn Hartglass: Excuse me?

Chat Mingkwan: Sawatdi! Hello!

Caryn Hartglass: Hi there. Welcome!

Chat Mingkwan: ‘Sawatdi’ in Thai means ‘hello.’

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, is that what you were saying?

Chat Mingkwan: That’s right!

Caryn Hartglass: Okay! Yeah, I was going to ask you – I noticed in the beginning of your book, Asian Fusion, you end with lots of different words. I’m assuming they all mean ‘thank you’ in different languages.

Chat Mingkwan: Correct, yes.

Caryn Hartglass: Arigato, etc.

Chat Mingkwan: Yes, it’s all ‘thank you’ in Asian language.

Caryn Hartglass: I think it’s nice to know how to say ‘thank you’ in so many different ways.

Chat Mingkwan: Yes, at least you know how to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you.’

Caryn Hartglass: Yes, that’s a good beginning. And so here we are at the beginning of this show, and I’ve really been looking forward to talking with you because I love your books and love what you’re doing. One of the things I wanted to say – and I’m always encouraging people to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, raw nuts, and seeds, all those beautiful plant foods – one of the exciting things about becoming global and learning more about other countries and being able to travel is we discover all of the different ways to prepare plant foods.

Chat Mingkwan: Right.

Caryn Hartglass: When people think about transitioning from a meat-and-potato-based diet, they have no imagination and can’t imagine what to do with plants, and you open the door and all of a sudden the variety just rushes in. I think we don’t see enough cookbooks that show us how to prepare all of the different Asian-style foods, and so I’m glad that you’ve put out a few books on this subject. One of the nice things about Asian food I find is that it is very high in very healthy vegetables. It’s a very, very healthy cuisine.

Chat Mingkwan: Correct. Because we use a lot of all kinds of vegetables in our meals. Instead of eating a big chunk of meat, you cut all that meat up into small pieces and add a lot of vegetables to it to quantify the volumes of it. When you become vegetarian, you cut the meat out and you still have a lot of vegetables that have been cut up into small pieces.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s an easier transition than from an American diet, from meat to vegetables.

Chat Mingkwan: Correct. All you have to do is find the right seasoning for it to make it as good as the meat version of it. We have so many substitutions out there to make it taste as good as the meat version.

Caryn Hartglass: Or better.

Chat Mingkwan: Or better! There we go. Because of the Asian food, we all cut up everything into small pieces, so it’s easy to prepare and to make them cook evenly when we heat them up and so the flavor of the seasoning gets into the ingredients better and at the same time when we serve. I always tell my students when you serve Asian food, you don’t need knives anymore on the dining table.

Caryn Hartglass: You just made me think of something. Normally when I eat I guess what I’d call continental food or American-style food, I really like to have things separate on the plate. I like to have my vegetables separate from my potatoes separate from my beans. All separate. I’m personally not into mixing, but I love Asian food. Most of the dishes are all mixed up, but I think it’s that finely chopping that makes the difference for me.

Chat Mingkwan: Yes, and it makes the textures and the tastes. The thing that when it’s kind of multi-texture and multi-flavor, when you put it in your mouth and then you eat it from there, so we don’t need knives anymore on the table to cut up anything. You just need a spoon and fork or sometimes chopsticks just for the eating utensil.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so I never assume anything, but you put out a number of different vegetarian books. Are you a vegetarian?

Chat Mingkwan: Yes! At one point. When I started writing the vegetarian cookbook, I became vegetarian for many years and now just to get my foot in the door, in the culinary field, I do eat meat occasionally.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Sometimes those are things you have to do, especially when you want to help other people move to eating more plant foods.

Chat Mingkwan: That’s right.

Caryn Hartglass: And so your shift to eating more plant foods, was that based on any particular reason?

Chat Mingkwan: There are many reasons. One of them is that when I’m eating meat, a lot of meat, back about 7-8 years ago, I don’t feel very good about myself. My digestive system couldn’t handle it that well in terms of digesting protein or meat products. When I turned to vegetarian, it seemed to be a lot better for me.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it’s amazing.

