4 May 2016

Coconut, rice & banana: 2 traditional Thai desserts

During the two days that the ordination ceremony I visited last April in Eastern Thailand lasted, I had the chance to see many other things, most of them related to the aforementioned ceremony but not always directly connected to it. They were two intense days full of views and emotions, sights and feelings I hadn't experienced before in the many times I had previously been to that beautiful part of Thailand, and today's post will cover exactly that: the images, characters and actions that happen in the periphery of bigger events and that tend to be eclipsed by them, but that in essence contribute in a very decisive way to connect the dots and create the atmosphere, bringing something intangible and often bigger than the sum of the parts.

Waiting for the rain, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
No trespassing, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm

In this case, there were two supporting characters that stood out for me amongst the rest, both inseparably intertwined: food, and people, for this whole celebration is, to put it simply (omitting the obvios religious purpose and frame), a gathering of friends, relatives and neighbors around a table (or floor) full of food and drinks. The food was not only meant to be shared and eaten by everyone invited to the party (and that, speaking about a small town in the countryside, implies literally everyone around) but was cooked and prepared in advance by the neighbors who would eventually take part in the celebration the day after. Though they were many hands and flavors arising from the fires at once, I could only focus my attention in two of them (both desserts), and those are the two dishes I will present here, the first of which is called "khao tom mad".

Coconut flakes, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Coconut milk, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The rinse, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
After opening and scraping the coconut to detach all the coconut meat in small flakes in a recipient, they added water generously and let the coconut meat impregnate the water with its flavor; after a while, the coconut flakes were removed and the obtained coconut milk was boiled with a few pandam leaves for extra flavor. Once the coconut milk was hot enough, sticky rice was added and cooked with yellow beans to create the filling for this first dessert.

The hat and the pot, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Embers, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Once the filling was ready, it was time to prepare the wrapping, which were banana leaves cut, cleaned and washed directly from the trees nearby. Afterwards, small pieces of banana were inserted on top of the leaves, and covered with the previously cooked filling, wrapping the leaves all around them forming a rectangular shape. Finally, all the small packages were placed in a pot and they were slowly double boiled as a final step.

Banana leaves, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The artisan, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The last step, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Wrapping, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Seung, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Concurrently, a few other women (always women) were preparing the second dessert, called "Khanom tom", primarily made of coconut meat. In this case, the wrapping would be more elaborated, and it consisted in a dough that had previously been kneaded by expert, gracile hands and given a concave, curved shape, in which they would later add the filling.

Kneading I, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Kneading II, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Gastronomic pottery, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The coconut meat that was originally extracted and kept aside became now the main ingredient of the filling in this second dessert: it was cooked with yellow beans and sugar until a compact, sticky paste was formed, and only after it cooled down it was introduced in the dough, which in turn would be wrapped around it, hiding the contents to the eyes (not to the mouths that soon would enjoy these delicacies). Finally, new banana leafs wrapped the small cupcakes.

The mix is ready, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Filling, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Closing the dough I, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm 
Closing the dough II, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Closing the dough III, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm 
Final wrap, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm 
Everyone enjoyed the food together, toddlers and old people alike, sitting in circles and spending a day full of chit-chat, bonds and shared rituals. Here I present a small sample of the eyes and faces that were present at different stages of the celebration (if not involved in all of them at various levels) and that specially caught my attention.

Balance, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The road to the temple, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm 
Bored guest, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The blue cape, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Inscrutable gaze, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Yet food was not the only thing that brought people together those two days, for there was another element that got everyone together and that ended up being specially difficult to capture through my camera: music. The music accompanied the parade to the temple and also every meal, well into the night. And music, naturally, awoke the bodies that so far had been quiet, offering a show of movement and rhythm that was difficult to avoid and to forget.

Women's dance, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The night the DJ checked his phone, Lumix GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm

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