By Diego Ambrosio
To read about other recipes Dreams Abroad members are learning about, read about Edgar’s experience making traditional paella!
Diego Ambrosio is 33 years old and was born in Catanzaro, Italy, located in the southern part of the country. He is passionate about wild nature, cooking, singing, and playing different musical instruments like guitar, piano, and bass. Diego considers himself an extrovert and talkative person, but he also likes to listen to people.
While Now living in Phuket, Thailand with his father and partner, Diego cooks on a regular basis. He enjoys mixing the local fresh ingredients and produce with his Italian recipes. In addition, he learned to create new fusion recipes that he enjoys just as much as his native dishes. Read on to find out more about his favorite southern Italian cuisine and his homemade Thai-Italian fusion.
What is your favorite Italian cuisine?
This is probably one of the hardest questions you can ask an Italian since they would immediately begin thinking of multiple :)! Why? Because there are so many favorite Italian dishes! If I really had to choose a dish by type, I think my first answer would be tortellini with cream, peas, and ham The second would have to be parmigiana di melanzane fried potatoes and peppers on the side. Finally, for dessert, tiramisu… all, obviously, homemade.
What is the most famous dish from your hometown in Italy?
As in most countries, Italy has a rich list of excellent regional products. Many of these are even exported abroad, as they are delicious and appreciated by various European and non-European countries. Without a doubt, the best product from my region, Calabria, is the “Nduja”. Nduja is a particularly spicy, spreadable pork typically made with pig parts such as the shoulder and belly. Producers combine the pork with tripe, roasted peppers, and a mixture of spices. Nduja originates from the small southern Calabrese town of Spilinga. Italians mainly serve it with slices of bread or with ripe cheese. The dish became the symbol of tradition in my hometown, Catanzaro. The traditional Italian cuisine is called Morzeddhu a la Catanzarisi cu a pitta. It is a unique dish of its own kind, made using tripe and beef offal, tomato paste, hot pepper, salt, bay leaf, and oregano.
Morzeddhu must be eaten while hot, perhaps with a further splash of hot pepper. It also must be eaten in the pitta, a typical Catanzaro’s bread shaped like a flattened donut and little or no crumb inside.
According to legend, Morzello, or morzeddhu in dialect, was created when an impoverished mother, widowed and alone, was forced to accept odd jobs to support her hungry children. On Christmas Eve, her boss asked her to clean a slaughterhouse and dispose of the wastes in the nearby river, Fiumarella.
Worried about what she would serve her hungry children for Christmas dinner, she saved the meat, cleaned it, and prepared a meat soup. And thus, morzello was born… 🙂
What is the most famous Thai dish in Phuket, Thailand?
Without a doubt, Pad Thai is one of the most famous dishes of Thai cuisine present in Phuket. Pad Thai can be prepared in two variants, Pad Thai Gai, and Pad Thai Goong. Gai stands for chicken while Goong stands for shrimp. Pad Thai is a stir-fried rice noodle dish typically made with rice noodles, chicken or shrimp, tofu, a scrambled egg, bean sprouts, and other vegetables. The ingredients are sautéed together in a wok, which creates rapid heat distribution. Once finished, chefs serve Pad Thai with peanuts, sugar, chili peppers, and a lemon wedge on the side.
And just for the record… Pad Thai is also my favorite Thai dish. It is made with the only variant of a wider rice noodle called see ew.
What types of Italian cuisine do you cook in Thailand?
When I arrived in Phuket, I thought it would have been impossible to reproduce typical Italian cuisines at home for various reasons.
The first challenge was surmounting the impossibility of finding all the authentic Italian ingredients. Next, we had to overcome the lack of an oven in the house. Ovens are critical for cooking different Italian dishes such as the famous Lasagne al Forno or Italian pizza. Over time, we have fortunately managed to get almost everything we need to taste a bit of home. In fact, after a whole first year of researching, we managed to find a house that had a professional oven inside.
Now, we can cook any type of Italian dish. In fact, we have become so accustomed to making Italian food at home that we’ve eaten out very few times. Both my father and I are able to prepare any type of Italian recipe — first courses, main courses, side dishes, and delicious desserts — that enrich our daily meals all the time. Finally, we also make our own homemade bread.
Where do you buy the Italian ingredients for the Italian cuisines that you make?
Fortunately, it is not difficult to find Italian products in Thailand. There are various shopping centers and supermarkets like Macro and Villa Market, that offer imported products. However, you have to be very careful when selecting your products. Everyone can easily find products of apparent Italian origin, but some of these products are actually not from Italy at all.