Chat Mingkwan: Yeah. And in fact, in Asia – actually Southeast Asia – when people are getting older, they will turn into vegetarians.

Caryn Hartglass: Really? They know that?

M: Yes. Old people will do that because of several reasons. One of the reasons is that to follow Buddhist teachings strictly, that we shall not kill, so they don’t eat meat. And then mostly they have found out that when they eat more vegetables, it’s easy on their digestive system.

Caryn Hartglass: Right.

Chat Mingkwan: Yeah.

Caryn Hartglass: So as we get older – some of us anyway – we can get smarter and realize what we need to do to feel good.

Chat Mingkwan: That’s right. So after you ate so much meat and then you don’t feel comfortable about yourself, you change and diet and then vegetables agree with you more. They keep it that way. That’s why old people in Asia become vegetarian more.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s really interesting. I didn’t realize that. Okay. And so then you started eating more vegetable foods, and you’re originally from Thailand.

Chat Mingkwan: From Thailand, yes, originally.

Caryn Hartglass: And you came to the United States to go to –

Chat Mingkwan: I came to study occupations. While I was in college, I just tried to find Thai food to eat. I basically tried to find ingredients. At that time, it was kind of difficult to find ingredients for Thai cooking.

Caryn Hartglass: Now it’s pretty easy. There are Thai restaurants popping up every other week, it seems.

Chat Mingkwan: Yeah, now it’s almost everywhere you can buy Thai ingredients. It doesn’t matter where you live in the United States. You should be able to get them very easily.

Caryn Hartglass: Now I noticed you studied at La Cagouille in France and it says ‘Rayon, France.’ Where is that?

Chat Mingkwan: It’s near the alluvial, where the water of the river comes out in the west of France. It’s where they have clam, oyster, and farming there. A lot.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. I’m familiar with the famous restaurant La Cagouille in Paris. It’s a seafood restaurant.

Chat Mingkwan: Oh, that’s not the one. Go ahead.

Caryn Hartglass: I lived in the south of France in Aix-en-Provence for four years as a vegan. I didn’t eat any of the conventional foods, but I looked at a lot of food and got many, many ideas. It’s certainly interesting training with what they do with fresh vegetables.

Chat Mingkwan: Correct. They basically picked it out from the farm or from the fields, and used them right away.

Caryn Hartglass: What a concept.

Chat Mingkwan: That’s amazing from what I found. Very nice and fresh.

Caryn Hartglass: No, really. If you want real flavor in food, you just eat from the farm. It doesn’t need anything, practically. Very little. But unfortunately most of us buy food in the supermarket that has no taste. It’s no wonder that we have to load up with salt, sugar, and fat.

Chat Mingkwan: Right, a lot of seasoning to enhance it and add the flavor. I remember when I was in France, they made me a strawberry pie, a fresh strawberry pie. They just picked them up from the farm and put in on the crust, and then we ate them fresh. It was so sweet, and I’d never had anything like that in my life.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s interesting. I was visiting France maybe two years ago, I think, and I was in the Bordeaux region near the coast visiting a friend. We bought some strawberries that –I’ve never tasted strawberries like these, and I’ve had many strawberries in the bay area in Watsonville where so many of them grow – but these strawberries – Nothing like it. They were so perfumed.

Chat Mingkwan: Correct, yes. They have this distinctive flavor, distinctive taste, and it’s just like every single one of them tastes the same, but better than the other. Over here, when you buy strawberries, one of them might be sweet, the other might not be, the quality of it, but over there it seemed to be consistently every single one of them. It’s amazing.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. What do we do about that?

Chat Mingkwan: We just have to encourage homegrown more, if you have a backyard. A little patch of soil will be enough to grow strawberries to feed your family.

Caryn Hartglass: I just want to say I live in New York City and I have a small terrace. I grow things every spring and summer, and this is the first year I’m growing strawberries. I have a little plant, and it’s got about eight little strawberries. They’re tiny, they haven’t grown yet, but I’m very excited about it.

Chat Mingkwan: The same goes for tomatoes. You have a small plot of soil, you can grow tomatoes in your home in your backyard, and you can have the best tasting tomatoes for your family.

