This Thai miang kham recipe makes the bite-sized wraps that are Thailand in a mouthful, an explosion of quintessential Southeast Asian flavours – sour lime, zingy ginger, crunchy peanuts, crispy shallots, smoky roasted coconut, savoury dried prawns, a kick of chilli, and a sweet yet funky caramelised sauce – wrapped in a wild piper or wild betel leaf.
This easy Thai miang kham recipe will make you the kind of miang kham that you can buy from a vendor at a local market – miang kham is a street food snack after all – pre-packaged from a gourmet supermarket or as an appetiser at a casual Thai restaurant or upmarket café in Thailand’s capital.
It won’t make you the luxurious takes on miang kham topped with sweet lobster or plump prawns, salmon roe that bursts in your mouth, or even velvety foie gras, which you’ll find at fancy fine dining restaurants in Bangkok.
And yet it was at a fancy Thai fine diner that we first tasted this traditional street food bite from Northern Thailand, of Mon provenance, said to have been introduced by a Lanna princess to the Siamese royal palace. But it wasn’t at a restaurant in Thailand, it was in Australia.
This Thai miang kham recipe is next in our series of recipes for the dishes in Australia that got us excited about food, as young diners eating out at Sydney’s best restaurants in the 1990s. Some of the dishes became Modern Australian classics, others were relegated to ‘retro’ status and are deserved of a comeback, while others remain iconic.
Those restaurants included Neil Perry’s Rockpool, Tetsuya Wakuda’s Tetsuya, Stefano Manfredi’s Restaurant Manfredi and Bel Mondo, Peter Doyle’s Cicada, David Thompson’s Darley Street Thai, and Christine Manfield’s Paramount and Paragon restaurants, which is where we used to eat the first recipe of the series, the ‘eggplant sandwich’.
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Thai Miang Kham Recipe for the Bite Sized Wraps That Are Thailand in Mouthful
It was at David Thompson’s restaurant Darley Street Thai in the mid-1990s that we first sampled miang kham and it was mind-blowing. We’d been eating Thai food for a decade at local neighbourhood Thai eateries in inner-city Sydney and were familiar with Thai cuisine. Yet we’d never eaten anything quite like miang kham.
We remember the experience as if it was yesterday – that first bite and the explosion of flavours that we would come to realise were quintessentially Southeast Asian: lime, ginger, coconut, chilli, peanuts, shallots, palm sugar, and dried shrimp, all wrapped up in a wild betel leaf or wild piper leaf – not a betel leaf, as many misconstrue. More on that under Tips, below.
What we didn’t realise at the time, and wouldn’t for another decade, until our first trip to Thailand, when we finally got to eat miang kham again, was that it was actually a Northern Thai street food snack of Mon origin.
If you’ve travelled in Myanmar, the parts of Northern Thailand that were occupied by the Burmese, or those that were once part of the ancient Mon kingdoms, then you would have spotted and perhaps tasted pickled tea leaves, and will make the connection.
Wrapping food in leaves – not only wild piper leaves, but leaves of lettuce, cabbage and large foraged herbs – is something you’ll find right across northern Southeast Asia, not only in Thailand and Myanmar, but in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The leaves not only serve as a vehicle to transport a variety of elements, but also add freshness to the flavours.
Historically, miang kham was part of a welcome ritual, offered as snacks to visitors – along with betel leaves and tobacco for chewing. It was a gesture of hospitality, which explains the size and form of miang kham. It was finger food.
It’s said that Lanna Princess Dara Rasmi who hailed from Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand – and was famous for her lovely long hair, when short styles were the custom among princesses and consorts – introduced and elevated miang kham as a snack to the Siamese court of King Rama V in Bangkok.
This Thai miang kham recipe won’t make you anything so regal, nor the luxurious bites of today’s Michelin-starred restaurants in Thailand. Rather, this is the miang kham of our memories – from that first bite in Sydney all those years ago to the do-it-yourself miang kham we’d nibble on with glasses of white wine at Greyhound Café in The Emporium mall a dozen years ago.
The latter miang kham was part of our Bangkok arrival ritual. Not long after we checked into our hotel room, we’d be on the BTS skytrain on our way to the Emporium where we’d make a beeline for Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya. After, armed with bags of books, we’d call into Greyhound for a nibble and a sip and sigh. After seven years living in the UAE, wine with lunch in a mall was so civilised.
On our way back to the hotel we’d stop at Paragon, where we’d head down to the gourmet supermarket and food hall for supplies. Along with small plastic tubs of nam prik num, a big bag of pork crackling, and a length of sai ou sausage from Chiang Mai, chopped into bite size pieces, we’d buy miang kham with all the ingredients separated into tiny plastic bags, sealed with teensy rubber bands. Not very environmentally friendly, I have to say, but very convenient.
