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Sticky Rice in Banana Leaves
¢¹Áà·Õ¹ khanom thian

I was hurriedly walking to school this morning in a very un-Thai manner. I could see it was about to rain again and I had neglected to bring my umbrella. I was so deep in thought about whether I would make it in time that I didn’t notice at first someone shouting out my name. “Ri-chaaard. Ri-chaaaard,” someone was shouting with the emphasis firmly on the second syllable. Had to be a Thai person. When I turned around I was surprised to be confronted with the sight of Wirat cycling towards me.

Now, my regular readers might remember this person as my local “khanom krok” lady. She is the one that never stopped talking and was always trying to be more than my friend. Bascially, her ex-husband had abandoned both her and her newborn child 15 years ago and now she wanted me to marry her. Of course I was flattered but then I later found out that she was proposing to just about anyone who would listen! Not that I minded my little chats with her. And, actually, I kind of missed her as she has not been selling khanom krok around here for several months now. We had all been wondering where she had got to. And then, here she was, cycling down Sukhumwit Road out of the blue.

Naturally, I shouted out to her “bai nai ma” meaning “where have you been?” She stopped and soon brought me up-to-date. She said that she had been disappointed with slow sales at the top of my soi so she now sells something different in Samrong! She then reached into a couple of large plastic bags and brought out some Thai desserts wrapped in banana leaves. “I now sell khanom thien” she told me. “Here, try some, no charge!” She then proceeded to give me two bags full of these desserts. In one bag she put a marker made from a sliver of banana leaf. She told me “This one sai-kem with the marker and the other sai-waang. You might find the sai-kem one a little spicy.” If you didn’t know, “kem” means salty and “waang” means sweet.

I thanked her and wished her good luck by saying ‘chok dee”. I made a mental note to try and find out where she had set up her new stall. Samrong is about 10-15 minutes away by car. At school I decided to give away some of the desserts to other teachers. There was too much for me to eat alone. And anyway, it is Thai custom to share food around like this. I soon discovered that Thai people prefer the salted version much more than the sweet one which surprised me. I always thought Thai people had a sweet tooth. But, after I tried it, I could see what they meant. I like the “sai-kem” one much better too.

My helpful teacher went on to say that you can tell the difference between them even before you unwrap them from the banana leaves. All you have to do is squeeze them slightly. The softer one is “sai-waang”. In the picture at the top, it is “sai-kem” on the left and “sai-waang” on the right. The common ingredients between these two are white sticky-rice flour, black sticky-rice flour, palm sugar and fragrant water.

The salted one then has: mung bean, chopped red onion, crushed pepper, sugar, salt and oil. The sweet one has: shredded coconut, and palm sugar. As you can see from the faded colour of the banana leaves in the picture, the final product is cooked in a steamer for about 15 minutes and served when cold. As far as I can understand, these desserts are Chinese in origin and are used in a festival to honour dead ancestors.

They certainly have an interesting taste. But to be honest, I really miss my fresh piping hot khanom krok. I think tomorrow I will walk down to Paknam market to see if I can find anyone selling this coconut pudding.

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