Caryn Hartglass: Now reading your biography, it’s funny almost how you got into food because you really didn’t enjoy it when you were young.

Chat Mingkwan: No. In fact I hated it so much when I was young.

Caryn Hartglass: But you learned.

Chat Mingkwan: Correct. The story, because I’m the youngest one of the family. My brother and sister who were older than me always found a way to avoid cooking by using the excuse that they always had something to do. So after you run down the order of high-ranking, it ended up that I had to be one because I was the youngest one, so I had to help my aunt and cook. My aunt is the one who was the chef, the cook, of the house. So I helped her almost every day. When I was that young I did not enjoy it that much, so every time we did something I always fought it out to get back at my siblings. If I made any recipe that had chilies in it, I would put more chili than my aunt would ask for, so I would make it so hot that it was unbearable for everyone to eat. Every time they served the food, it was so hot, but it was also good, so you didn’t know to praise me or to punish me.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. That’s very clever. You were clever when you were young.

Chat Mingkwan: So I got away with it.

Caryn Hartglass: But at some point you started to enjoy preparing food.

Chat Mingkwan: Correct. After I did it for a while, after the praise of all the random people who would taste my food and said “Oh, this is good.” They encouraged me to do more, to do better things, so I started to gain more knowledge and started to like it, the cooking, and it went from there.

Caryn Hartglass: Is there a different philosophy behind cooking in Asia than we have here in the United States?

Chat Mingkwan: Yes. For Asian philosophy, food also means giving nourishment. Like if you care for someone, you give them food. It’s always confusing love with food because most of the Asian mothers I have to say in general here, some days they don’t know how to express love in another way, so they give food instead. So when the student comes home, the first thing they always ask is, “Are you hungry? Have you eaten yet?”

Caryn Hartglass: I think all mothers do that.

Chat Mingkwan: But Asian mothers are especially doing that and even though you say, “No, I’m not hungry”, she still wants to feed you, “that’s because I care for you, I’m giving you food that is a part of my love for you.” It’s been doing that for generations and generations. You always start in Thailand – You always start saying, instead of saying ‘hello’ to anyone, when you meet you always ask, “Have you eaten yet?” And then if you say, “I already ate” and you say, “No, let’s try this and that. You always have food in every meeting, every get-together, so food becomes a part of this culture. If you’re invited to someone’s home, they always have to have food.

Caryn Hartglass: I love many different kinds of Asian food. I love Vietnamese food, Thai food, Chinese food, Japanese food, Indian food, but I do encourage people to make food at home for so many reasons. One of my particular issues when I eat out, especially Asian food, is it’s too salty and there’s a lot of soy sauce or a lot of salt. I frequently come home, and I can’t drink enough water because I’m just not used to eating things that are so salty. It’s great to be able to make these foods yourself because once you get the hang of it, I think it’s pretty simple, and then you can adjust the flavors the way you like them.

Chat Mingkwan: Yes, another thing is all seasoning in Asian cooking has salt in them. It’s a matter of soy sauce, soy paste. Some of them use salt as preservative, so that means when you’re using it, you need to figure out how much salt is already in there, and then you’re going to put more salt on top of that. You can make it very salty. Also some bad rap about Asian cooking is MSG.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s in the what?

Chat Mingkwan: MSG is in the food also.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, right.

Chat Mingkwan: That also is the culprit to make you thirsty after you eat a lot of Asian food.

Caryn Hartglass: Fortunately, more and more restaurants here in the United States are not using MSG.

Chat Mingkwan: They try to avoid it, cut it down, but some of the seasonings also have MSG in them. You don’t need any more MSG. It’s already in some of the seasoning itself.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. Oh, goodness.

Chat Mingkwan: You just have to look on the bottle and see if you are allergic to it or you don’t like it at all in terms of your body reacting to it, and you just have to avoid it completely. But they have many, many brands, many soy, many seasonings out there that don’t use MSG as the components or the ingredients.

Caryn Hartglass: You have a great list in the beginning of your books. I’m looking at the Asian Fusion book right now, and you describe all the different ingredients, herbs, and spices, and soy products, et cetera, and I have to say I’m familiar with most of them because I’ve been working on preparing all kinds of vegan food for a very long time, and some of these ingredients are really essential. There’s a few, though, that I’ve heard of, but I have yet to use. One of them is asafetida. Is that easy to find? Is that really something I should include in my pantry?

