Cooking with Pig Brains – A Traditional Northern Thai Dish (แอ๊บอ่องออ)

By Mark Wiens 14 Comments
แอ๊บ
Aeb (แอ๊บ) is a popular northern Thai food

Aeb (แอ๊บ), a package of meat, spices, and herbs, wrapped in a banana leaf, and grilled over fire, is a very common snack or light meal in northern Thailand.

From the moment I had my first bite of aeb (แอ๊บ), I’ve been a huge fan of this delicious little package.

In the markets from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, you’ll find lots of vendors specializing in this roasted treat.

Most of the time you’ll find pork, small fish, or pla nin (tilapia) versions, the latter which happens to be one of my favorites.

And though it’s rare to find these days, one of the more traditional versions of northern Thai aeb (แอ๊บ) is made with pig brains, referred to as aeb ong aw (แอ๊บอ่องออ) in northern Thailand, or aeb samong moo (แอ๊บสมองหมู) in other parts of Thailand.

Tong Tung Restaurant (ร้านตองตึง)
Tong Tung Restaurant (ร้านตองตึง) in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Tong Tung Restaurant (ร้านตองตึง)

Tong Tung (ร้านตองตึง) is a northern Thai restaurant in Chiang Rai.

They actually don’t have pig brain aeb on their menu anymore, mainly because just not enough people order it, so it’s not worth keeping it on the menu, said the owner of the restaurant’s daughter.

But they graciously showed us the recipe and made it for us when we were in Chiang Rai, filming for the Thai food TV documentary.

ingredients in northern Thailand
Here are the ingredients, it’s pretty easy to pick out the pig brains…!

The main ingredients, as you probably already guessed by now, is pig brains.

Along with the pig brains, the other ingredients were a type of northern Thai curry paste that included the usual mixture of shallots, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, lots of dry chilies, and a little dab of shrimp paste.

We also included some finely shaved lime leaves, cilantro, and green onions.

cooking northern Thai food
Mixing pig brains with curry paste

Apart from hand-pounding the Thai curry paste, which took a while as usual (it’s a labor of love), the actual recipe for aeb ong aw (แอ๊บอ่องออ) was actually quite simple.

Take the brains, add in a few scoops of curry paste, mix in some finely shaved kaffir lime leaves, and then season with salt.

Cooking with pig brain

It was my first time to ever cook, or to see how to cook brain.

Pig brain is really mushy and soft, I guess I could sort of compare it to thick yogurt or sour cream, only a little lumpier.

Anyway, I just wanted to mention the texture, mainly to say that stirring is kind of tough – we had to be delicate, not just stir all out, but use more of a folding action to mix in the curry paste.

แอ๊บสมองหมู
Once we had the mixture, we wrapped it into banana leaves

Once we had a nice even mixture, of brain and curry paste, it was then time to wrap the little packages into banana leaves (known in Thai as bai tong ใบตอง).

We wrapped them in two layers of banana leaves, mainly to make sure the banana leaf would hold up during the grilling process.

After filling the pig brain mixture into a banana leaf, we simply folded them up into a square shape, and fastened the little packets with a toothpick.

แอ๊บอ่องออ
Aeb ong aa (แอ๊บอ่องออ) is cooked over charcoal or fire

Roasted over charcoal

The aeb ong aw (แอ๊บอ่องออ) then went to the grill, and I think they cooked for about 15 minutes or so, over a low fire.

The banana leaves began to char on the outside, but left the contents sort of smoked and steamed at the same time.

aeb ong aa (แอ๊บอ่องออ)
A fresh package of aeb ong aa (แอ๊บอ่องออ)

How does grilled pig brains taste?

When I had my first spoonful of raw pig’s blood soup, I was shocked at how good it was, and if it wasn’t so potentially dangerous (worms and parasites), I’d probably eat it frequently.

For aeb ong aw (แอ๊บอ่องออ) on the other hand, it was very good, and the seasoning and preparation was excellent, but I guess pig brains are overall not my favorite.

Part of the reason is that any type of brain is extremely fatty, and basically so rich that you can’t really eat a lot of it – and if you do eat too much, it’s sort of one of those foods where all of a sudden you hit a wall, have to stop, and can’t take another bite.

how to eat pig brain
Eating pig brains in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Let’s talk about the texture real fast.

The texture of the aeb ong aw (แอ๊บอ่องออ) was somewhere between scrambled eggs, mozzarella cheese, and peanut butter. It was smooth, buttery, and slightly sticky.

แอ๊บอ่องออ
Little creamy nuggets of pig brains (แอ๊บอ่องออ)

The entire aeb (แอ๊บ) was pig brain, but like you can see in this photo above, some parts of the brain were more scrambled egg looking, while other parts of the brain looked like little white lumps – those were the extreme creamy nuggets – so rich and so fatty.

