My Thai: Crying Tiger (Suea Rong Hai)

Leela Punyaratabandhu

Here we are again, a classic Thai dish with a name of dubious origin and meaning. Just a few weeks ago, we dealt with Son-in-Law Eggs. Now this. Is it Tiger's Tear? Tiger Cry? Crying Tiger? Weeping Tiger? Why Tiger? Why cry? How? Who? What?

Let me enlighten you with my answer: I don't know.

Some say the dish is called such because, in the old days, it was made out of a cheap cut of beef so tough that even a tiger can't chew it (then, apparently, it gets all sad and weepy). Some say that it's the opposite: the steak comes from the most tender, the most marbled part of the cow leaving a tiger nothing but the tough parts. A much less convincing theory says the dipping sauce is so hot it makes a tiger cry.

Regardless of which is correct, the tiger doesn't come off looking particularly good.

But we'll let the animal mourn in its own way while we enjoy this delicious grilled steak with a dipping sauce that goes so well with it.

Crying Tiger is sometimes reinterpreted by Thai restaurants stateside as a grilled beef salad. I personally don't believe that this represents the classic version. But no harm done; in most cases, that's just the same grilled steak with the dipping sauce re-purposed as a dressing. The smoky grill aroma which makes this dish special is, in my opinion, lost when the dish is served as a salad. But that's still far better than when some restaurants deep-fry or sauté the beef instead of grilling it.

For this recipe, I've added some tomatoes to the dried chilli dipping sauce (Jaew) as that is what my favorite Isan joint in Bangkok does. You certainly don't need to.