Chat Mingkwan: It is very easy to find. It’s kind of the herbs some of them ground up. It gives you a unique flavor to your food, but if you cannot find them, you can skip it. It comes in a dry form, so it’s easy to transport or easy to keep. It’s not an essential ingredient, but if you wanted to be kind of different than the other dish – because sometimes they have the same ingredients – if you wanted to be a little bit more unique, then you can use that. If you cannot find it, then it’s still okay. It’s not a major break of the deal in terms of cooking a dish up.

Caryn Hartglass: Another one I have to try, but I have not – I haven’t looked for it, and I’m sure I could find it because I live in New York City, and I’m in the Asian markets all the time, but it’s the galangal?

Chat Mingkwan: Oh, yes.

Caryn Hartglass: The Siamese ginger?

Chat Mingkwan: Those are very key ingredients in Thai cooking. You need to have those to make it Thai. You can use ginger to substitute it. Galangal is from the same family as ginger, but it tastes so much different. It gives you a kind of ginger-like flavor, but it also has garlic and onions and other flavors in it and some a little anise and peppery. If you’re going to make the Thai soup or Thai curry, you need to have that in it. You can find them fresh at Asian grocery stores or in the dried food section. It can be in dried pieces or it can be also ground in bottles. I think you can find them almost anywhere now.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. I’m going to make a promise to myself to look for it this week. I’ve been wanting to get some, and I just keep forgetting when I go to the special markets. Okay, I have a question. You cover so many different countries in this Asian Fusion book: Burma, China, Japan, Korea, Laos, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka. I just flipped through the Indonesia section, and I’m just curious. I haven’t seen any tempeh in any of your recipes. Is that true and is there a reason for that?

Chat Mingkwan: Because sometimes you have difficulty finding it in some parts of it, or if you can be able to find it, then you can use it like soy paste and use that also.

Caryn Hartglass: Because I know that it’s a – I haven’t been to many of these countries – but I heard that it originated in Indonesia, so I was kind of wondering about that.

Chat Mingkwan: Would you be able to find them in your Asian markets in your neighborhood? Then you should be able to use them like you use soy paste to give you the flavor.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay.

Chat Mingkwan: The reason I didn’t ask for it is because some of the recipes do not require it, so we use soy instead to make it a little bit easier. But in fact – talking about soy – we have so many kinds of soy out there. Sometimes it’s overwhelming to choose which one you’re going to use, and I have a huge section on the chart of ingredients regarding soy sauce or soy flavor, seasoning, in the Asian vegetarian cooking.

Caryn Hartglass: So you’ve traveled to many, many countries learning about their cuisines, and many of the Asian countries use soy. Is anybody concerned about soy like we are over here in the United States? We’re kind of nutty about soy here.

Chat Mingkwan: What do you mean by concerned?

Caryn Hartglass: There’s a lot of misinformation about soy, whether it’s healthy or not healthy, and some people are really afraid to consume soy foods. I am not one of them. Of all the studies I’ve read and the sources that I feel are credible, they say that soy foods are healthy food. Not the highly processed soy foods like isolated soy protein that you find in a lot of these meat analogues, but simple soy foods are healthy.

M: According to my research, I’ve found it’s very healthy also. In some parts of Asia, soy is just the main protein source of their diet also, and they’ve been eating soy for generations and generations.

Caryn Hartglass: I have a couple more questions. This one I’ve been asking a lot of people lately, and I’m not sure if you have the answer, but I recently purchased mustard oil in an Indian store and brought it home, and then noticed in very small print that it said ‘for external use only.’ I did some reading on the Internet, and people seem to say that it’s used in Asia and in India, but for some strange reason it’s not approved for consumption in the United States. Have you seen other countries use mustard oil in their cuisines?

Chat Mingkwan: Yes.

Caryn Hartglass: And it’s okay?

