Module 4 – Thai Kitchen and Cooking Tools – Lesson 2 – Traditional Thai Kitchen

The beauty of a Traditional Thai Kitchen is all about the sense of calmness and tranquility that it brings to a home.

The understated class also carries with it a touch of mysticism and exotic appeal, which seems to be one of its biggest draws.

The traditional Thai home is made of teak (or other hardwoods) and elevated on stilts.

The stilts keep living quarters above the seasonal monsoonal floods, and allow cooling breezes to encircle the house.

The area underneath is often used as a covered space for the outdoor kitchen, and for a casual entertainment and dining area.

In older country homes the cooking area might instead be in an attached portion of the elevated house, built with small spaces between the flooring so that it’s easy to clean and allows good air circulation and a smoke-clearing draft from underneath.

 

Sometimes the kitchen is a separate structure, located behind the house. Windows are usually large, with hinged covers that can be lowered in bad weather, or bamboo slats which roll up and down. Occasionally the wall sections of these cooking areas are made of woven palm or rattan, which also allow good air circulation.

 

The whole point is to keep the interior as cool as possible, and allow cooking aromas to easily evacuate the living quarters.

To ensure prosperity and good fortune the kitchen should always face north, and the position of the stove within the kitchen is determined by the day of the week on which the cook (or home owner) was born.

For the popularity of those born on Sunday, the stove should face west; for happiness of a Monday-born, to the northwest; for protection of those on Tuesday, to the south; Wednesday-born cooks gain prosperity with stoves facing south; southwest ensures peacefulness for those of Thursday birth; northwest is beneficial for Friday-born; a cook born on Saturday avoids affliction by facing their stove to the east.

 

Cooking is done on the traditional Thai firepot:

tao fai, ‘fire stove’ or Thai ‘bucket stove’: a thick-walled ceramic or metal fire pot (often with a 24-inch diameter, but they come in varying sizes).

It sits on the floor or on a table on an insulating material like sand and it has rings on the top that cradle the wok or pot.

Inside is a grate, rang phung, which holds the fuel; at the bottom is a large rectangular opening that allows the addition of fuel and the removal of ash.

The cook squats or sits on a short stool in order to work the stove and stoke the flames with a bamboo or palmleaf fan, or by blowing through a hollowed-out bamboo tube.

The addition of a mesh grate placed over the top converts the stove to a charcoal grill.

The fuel is either charcoal, or split kindling (or occasionally the stove will be converted to propane in modern times). The fire is started with shredded coconut husks or similar tinder, then kindling is placed on that, and when the flame gets going well, the charcoal is placed on top.

The best charcoal is made from mangrove wood, but this causes ecological destruction along the coasts. Recent moves have been made converting rubber trees which are past their prime into a relatively decent charcoal, thus reducing the impact on the mangrove thickets.

An alternate stove is called the mae tao, a large clay elongated, U-shaped counter top with legs, with two holes for woks, and an insulated tray underneath to hold a bed of glowing coals.

If it was situated outside, the fire would be built in a firepit, and the coals would be shoveled underneath the mae tao when they are ready for cooking. Thais use a wok, kra tha, very similar to the Chinese wok, which was brought to Thailand by Chinese immigrants. Generally it will have either a long handle on one side and a loop handle opposite, or two opposing loop handles, known as hua, or ‘ears’.

Assorted sizes and shapes of cooking pots, called maw, are used, made from pottery, brass, iron, or steel.

Wide shallow wooden basins function as a sink. There is a wooden cupboard with screen or tightly woven panels in the doors for food ingredient storage, often with the legs sitting in dishes of water or oil to keep ants away.

Cutting boards are usually round and thick, often made of tamarind wood, which is dense, impermeable, and easy to clean.

Large pottery urns with covers, ohng, serve as the fresh water supply. They collect water from a well or from rooftop runoff during rains.

A block of alum, saansohm, is lowered into the water on a string and swished around for 30 seconds or so to ‘freshen’ the water and clear it by causing particulates to settle to the bottom.

The minute pores in the clay vessel allow evaporation which cools the liquid. Large wooden dipping ladles are used to remove the amount of water needed, which is then transported to the kitchen in a bucket.

A coconut grater, kra taai khuut maprao, known as a ‘coconut-digging rabbit’, is an essential piece of equipment in any coconut-growing area.

 

It is a kitchen implement that resembles a heavy wooden stool with a flanged sharp metal tip with teeth which protrudes from one end; the user sits astride the stool, and rotates the interior of a coconut around the flange to remove the interior flesh from the coconut so that it can be used for making coconut milk or desserts; they are often carved into human and animal shapes, especially rabbits, due to their protruding teeth.

 

The array of differnet sizes and types of mortars and pestle would be essential as kitchen tools.

Assorted ladles, tupee, and knives, miit, would round out the essential equipment, apart from the usual plates, eating utensils, and cups.

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