After eating a full package and beginning on the second one, I started to get a little “rich-ed out,” if that’s a term I can use for overdosing on richness (“lian เลี่ยน” in Thai).

So the verdict, aeb ong aw (แอ๊บอ่องออ) was that it was a joy to learn about and to eat in small portions, but I just couldn’t eat too much of it in one sitting.

ขนมจีนน้ำเงี้ยว
A northern Thai dish known as kanom jeen nam ngeow (ขนมจีนน้ำเงี้ยว)

Kanom jeen nam ngeow (ขนมจีนน้ำเงี้ยว)

After we finished preparing and eating th eaeb ong aw (แอ๊บอ่องออ), we then ate a more substantial lunch, and the mother (owner of the restaurant) prepared us a delicious pot of kanom jeen nam ngeow (ขนมจีนน้ำเงี้ยว).

Nam ngeow (น้ำเงี้ยว) is a popular northern Thai dish, a tomatoey soup .

This was one of the better versions I’ve had in Chiang Rai, although I like the Chiang Mai version better. We also had a number of other northern Thai dishes, but we were all so hungry that I wasn’t able to snap any pics of them.

All the food we tried at Tong Tung Restaurant (ร้านตองตึง) was quite good.

lunch
Delicious lunch

Conclusion

When I was in Chiang Rai, one of our missions was to learn about and eat some of the more exotic traditional dishes available.

One of the dishes northern Thailand is famous for is something called aeb, a little package of meat and spices, wrapped in a banana leaf, and roasted.

Fish and pork versions are common to find in the market and at restaurants, but nowadays, though still available, the pig brain version, known as aeb ong aw (แอ๊บอ่องออ) or aeb samong moo (แอ๊บสมองหมู), is less and less common.

We headed to Ran Tong Tung (ร้านตองตึง) restaurant to cook aeb ong aw (แอ๊บอ่องออ), the pig brain version. It was very interesting to see how to make it, and to eat it as well.

On a side note, Ran Tong Tung (ร้านตองตึง), is a great restaurant in Chiang Rai for all sorts of northern Thai food, not just aeb ong aw (แอ๊บอ่องออ).

Ran Tong Tung (ร้านตองตึง)

Address: Rop Wiang, Mueang Chiang Rai, 57000
Open hours: 10:30 am – 2 pm for lunch, 4 pm – 10 pm for dinner
Phone: 053-716-162

ที่อยู่ 1/1 หมู่ 14 ถ.สนามบิน ต.รอบเวียง เมือง เชียงราย 57000
โทร. 053-716-162
เปิดบริการทุกวัน 10.30 – 14.00 น. และ 16.00 – 22.00 น

14 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Jimmy

    6 years ago

    Pig brain is actually quite common in Mexican cuisine, they call it “sesos”, and usually eat it in a taco. The taste is rich and irony and the brains absorb the flavor the onions, cilantro, and salsa verde that adorn them.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Hi Jimmy, good to hear from you, thank you for sharing. That sounds delicious, would love to try sesos tacos.

  • Baguio

    6 years ago

    I can say that this is too rich for me 😉 , although in our place pigs brain is also part of our local delicacy i cannot imagine eating it the same way you did. But from the looks of it, it was delicious…

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hi Baguio, yes I agree, it was very good, but in small amounts – it did get pretty rich after eating a lot – but still good.

  • Stephanie – The Travel Chica

    6 years ago

    I would try it, but seeing it raw would definitely make it challenging.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Stephanie, yah it definitely isn’t too attractive in its raw state, but I think you’d enjoy it!

  • Bama

    6 years ago

    Have you tried cow brain before? How did pig brain taste compared to it? I’ve only had cow brain and I remember how good it was but it’s not those dishes which I can eat too much and too often. It was really rich in flavor though… and cholesterol! 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Bama, I don’t think I’ve ever tried cow brains yet. I’m sure they must be similar in taste and texture. Yes I agree with you, so rich, you just can’t handle too much at a time.

  • Tate Nanje

    6 years ago

    experiencing specific exotic foods is one of my favorites reasons to travel and Thailand definitely has lots of different dishes! I love your pictures and posts! they inspire me! all the best,
    Tate at http://tatenanje.com/

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hi Tate, thank you for your words of encouragement, glad you love to eat and travel as well.

  • Kyle

    6 years ago

    Despite your dislike of it, seems like a particularly apt dish to have on Halloween … hope you have a good night celebrating it if you are!

  • sulasno

    6 years ago

    the reasons why I don’t touch the brains and kidneys of pigs is because of the cleaning process;
    I don’t fancy eating the hearts too