Chat Mingkwan: Uh-huh. Indians use mustard oil a lot, but instead of using it from the bottle, what they do is they heat the oil and put mustard in it, so the mustard releases the flavor into the oil, and then they use the oil for it.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, I see. So you could make your own that way.

M: That’s right. So when you use regular oil, like something that’s tasteless or odorless oil, and then you put mustard seed, and you cook the oil, cook the mustard seed, then you have mustard oil.

Caryn Hartglass: Interesting.

Chat Mingkwan: Then you know that when you grind mustard up, you’re going to get some oil, right?

Caryn Hartglass: No, I don’t. I’ve only shaken it from the jar.

Chat Mingkwan: That’s right!

Caryn Hartglass: So you need to get the mustard seed?

Chat Mingkwan: That’s right.

Caryn Hartglass: And then pound it like in a mortar and pestle.

Chat Mingkwan: Right. And you’re going to get mustard powder if you powder more or heat them up, you’re going to get the oil in there, but it’s very little, and you can have those. But for the reason, I haven’t read the one that you say ‘for external use only’, so what is it for then? For external?

Caryn Hartglass: It was with the food in this particular store, and my partner and I just like going around and trying new things. We bought it and then finally when we went to use it, we saw that it said ‘external use.’ I went online, and I looked, and there was some discussion about in the late ’90s how there was a problem with some of it and the United States said it’s not good for consumption. It was some isolated incident, but there are some issues about toxicity. I didn’t really find any clear information, and then I wrote to the USDA just to ask the question about it. I got a pretty vague answer that said – Yeah.

Chat Mingkwan: I really like my answer because I haven’t heard anything of external use for mustard oil. What I heard is in some parts of Asia, when you’ve got burns – got hot water scalds or burns – they put mustard on top of the burn. To help out in some burning sensations, they put mustard on it. That might be the reason they put ‘for external use only.’ What I thought maybe is for occasions also to help subside the heat of the burn.

Caryn Hartglass: You live in the Bay Area. Have you – You must – I’m going to ask a silly question. There are a number of vegetarian Asia restaurants. There are a few in San Jose that I’m really fond of that are Vietnamese-based and certainly a few in San Francisco. A lot of them use these foam meats, these meat analogues.

Chat Mingkwan: Use what?

Caryn Hartglass: They use fake meat.

Chat Mingkwan: Oh, okay.

Caryn Hartglass: Do you have any feeling about these soy-based meats or wheat gluten.

Chat Mingkwan: To substitute the meat products?

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.

Chat Mingkwan: I seem to use a lot of them, and I don’t have any objection to it. Why did you bring it up?

Caryn Hartglass: I didn’t notice that you recommend using them in your books.

Chat Mingkwan: No, but most of my ingredients are probably very basic that you can find in the grocery store. I try to strip everything down in terms of recipes just to get the original ingredient as much as possible. The further that I can go into seasoning of soy, and then the tofu. That’s it. No further than that.

Caryn Hartglass: I like it. That’s good.

Chat Mingkwan: Keep it simple. Keep it straightforward. That is my philosophy.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. I have one last question and that’s about – I don’t know when your last trip through some of these countries was, but is the cuisine changing in Asia with the American influence like it is in other countries in Western Europe, et cetera?

Chat Mingkwan: Oh, yes. You just ask the right questions. It changed tremendously.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s unfortunate.

Chat Mingkwan: It changed on the size. Everything has been supersized! Which is scary. You hear so much about the restaurants in the United States. If you pay extra, ten cents more, you get a bigger size. It’s just like that. It’s just like – In Asia, they are doing that everywhere to entice people to buy more and eat more. You don’t need that much food in your diet. You don’t need to supersize everything.

Caryn Hartglass: I know a lot of people now – Some of the more sensible ones are in the habit of eating half of what they get in a restaurant and sharing it with someone or bringing it home. We certainly don’t need big, giant portions.

Chat Mingkwan: No. It’s getting out of our hands, and then one generation after the other and then at the end you don’t know what the size to eat anymore in terms of a meal because everything is so huge and big and supersize in order to say that it’s a value to this meal in terms of pricewise.

Caryn Hartglass: There’s more dairy that’s showing up in different Asian countries where it wasn’t consumed at all at one point.

