Spit roasted mid-sized fish in Thailand
Fish longer than about 20 cm and not having a snake-like shape, are typically spit roasted in Thailand. As seen in the photos below, these are mainly Pla Dabian (Barbonymus gonionotus), Pla Chon (Channa striata) and Pla Sawai (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus) but also many other species. There is a wide range of distribution of these fish throughout South-East Asia and they are nowhere rare or threatened in its occurrence.
Traditional Thai eating habits
Local people from ‘Upcountry’ (Thai expression for everyone living outside Bangkok) love to spend a day on weekends together with the extended family to go fishing. These outings are deeply ingrained in the Thai soul, as ‘Tais’ are originating from southernmost Chinese areas, where they always settled in low-laying, water-clogged landscapes and got the Chinese synonym name of ‘duck feet people’.
They mainly lived – and still are living – from rice, fish, vegetables, and spices. This allowed a comfortable life, as rice could be grown and harvested three times a year, fish were and are abundant, vegetables are growing wild (e.g.: Swamp Morning Glory – Ipomoea aquatica and many others) and spices are easy to cultivate (e.g.: Bird’s Eye Chilli – Capsicum annuum, Lesser Galangal – Alpinia officinarum, Kaffir lime leaves – Citrus hystrix). There is also a close link between rice and fish, as fish fingerlings were introduced into the rice fields after planting and harvested at the same time as rice was harvested. So, rice and fish were always available together and vegetables and spices anytime.
This eating habit even led to the synonym of ‘Eating’ with ‘Eating rice’ in Thai language. When asking a Thai friend to go for lunch (you very seldom go eating alone) – you just ask ‘pai gin khao?’ (Are we going to eat rice? – even if you head for noodle soup or steak).
Fish and fishing are a very important part of Thai culture, and best socially enjoyed in a community of like-minded people. Going fishing together and cooking the harvest directly at site is the epitome of Thai rural happiness.
How Thais like to prepare fish for outdoor cooking
Caught fish are preferably either cooked in a soup, fried in oil, or spit roasted over a fire. Outdoors, grilling on spits is the most convenient way of preparing fish. As in all hot climates, many fish contain quite often worms or parasites within its flesh. Thais are never eating fish raw and always cook, fry, or grill it thoroughly. Thicker areas of meat will be cut sideward into the body for even frying or grilling.
It is not common to gut even bigger fish before grilling; only preparation is rough scaling, removing the gills and washing. Scaling is not really necessary before grilling, as by the heat of the fire, the scales will stick out like on a hedgehog and can be easily stripped before eating. Most parts of the cooked fish, as well as guts, eggs and milk are eaten by the locals.
Lessons learned on Thai fish preparation habits for outdoor cooking
- Prepare a level bed of hot coals
- Stick the spit lengthwise through the whole fish
- Rough scaling, gilling, and washing is enough
- Cut open thicker fish body areas
- Enjoy the meat together with steamed rice and bites from a fresh Bird’s Eye Chilli