The more our palates surf the cuisines of Southeast Asia, the more we realize there are so many more herbs and spices to choose from to infuse our food with flavorâ€¦ I lived in Singapore and Indonesia for many years but I must say I was not as intensely focused on the local food scene at the time as I should have been. Working an average of 16-18 hours a day, I more often than not ate at hotel restaurants but in some cases, experienced spectacular local food in friendsâ€™ homes. While the tastes of Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore always struck my palate as being shockingly good and shockingly different, I never quite figured out the details of their herbs and spices, nor did I get to cook any of it at the time. Only years later in semi-retirement, when I dabbled in some Thai cooking, and realized I missed several Indonesian dishes, did I get to know some of the critical herbs and spices. Today, I actually have a kaffir lime tree in my tiny kitchen garden, my own siling labuyo bushes and a thriving galangal plant given to me by an Indonesian friendâ€¦
Galangal or Galingale (Alpinia galangal or Alpinia officinarum) is a relative of ginger. The two varieties differ slightly with the latter having a slightly pink tinge for new growths and it is perhaps more peppery and spicy than ginger, though not as spicy as any of the capsicain laced chillies. It is an ancient spice and references to it can be found back to the 10th century or earlier. According to Alan Davidson, the â€œname galingale comes from an Arabic word which in turn came from a Chinese name which meant â€˜ginger of Kau-ling,â€™ the ancient name of Guandong.â€ I think the type photographed above is known as lesser galangal (Alpinia officinarum) that is smaller and its flavor more intense. Used in soups, stews, curries, marinades, etc. I find it adds that authentic touch to whatever dish you are attempting to replicate outside of its host countryâ€¦ You can sometimes find galangal at the specialy provedores at the upscale weekend markets, along with kaffir lime (rarely fresh), fresh turmeric, etc.