21 September 2009

Ginormous Art: Here today, gone tomorrow

If I was ever in a situation where a producer screamed at me, "Hire an art director today!" I would immediately fly to Bangkok, walk into any of the city's shopping centers and demand to know who was in charge of art installations. Now, that scenario will never happen because a) I'm not a famous director (or for that matter, not even a part of the film industry at all) and b) because I am certain that the shopping centers in question would be foolish to let their art teams get away.

The thought that must go into the exhibits featured in Bangkok's shopping centers must be tremendous. For starters, the scale is huge-- at times seven floors in height and courtyards larger than several football fields. Additionally, the amount of time the exhibits are available for viewing enjoyment is absolutely mind boggling-- sometimes as short as a week before one massive exhibit is swapped for another that is equally stunning (and massive).

I was walking through Bangkok's CentralWorld one week and the entire seven story atrium was covered in humongous decorative lanterns. Meanwhile, outside the giant (several football fields long) courtyard was covered in twinkly lights and bamboo poles with smaller versions of the lanterns suspended overhead.

The very next week, the same atrium featured a chandelier of fresh orchids and jasmine strung in combination with dazzling pink twinkly lights. The overwhelmingly sweet scent wafted through the stores. And, simultaneously, just down the hallway, a series of "tunnels" created out of more exotic fresh flowers, including thousands of fresh roses in varying shades of pink, stood awaiting shoppers to stroll through the indoor garden they created. A mossy floor was laid and spritzed with water by the attending cleaning crew. A small box with a sign saying "please remove shoes" in both English and Thai was placed at the edge of the display.

Yet again, two weeks later, the same shopping center featured a tribute to local artists and the traditional Thai fan. Artists were commissioned to imprint their work onto fans which were then strung the series of seven floors to create a massive installation that swayed with the breeze of the indoor air conditioning. Giant pieces of bamboo were woven together to form 12 foot tall spheres that paid tribute to the region's basket making artisans. Baskets were piled together to form functional furniture as a part of the display and invited shoppers to sit and relax on surprisingly comfortable "furniture." I went back to snap a few more pictures two weeks later and, of course, the entire display was gone.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 64:
Red or Green Curry Paste
An art form in its own right, the pounding of your own curry paste is a richly rewarding process. Unless you live in southeast Asia where you can walk to any outdoor market and buy some fresh paste, you're probably stuck with one brand of generic red curry or green curry. Walk away from the jar and head to the produce section of your grocery. But, warning: once you've tasted the difference a fresh curry paste can make, and experienced how joyfully rhythmic the process of pounding your own is, you'll never go back to the preservative laden jar on your grocer's shelf.

For red and green curry paste base:
6 shallots, skins removed and diced finely
3 garlic cloves, skins removed and diced finely
a one inch piece of galangal, finely diced
1 stalk of lemon grass
zest of one lime (kaffir lime is preferable)
2 tablespoons of small dried shrimp
salt, to taste, approximately 1 teaspoon

For red curry paste, all of the above, plus:
Two dried red chilies
Paprika, a couple pinches
dried red pepper flakes, optional, to alter heat

For green curry paste, all of the above (not the red curry ingredients), plus:
3 stalks of cilantro, finely diced
turmeric, 1/8 teaspoon
two fresh green chilies, finely diced
dried red pepper flakes, optional, to alter heat

Begin by making the curry paste base: Cut the stalk of lemon grass in half, discard top "leafier" side and finely dice the remaining piece. Set aside. Place the shallots and garlic into the base of a mortar and begin pounding until mashed and combined. Continue adding ingredients in the order stated above, working until each ingredient is well combined. The texture of a good curry paste will be chunky, not completely smooth. You should be able to recognize filaments of the galangal and lemon grass and small flecks of the other ingredients within the combination.

To make red curry paste: Soak the dried chilies in a small amount of water for approximately 30 minutes. Remove chilies and dice finely, discard water. Add the chilies to the curry paste base already created and pound to incorporate. Add paprika to further color the base and add desired amount of red chili flakes (working with a few at a time and increasing amount as necessary). Place finished paste in an air tight container and refrigerate for up to one month.

To make green curry paste: Add all listed ingredients to the already created curry paste and pound to incorporate. Remember to add desired amount of red chili flakes to increase the heat (working with a few at a time and increasing amount as necessary). Place finished paste in an air tight container and refrigerate for up to one month.

Yield: The amount of curry paste you will use will vary with the recipe (and level of spice you prefer). As a general guideline, the above ingredients will produce two meals of red chicken curry, serving four people per meal.

*Note that the following substitutions will alter the traditional flavor of the curry paste, but if you can't easily find the first ingredient, substitute as necessary and you'll still have a magnificent, fresh version:
Galangal: substitute fresh ginger
Dried shrimp: substitute shrimp paste, found in your grocer's Asian foods aisle

**I enjoy pounding my curry paste by hand and the results are a beautifully textured paste. However, if pressed for time, a food processor is a great alternative to a mortar and pestle. The end product will be a bit watery in texture and will not keep as long in the fridge without a definite texture change so the machine produced product is best used immediately.


  1. WHOA-look at the size of those lanterns. That's crazy. So is making your own curry paste but I'm going to give that a try. Thx.

  2. I've never heard of anyone making their own curry paste. I always thought it came out of a packet or a jar. Thanks for opening my eyes!

  3. Wow! That tunnel of flowers looks beautiful.

  4. I love everything about your blog. I just wish there was a new post every day! :o)


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