If we were too jet-lagged to go out for dinner later in the evening, we’d be perfectly happy to nibble on our favourite Northern Thai treats in our hotel room and have an early night. It was our ‘welcome to Bangkok’ to ourselves.
Tips to Making This Thai Miang Kham Recipe
Just a few quick tips to making this Thai miang kham recipe as it’s super easy. If you haven’t used Thai-style dried prawns/shrimps before, note that those that will form an element of the ‘salad’ ingredients should be soaked in water first – the longer the better, but for an absolute minimum of 30 minutes. Leave them to soak while you’re making the sauce and prepping the other ingredients, then drain and dry them before you prep your leaves.
Next, make your sauce, so it can cool down and thicken while you’re prepping the ‘salad’ ingredients. Pound some of the ingredients as instructed below in a mortar and pestle first to form a paste, and then add that to the dissolved palm sugar in the sauce pot, then add the toasted coconut, Thai fish sauce and tamarind water/juice.
Don’t simmer the sauce for too long, as it will thicken too much and harden when it’s cool. While the sauce is cooling, you can prep your ‘salad’ ingredients, ensuring everything is evenly diced into fine cubes – except the chillies, which should be de-seeded and finely chopped. Use gloves when handling the chillies. I didn’t recently and they were more fiery than usual and my finger-tips burnt for a day.
Wash and gently pat down the wild piper leaves and set them aside to dry. Miang kham recipes often mistakenly call the leaves required ‘betel leaves’, which are Piper betle. They’re not the right leaves; they’re used for chewing tobacco and areca nuts, which were also once offered as a gesture of hospitality, so it can be confusing. The leaves also look very similar.
What you need are Piper sarmentosum or ‘wild betel’ or ‘wild piper’ leaves. In Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, they’re also called ‘piper lolot’. They are related, however, as they’re both from the Piperaceae family, grow on a vine, and are a cousin to pepper.
In Southeast Asia, you’ll find wild betel or wild piper leaves at markets and good supermarkets. In Thai they are called cha phlu – and in ancient Mon they were japlu and pre-Angkorian Khmer amlu. In Cambodia these days they are called japloo. Outside Asia, you’ll have to look at a specialist Asian grocers.
If you want to serve the miang kham as I have above, lay out the leaves on a serving plate or individual plates, then distribute the ingredients evenly, with a few pieces of each ingredient on each leave. Take care not to pile them too high, otherwise you won’t be able to wrap the leaves around them to create a package. Add a dollop of sauce to each mound of ingredients and garnish with a few coriander leaves.
Alternatively, go with the DIY mode of presentation. Pop each of the ingredients in a small bowl or dish, along with the sauce in a separate bowl, and a pile of leaves, then serve all the dishes on a tray. Provide small spoons for each dish, spoons for guests, a finger bowl of water and lime, and let your guests help themselves.
If you like this and are keen to explore more variations of miang kham, you’ll find recipes for miang with prawns and pomelo, and miang Lao with minced pork, salty dried turnips and pickled mustard greens in David Thompson’s Thai Food cookbook.
If you’re a fan of the chef, you might enjoy this amusing interview with David Thompson we did about his restaurant Aksorn, which opened in Bangkok in 2020.
Thai Miang Kham Recipe
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger
- 1 tbsp toasted shredded coconut
- 1 tbsp small toasted peanuts
- 1 tsp dried prawns
- ½ tsp Thai shrimp paste
- ½ cup palm sugar
- 100 ml water
- 1 tbsp toasted coconut
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp tamarind water/juice
- 2 tbsp dried prawns
- 2 tbsp roasted grated coconut
- 2 tbsp lime finely diced
- 2 tbsp ginger finely diced
- 2 tbsp purple shallots finely diced
- 1 tbsp red birds eye chillies finely sliced, de-seeded
- 2 tbsp roasted peanuts
- 2 tbsp coriander leaves
- 12 wild piper leaves cleaned and dried
- In a mortar and pestle, pound the fresh ginger, then add the toasted shredded coconut and pound, then add the toasted peanuts and dried prawns and pound, and lastly add the shrimp paste and pound until everything is combined into a smooth paste, and set aside.
- In a sauce pot on the stove, heat the palm sugar in the water until dissolved and simmer for a couple of minutes, then add the paste you made in the mortar and pestle, and simmer for a couple more minutes until thick and fragrant.
- Add the toasted coconut, fish sauce and tamarind water/juice, stir to combine, then simmer for another minute. Taste to make sure it’s balanced, adjust if necessary, then remove from the heat, and set aside to cool.
- While the sauce is cooling and thickening, prep the ‘salad’ ingredients and clean and dry the wild piper leaves.
- Lay out the leaves on a serving plate and distribute the ingredients, adding a dollop of sauce to each, along with a few coriander leaves. Or, lay everything out in individual dishes on a tray and let guests help themselves.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you make this Thai miang kham recipe as we’d love to learn how it turns out for you. And if you enjoyed it, we’d also love a rating.