Chat Mingkwan: Correct, because you have all kinds of butter and creams and things that are not the usual diet for the Asian people. The rate of obesity is also climbing up at the same time when you look at how they consume all these dairy products.

Caryn Hartglass: Do you have any new books planned in the works?

Chat Mingkwan: I’m doing – I’m compiling a thing called green Thai.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh.

Chat Mingkwan: So that means it’s also raw. Green and raw Thai.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, there you go.

Chat Mingkwan: There we go. Because I thought with Thai cooking, which is my specialty – I grew up with it, and then I could work on turning recipes into vegetarian Thai. I also offer cooking classes, which are vegetarian cooking classes, so I have many followers and students. They encourage me where we should convert all Asian cuisine into vegetarian. I start with Thai, then I go with Vietnamese, and then slowly go to every one of them, and then the Asian Fusion is the mixture of all Asian cuisine, and then we’re going to go to raw Thai, which is a bit simpler.

Caryn Hartglass: Yes, I had a handful where you make noodles from the coconut.

Chat Mingkwan: Correct, or from papaya or from dried corns or something that has a very unusual flavor, so you can put sauce on it.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, I have one last question. I think I said I had one last question before, but I keep thinking of more questions! In a lot of Asian restaurants, there are different things to look out for when you’re a vegetarian, things that you want to avoid, the hidden ingredients. In Chinese, there are particular ingredients. In Thai, there are particular ingredients. Which is one reason why it’s helpful to make your own, but are there certain things to look out for?

Chat Mingkwan: You mean in terms of seasoning?

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.

Chat Mingkwan: MSG, for one thing if you don’t agree with it. Then there are wheat products that use a lot of seasoning, and you probably have to look at it because some of them use preservatives that – or another product – in order to keep the texture of their sauce and ingredients, even the colors. Most of them are using colors in it also, so you need to be able to discern those by reading the labels and after you buy one and then you try them and it does not agree with you in terms of taste or you have the reaction to it, then you need to find another product to substitute it.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, you definitely have to read the labels.

Chat Mingkwan: That’s right. Try them first also because different cuisines have different, let’s say, soy. We use a lot of soy in our vegetarian cooking. Each country has their own brand of soy products. It might start with Chinese first. It is, let’s say, it’s the mother of all things in terms of soy products and then when you get to Japanese cooking, to Thai cooking, to Filipinos and Malaysia, they also have own different brands of soy and different products with different ingredients in them. If you want to cook Thai food, you have to use the soy they make in Thailand, so it tastes like Thai food. If you use another soy in Thai food, the taste might not be like the one that you have in the restaurant, and you say it doesn’t turn out because of the soy ingredients in it.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, I didn’t realize that. Also in the restaurants, there are a lot of hidden animal ingredients. In Thai food, there are fish powders and sauces that are used very frequently. Is it true in Thailand that a vegetarian is considered someone who can eat fish?

Chat Mingkwan: Yes, but when you say ‘vegetarian’ in Thailand, Thai people will think that you don’t eat the chunk of meat. So you don’t eat a chunk of meat because you’re vegetarian, but when you come to fish sauce, which is not a chunk of fish, they don’t consider it meat because it’s in the liquid form. So when you ask for vegetarian cooking Thailand, they might put fish sauce in it because it doesn’t have a chunk of meat or fish in it.

Caryn Hartglass: They do it here in the United States, too

Chat Mingkwan: That’s right! So that’s why when you go to Thailand, when you’re a vegetarian, you say, “I don’t want fish sauce either.” You have to say that so they can use soy for it. That is the misunderstanding about when you say vegetarian, you mean no meat products at all. Not just a chunk of meat in your food.

Caryn Hartglass: Just like anything in life, you have to be very clear with what you want and communicate very well, using many words.

Chat Mingkwan: That’s right, yes. You need to be a little bit particular on that subject if you want to eat correctly.

Caryn Hartglass: Yes. Is there anything else you want to share with us?

Chat Mingkwan: I had a great time here. I hope I have answered every question that you asked me.

Caryn Hartglass: I think you have.

