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Kevin's Khua Bua La Pha 

Comfort Food Inspiration:

Weekend dishes with mom 

Through generations 

Written by Beatriz 

The first thing you will notice about Kevin, If you ever meet him, is his sweet and energetic personality. He loves to host and cook for his friends, and is also an amazing dancer - I’m honored to say I’ve had the pleasure to have Kevin as a dance partner in Bloomington get-togethers. Kevin is a Thai linguistic anthropologist from Bangkok, the son of Vietnamese immigrants, who first established themselves in northeastern Thailand and then moved to the capital, where Kevin was born. As the linguistic anthropologist he is, Kevin is curious about learning different languages. He is impressively, fluent in German, Mandarin, English and of course Thai. I have shared with him some Portuguese and he has tried to teach me some Thai, and I must say I struggled with it, impressed by the diversity of tones in Thai language. Although exchanging our mother languages presented some challenges, we connected and built our friendship through the language of food.

“My comfort food is spicy!”


That’s part of the answer I got when I asked Kevin what we were going to cook for lunch. He told me he wanted to show me food that was easily done and quick to put together, but that also had a huge significance for him. Called Khua Bua La Pha, the dish was passed through grandmother to mother and then to him. He associates the dish with weekend memories, which were the moments his mom would cook for him and his sister, after a busy week at work:

“On Saturdays my mom would cook it. During the week she always bought food outside, from restaurants and street vendors, and would bring it home. But on the weekend, she would cook a great amount of food, so we could also eat it through Sunday…every month we would have it at least once. It is very easy and I always loved it. Very spicy.”

Through our talk, he pointed out how much he admires his grandma and mom’s cooking skills, and as a kid:


“I always wanted to do what my mom did. She loves really spicy food and I always wanted to eat my food just exactly like she did. Now, I’m very resistant to spiciness. I learned how to cook watching her, I like to cook this dish because it is one that I can reproduce like my mom. She is a great cook, so good.”

As he shared with me some of his family history and the migration of his family to Thailand, I asked if the dish we were cooking- composed by ground pork, shrimp paste, lemon grass, onions and coconut sugar- was Vietnamese:


“No, it’s very Thai (laughs). The most Vietnamese thing my mom does is rice porridge, but she would get Vietnamese food from those street vendors during the week. My grandmother is this level (raise one hand high in the air horizontally), this good. My mom is a little bit less (put hand down to the middle), and I am like this (put hand more down). I cook it (rice porridge) somethings, but it is never as good as my mom’s or of course my grandmother.”


Being a very Thai dish, Kevin was so happy to find a core ingredient for the Khua Bua La Pha: the coconut sugar. He was able to find it in an international market in Chicago, noting that although Bloomington offers the possibility of finding some ingredients for Asian Cuisine, the very special ones from Southeastern Asia, like the sugar or the shrimp paste, are not available in Indiana.  The shrimp paste came with him on his move to the US. Now two years away from home, he hopes to head back to Thailand after his qualifying exams and enjoy the accessibility of familiar tastes, smells and love from family.  


 Khua Bua La Pha

Prep Time: 60 minutes

Servings: 2


  • 8 oz Ground Pork

  • 1 red onion 

  • 2 Lemon Grass Stalks 

  • Shrimp Paste (to taste)

  • Coconut Sugar (to taste)

  • 10 to 20 Chili Peppers (to taste)

  • Vegetable Oil 

Step 1

Chop the onion, and the base of the lemon grass stalks.

Step 2

Add some vegetable oil in a pan, and add the onions and the lemon grass stalks. As the onion gets brown, add the ground pork and fry it until meat changes color. 


Step 3

While the meat is cooking, blend the chilis with a bit of water to create a paste. Add to the frying meat.

Step 4

Finally add the shrimp paste and the coconut sugar, according to taste. Mix it well.

Step 5

Reduce the heat and stir all ingredients in the pan.

Serve this delicious dish accompanied by rice and enjoy!


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