I am sure
I don't need to tell you how important the presentation of food is to
the enjoyment of a meal. This page is intended to compare a couple of
very different, but equally enjoyable (for some people) scenarios of
people eating food in Thailand.
imagine that the year is 1965. Beside the canal (named Klong San Saeb)
is a fine teak house. It is evening and Jim Thompson, it's American
owner and renowned reviver of the Thai silk industry, is preparing to
receive his small party of half a dozen dinner guests.
arrive singly and in couples, they are given a drink and chat
convivially among the tropical plants and Buddha statues, which Jim has
collected during his forays into the Thai countryside.
Eventually they are ushered into the dining room. It is not huge, but
it's center-piece is a magnificent antique table, laid out beautifully
with highly polished, locally forged bronze cutlery, lead crystal
glasses and the finest Thai celadon porcelain.
background, classical Thai music is playing quietly, while busy, but
unobtrusive servants, present the delicious courses of food, one by one.
said imagine it, that is exactly what I have had to do. In 1965 I was
just only one year old, so even if I had been invited to one of Jim's
dinner parties, I would not have remembered it. However having
participated in several guided tours around his former residence, that
is how I imagine it may have been.
a similar scene was and still is, played out in the households of high
ranking Thais, both in Thailand and abroad.
if you go to a Thai restaurant in just about any country, including
Thailand, you can almost assess the size of your bill by the quality and
antiquity of the Buddha statues on display.
Personally I love being treated to meals in such places, especially in
the rare ones where they also cook good food. Seriously though, I am
amazed at how far presentation goes. I have been served some dreadful
meals in wonderful surroundings. It sometimes seemed that the only
person to be disappointed was me.
switch to my second scenario. It is Sunday and more than thirty five
years have passed since the previous gathering.
are crouched in the tiny backyard of a four story concrete shop-house,
in a far flung suburb of modern day Bangkok. One of them is barbequing
some chicken wings over glowing charcoal embers in a galvanized iron
bucket, which is lined with what looks like a large thick terracotta
flower pot. Another is chopping up raw fish on a large slab of wood,
using a ferocious and rather unhygienic looking meat cleaver.
chap is making himself useful by pouring Thai whisky into glasses full
of ice cubes. These are for himself and his two more gainfully employed
the shop-house on the ground floor, just a few yards from the men, are
five women. They are all sister of whom three are married to the men
outside. They are peeling onions and garlic, cutting up bamboo shoots,
squeezing limes, pounding chilies and keeping an eye on the boiling pots
and the electric rice cooker.
minutes later they are all together sitting cross or side legged in a
circle, on cheap mass produced rush mats, eating their feast. By this
time a small posse of children of varying ages have also joined the
cutlery consists of a cheap pressed alloy spoon and fork each. Their
plates and bowls are made of hard plastic of varying colors, shades and
their hands to scoop up balls of Kao Neow (sticky rice) from a tightly
woven rattan basket, which they then dip into the various curries and
sauces before popping them into their mouths.
demure (and weight conscious) use their spoon and fork to help
themselves to the same curries and sauces, but this time on a bed of Kao
Suey (boiled white rice) served onto a plate, from the rice cooker.
is about 30 feet long and 12 feet wide. It is painted in plain white
emulsion. The floor is gray unpainted concrete. At the front is the shop
area, where cigarettes, some groceries and chilled soft drinks are sold
to passing customers
feet away from the festivities, high up on a brightly painted red and
gold wooden platform, are three small statues. The most expensive of
these probably cost no more than five dollars, but no one is sure
because two of them were gifts from an uncle, since deceased.
of these statues is of Long Pau Sorthorn, a buddhist monk revered by
this particular family. Another is of King Chulalongkorn, also known as
Rama V, the most popular of the past Thai Kings.
one is of the lady Nang Quack, who is expected to help bring good
business to the establishment. Each day she is given a small glass of
red cherry soda, as an offering. The other two statues receive fresh
water. Everyday a fresh garland of Frangipani is placed on the platform
and incense is burned.
feet away a television has been tuned onto a European soccer match. A
few grains of cooked rice occasionally transverse the room, resulting
from a guttural roar, when it looks like someone might score.
and the soccer match are occasionally interrupted by customers. Among
the adult males, many want to purchase just two cigarettes, and expect a
free light for the first one. The children often want a Coke or Pepsi
Cola. This is served in a clear polythene bag full of ice, with a straw.
meal is finished and the dishes have been washed, a couple of
microphones are plugged into the video player. By now the whisky has
banished any inhibitions and normally shy members of the family, launch
into modern Thai pop songs with gusto.
my second scenario ends.
is that most people reading this page, will be more likely to be trying
to create an atmosphere closer to the first situation. Certainly for
those who are not Asian, sitting on chairs at a table is likely to be
much more comfortable than sitting on the floor. Having said that,
who would forget your dinner party if you copied the second scenario?
difference does all this make to the cooking?
Please feel free to drop
me an email