Chat Mingkwan: Yeah. If some of the information is not clear, maybe our listeners might know more than me, so they can let you know, and we can share more next time, especially the one about mustard seeds and mustard oil.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that’s right. If anybody does want to make any comments or send questions, my email is Okay, Chat Mingkwan, thank you so much. I invite the listeners to check out your website Look into his cookbook Asian Fusion and the others. They’re really, really quite informative and very lovely. Thank you so much for everything you do.

Chat Mingkwan: Thank you. Thank you, and ‘khobkhun’ in Thai means ‘thank you’ also.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, well, merci! Bye-bye.

Chat Mingkwan: Bye.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay! That was Chat Mingkwan, and I think we’ll take a little break right now and be back in a few minutes.

Transcribed by Jessica Roman, 1/30/2017

Hello I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food and we have about a quarter of an hour left. Maybe even a little less and I’ve got a bunch of different things that I want to talk about, but if you do have any comments and questions either now, during the program, or any time during the week, you can send me an email. I really look forward to them,

So did my guest, Chat Mingkwan make you hungry? I really like making Asian style food. I guess it was a couple of decades ago when the stir fry became quite a trendy thing and people started making them at home. They can be really simple or they can be really complicated. It’s true that in some of these particular books they may seem, the recipes may seem complicated at first because there are ingredients that you don’t have and things that you have to pick up and it can be overwhelming at first. but I think it’s really worthwhile to open one of these books and check into it and take a day and find a lot of these ingredients and start using them because It will add a lot of delicious variety in your life and then once you’re familiar with them You can use them all the time and make your easy stir fries just a little more tasty. But one of the challenges with making a classic stir fry is that there is a lot of chopping, lots of chopping and that can really be a deterrent for somebody that wants something quick.

I don’t mind chopping and the more you chop the better you get at it. the first thing I say is practice. But there are different ways to get around it and you may not be making a recipe as authentic with this particular thing I’m going to tell you about, but it is a way to do things fast and that is using frozen vegetables. So there are many frozen vegetables. The simple ones, that are just vegetables, like chopped broccoli or chopped spinach or the mix of peas and carrots and onions. These are great and one of the reasons why they’re great, and we were talking before about how food tastes great when it just freshly picked, not only do those fresh-from-the-farm freshly picked food tastes great, but it’s also filled with nutrition. And then that food if it’s going to the produce section in your supermarket gets old. And old before you get to it and buy it and put it in your refrigerator and let it sit for a while, and then it gets older and while its aging through the shifting process from harvest to the warehouse to the supermarket to your refrigerator and finally to your cutting board, it loses nutrition. And so this is where frozen vegetables can really be a plus. What happens is the vegetables are harvested and then they are quickly taken to the factory where they’re frozen in a way that keeps the nutrients intact and sometimes the frozen vegetables like these actually have more nutrition than the fresh produce you find in your supermarket.

Unbelievable. Of course if you do have the opportunity to visit a farmer’s market or participate in CSA community supported agriculture, those fresh fruits and vegetables will be very fresh. That’s my preferred choice, but in the frozen department you can buy a lot of these already chopped frozen foods and they’re ready to go into an easy stir fry and maybe thumbing through one of these books like Asian Fusion, where you see some of the flavorings in it, you’re not familiar with, you might try some of those and that will give your dish a whole new look, a whole new feel, a whole new taste.

I was talking about muster oil before and I really want to know more about this. So if anyone has any information please send me an e-mail at and I thought it was interesting that what Chat recommended was grinding up mustard seeds and putting it in oil. I’m not quite sure if that’s what I

have here at home, that’s labeled it for external use. But I want to tell you what I did. I wrote to, I went to the U.S.D.A. and there’s a place where you can send in questions. And I wrote a question and the answer was kind of vague. It says the U.S.D.A. Food Safety Inspection Service inspect meat, poultry, products that flutter and processing plants and that they can answer my question. So she sent me, the woman who answered this particular thing, sent me to another place to send an email which I did. A consumer affairs specialist answered me and said “I believe that ingesting muster oil can cause health issues but I don’t know what they are I know it can be caustic at certain concentrations.”