For example, an Italian knows very well that if he has to buy pasta, he can trust brands such as De Cecco, La Molisana, and Agnesi. All of these brands are present in Thailand, so we will avoid other little-known brands of dubious origin. The same goes for Italian mozzarella. Clearly the prices for authentic Italian products are higher than in Italy. For example, Italian fresh and aged cold cuts and cheeses cost at least 40% more. However, for some products (such as pasta), I can find similar prices compared to Italy.
If you were to pick a favorite Italian cuisine to make for us that you make on a regular basis, what would it be?
I practice making real Italian pizza for my loved ones frequently. Every two weeks, typically on a Saturday evening, we will get together and eat Italian pizza. My father is a great teacher, but I will obviously be his heir sooner or later and am determined to perfect it.
The preparation process has almost centennial origins, handed down from generation to generation. It has been perfected even more over time by generations of Italians.
The extraordinary thing is that my father created the so-called “mother yeast.” It is a natural yeast capable of regenerating itself eternally. It certainly has significantly improved the quality of the pizza. Additionally, there are years of experience in using different types of flour. Each flour has a specific protein intake capable of creating a unique gluten shield of its kind.
Spread the dough in round and rectangular trays. Follow that with a long process of rest, maturation, and fermentation for about three days in the fridge. At the end of this period, the pizzas are removed from the fridge, covered with a cloth, and left to rise for several hours. Finally, we move on to stuffing and baking. The oven must be at a maximum temperature of around 250 or 300 degrees Celsius. First, bake the pizzas on the bottom rack without ingredients in order to cook the bottom of the pizza. Then, add the ingredients. Put the pizza back into the oven. This time, put it on the top shelf to finish cooking.
Do you have to substitute the ingredients for this dish you are making us with Thai ingredients? If so, what are the differences in ingredients that you see in Thailand versus Italy?
We managed to obtain all the Italian products we needed to make the pizza without having to resort to any Thai substitute. However, we have added a dose of creativity by trying to prepare some pizzas with typically Thai ingredients. For example, we made Tom Yam Goong Pizza. It is an Italian-made pizza with Thai seafood and Thai chili peppers.
While we were able to find all of the ingredients necessary to make the pizza, I can say that the Thai culinary culture is very rich in strong and contrasting flavors. Many of these flavors would seem absurd to mix together if cooking traditional Italian cuisines. This is because Thai food is actually based on a balance between different flavors, including spicy, sour, sweet, salty, and bitter. Sometimes, chefs combine these flavors together. For example, the famous Thai dish Som Tam intensely savory and insanely sour — in short, the flavors of southeast Asia mixed on a plate. Every Som Tam dish normally contains garlic, chili, fish sauce, lime juice, and dried shrimp. All these flavors fit with the direction that som tam should “taste sweet, sour, hot, and salty.”
Do you get creative and make Thai-Italian dishes with both themes or cultures in the dishes?
My culinary passions obviously led me to the preparation of typical Thai dishes. My Thai girlfriend likes to say that one of the Thai dishes that I like to prepare, the famous Khao Pad Goong, “comes out better than the original.”
After studying and reproducing the original version of the dish, I dedicated myself to experimenting and mixing the two cultures. I managed to propose a unique and delicious Italian-Thai version of Khao Pad Goong.
I added some anchovies, dried tomatoes, sweet pepper, celery, and Italian parsley to the traditional recipe. Furthermore, I also replaced the classic rice oil with extra virgin olive oil instead. The result tastes fabulous and the multitude of flavors generated in the mouth tastes literally sublime.
What is your favorite Thai ingredient to mix with Italian food?
I think that soy sauce is a very interesting ingredient I discovered in Thailand. Chefs in Italy rarely use soy sauce in Italian cuisines. This type of sauce goes fabulously with fish dishes such as salmon. It also tastes wonderful when added to typical Italian salads with a Romaine lettuce base.
Diego is an extrovert and very sociable person but enjoys eating Italian cuisine while living in Thailand. He prefers making pizza for his family and friends. However, when he is not baking homemade pies, he recommends trying these three pizzerias in this order:
1) Pizzeria “DA MORENO” in Patong (probably the best ever, since it follows the real Neapolitan recipe)
2) Pizzeria “Agli Amici” in Chalong
3) Trattoria Pizzeria “Cosa Nostra” in Chalong
In his next article, Diego will share more Italian cuisine in Thailand. Be sure to stop back and check it out.