My Thai: Chili-Lime-Brandy Grilled Shrimp

Leela Punyaratabandhu

Food-wise, the best part of my childhood in Thailand was our annual family vacation at the beach. The best. Bar none. This is especially true when all the extended family came along. We'd rent a beach house, do fun things (like go squid-fishing at night), then wake up before sunrise to buy fresh fish off the fisherman's boat and grill them for breakfast.

Breakfast of grilled fresh fish, courtesy of the Gulf of Siam, is underrated.


And if I had anything to complain about back in those days, it would be that I was too young to eat some foods that the adults and my older cousins seemed to enjoy so much. They would be dipping their grilled seafood in a typical Thai seafood dipping sauce, which was overwhelmingly spicy for me at that age. Keeping calm on the outside but harrumphing on the inside, I made do with dipping my seafood in fish sauce or soy sauce and sometimes Thai sweet chili sauce.

In my mind back then, dipping my seafood in the mild sweet chili sauce (which, though good, isn't considered a prime dipping sauce when it comes to grilled seafood) is analogous to riding a tricycle or a kid's bike with training wheels. Eating seafood in spicy seafood dipping sauce, which is what almost everyone else did, is like riding a real bike. You know, the kind that doesn't have Hello Kitty ribbons hanging from the handle bars.

I just couldn't wait to grow older.


One of the most tempting things they didn't let me have was this grilled shrimp. My uncle would put some very fresh shell-on, head-on shrimp in a bowl, pour some Mekhong whiskey, or whatever hard liquor the adults were drinking, over them, add a few glugs of fish sauce, throw them on the grill, then dunk them into a bowl of this sweet, sour, and spicy sauce.

Imagine my envy as I watched the adults peel the shells off the boozy grilled shrimp and suck the brains out of the shrimp heads while the sauce dripped down from their hands to a plate of rice underneath, then devour the juicy flesh along with the sauce-drenched rice.

No pity party here, though. As you can see, I'm a big girl now, and I'm making up for lost time. Join me?