OK, to me that was not an answer. What was the point of asking this question? Why couldn’t she look that up for me and find out? But no they do minimal, minimal, minimal, and isn’t that what we’ve paid them for? So anyone that has information about this please let me know and I’d really like to find out about it, because I understand that the flavor is really good, very buttery. And if it isn’t an unhealthy product, I wouldn’t mind trying it.

There have been a number of studies, or people talking about studies and coming up with their own conclusions and I wanted to talk about a few of them. A few of them whose conclusions I don’t agree with. So they both involve being pregnant, for women who are pregnant and what they should and shouldn’t eat. So we’ve often heard That pregnant women should limit or avoid fish in their diets and that’s because of the mercury and other pcbs, toxic chemicals that are in the fish and the fetus that’s growing in the pregnant mother is very sensitive to these toxins and it can affect them in all kinds of ways, neurologically in different ways and in development. So Dr. Andrew Weil had a post on The Huffington Post and he was basically saying based on a number of studies, It shows that pregnant women should be eating more fish and this study in the Lancet, it came out in 2007. So it’s not even recent but he’s posting about it recently. there were three groups compared, eating no fish, eating up to twelve ounces per week of fish or more than twelve ounces per week. Those who ate no fish, their children subsequently had a lower I.Q… And I was screaming as I read this article, as I do and I read so many different articles, and that’s because so many of these studies are poorly done or maybe intentionally poorly done. So when I read about the three groups of women and their eating different amounts of fish my first question is what else are they eating. Because it’s important. So if the women that are eating no fish but are drinking coke eating potato chips and a lot of junk food, sure their kids are not going to develop very well because we need nutrients, we need nutrition in order for ourselves to be healthy and for our children to be healthy. So that was not clear. And so I feel like this reductionist kind of study were a lot of other things aren’t considered or aren’t mentioned. Makes it hard to really find it credible.

And then a better one I think is the Environmental Working Group who had an article that came out recently and they talked about how prenatal pesticide exposure is linked to diminished I.Q… So there are also toxic chemicals in pesticide. And women that are eating foods and drinking water that contain high levels of certain pesticides, Lo and behold it was found out in three particular studies that

They were comparing that the I.Q. of their children was lower and normal and okay. I don’t think this is groundbreaking information but we need to have more studies like this an order to get the point across. Because some of us know this already and choose to eat organic food all the time not just for those women that are pregnant. I think it’s important for all of us.

So that is my take on these recent studies about what pregnant women should be eating and in some ways it’s like the canary in the mine. Pregnant women and their unborn children are more sensitive than the rest of us to certain things but if we’re going to be telling pregnant women not to consume things because it’s going to negatively affect their unborn child. I don’t want to eat it either. It’s going to affect us too. Just maybe a little bit more. Always wary.

Now the government has come out with something new, junk food guidelines, and I have a couple minutes and I wanted to talk a little bit about this because it’s kind of crazy. So we know that children are getting heavier in childhood obesity is a huge concern and diabetes type two diabetes is becoming more prevalent in young children where we used to call it adult onset diabetes and we know that it’s because they’re exposed to eating a lot of very unhealthy food and so this new interagency working group has been formed by the government and they came up with a proposal, food for thought, and it’s pretty good. their recommendations and they’re talking about unhealthy food being marketed to children including breakfast, cereal, snack foods, candy, dairy products, baked goods, carbonated beverages, fruit juice, non-carbonated beverages, prepared food, meals, frozen and chilled desserts, restaurant food, etc. they have some guidelines about how much sugar and sodium and fat there should be, but here’s the kicker. These guidelines are, number one, voluntary to the manufacturers and number two, they don’t go into effect until 2016. What’s the point? The kids in school today, the young kids today, why should they be encouraged to consume foods that we know are unhealthy for them? That are ultimately going to lead to poor health, diabetes and be taxing our health care system? It’s crazy. And so you can respond. You can go to here’s a web site, There’s a great article there and they are welcoming comments in the next forty five days. Great. Well there you have it. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. I’m Caryn Hartglass and I hope you enjoyed this hour as I have. Have a very delicious week.

Transcribed by Swetha Ramesh, 2/19/2017

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