Saturday, 28 July 2007

Chonburi's Edible Charms: Khanom Jaak and Khao Lam

Most of the potbellied pilgrims seeking sleaze in Pattaya, probably wish the road that leads there was lined with rows of soliciting young women. It’s not you’ll be relieved to hear. Instead those traveling south along Sukhumvit Road encounter merely a humdrum procession of shophouses, semi-wilderness, factories and the fairly nondescript town of Chonburi. Oh, and if you haven't fallen asleep and look closely a small local market going by the name of Talat Nong Mon.

Here an unremarkable procession of cramped stalls and shops houses sell a remarkable array of entirely wholesome things to get your teeth into. The focus is on dried seafood snacks and sweets. It’s something of an essential pit stop for Bangkok daytrippers returning from the beach. Never ones to miss out on an opportunity to indulge in yummy local produce, they stock up on treats for family, colleagues, friends and, of course, the two-hour journey home.

Most interesting of all, especially to the foreign eye, are the short tubes of bamboo for sale. Those and the long strips of rolled palm leaves that sit smoking gently on small charcoal grills. These are called Khanom Jaak:

For 30 baht you can pick up a bundle. Peelway the crispy, crumble-all-over-your-car-floor leaf and inside lies a sooty viscous treat comprised of palm sugar, coconut (maaa prang), rice flour and, well, I’m not quite sure what else. It’s earthy and starchy and, in short, divine.

The bamboo tubes that resemble a crude mortar device from the Vietnam war are Khao Laam (Nong Mon): sticky rice mixed with coconut milk and black beans that's squished inside and steamed over a strong fire.

If you buy some, stand back! Wow at the prowess of your strong-armed female vendor as she cracks each one open for you with a sledgehammer. In our plastic packaging obsessed age, the 100 % bio-degradable warpping is half the charm, but if you don’t mind biting morsels off a knife and the glutinous consistency - aroi jang dee teesot..

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