My most cherished memories of Thailand are of the days I spent cooking with my family. I remember a day in my early twenties, helping my grandmother and two aunts make a curry paste. It took half a day, and we made a supply to last months, and enough for me to take back home to NZ. I remember sitting on the steps with my grandmother, peeling what seemed to be endless cloves of garlic. Ba Dang and Ba Lum kept nipping to the garden for fresh herbs to add to the mix. Spending the day immersed in the fragrant chillis and herbs, will always stay with me.
Even with my grandmother now gone, the family cook ups are still going. Last year, we made kao tom mut, something my Mum made for us as kids in NZ. I remember taking them to school for my lunch and other kids looking worried – ew what’s that, they’d say, not really wanting to know. But hey, all the more for greedy me!!!
We started by making gati, or coconut milk. Quite simply, Ba Lum placed fresh grated coconut in a cotton bag, moistened it with boiling water and then began kneading and squeezing, a bit like making dough. Repeating this action produces a large bowl of coconut milk.
And then we add the sticky rice and fragrant herbs from the garden.
The bowl goes onto the heat, and stirred until all is absorbed, and the rice is semi cooked.
Now for the fun part. This will take some time, so snacks are advised at this point – see Ba Lum wisely eating corn on the cob during the assembly line.
Banana Leaves are cut into squares, a spoonful of rice flattened onto the leaf, boiled red beans and half a banana placed on top. Don’t get carried away! Just a small amount of each. Then we wrap. Meaning, my aunts laugh at me and my incompetence while I copy them, learning fast, and refuse to accept their criticisms. We find ourselves in stitches over the fact that when folding the corner you need to make a ‘nipple’.
We then secure with stringy grass fibres, a skill in itself. Of course you may use normal household string for this.
And then into the steamer on top of an outside fire.
We keep them in the fridge for anyone to grab when hungry. One of my favourite foods of all time.