Bangkok is one of the world’s great multinational hubs, a mosaic of cultures drawing people from all over the planet. Yet even as the city becomes more international, I have grown very concerned about the decline and disappearance of Thai culture here.
As Bangkok becomes a world-class city I think we need to work doubly hard to embrace, preserve, and enhance the native, original qualities of life here, the very aspects of the city that separate it from other capitals.
For this column I take you out to Bangkradi community, still within the city’s boundaries, about 30 minutes from Lumpini Park on the expressway (when the traffic is light). Bangkradi is an ethnic Mon community that originally migrated from Burma in the mid-18th century and settled all over Thailand, then known as Siam. They mostly chose to be close to rivers, which they used for travel and to make a living by fishing.
Bangkradi has a traditional Mon temple that functions as a community centre, and the houses are arrayed around the temple. The residents still practice and preserve Mon culture, which is reflected in their language, food, clothing, architecture, and religious beliefs and practices.
On a recent visit, I walked past this temple and into an alley. It was quiet and I started to feel the breeze blowing in from the nearby river. I came upon another alley on which was posted a sign that said “pa piak khanom thai,” meaning Aunty Piak’s Thai desserts. I followed the sign into an alley, and continued walking for a bit until I saw the little shop, located in a cosy wooden two-story house.
The cooking area was on the ground level, as was a simple table with boxes of Thai desserts on it, including “thong yod,” “foy thong,” and “med khanoon.” These desserts were made from egg yolk in syrup. I was drawn to med khanoon because it was a bit bigger than normal. There must be a reason, I thought.
The first bite of the med khanoon was a surprise because it didn’t hit me with the usual shocking syrupy taste. On the contrary, it was incredibly pleasant, with a soft texture of duck egg yolk and yellow bean paste blended together with refined coconut. It was decadent, like the bite of well-crafted, filled chocolate.
I asked Aunty Piak why her med khanoon was so different from others, and she said she invented her own way of making it. She was proud and said that no matter how many times she made med khanoon, the taste was always the same.
I become her fan and will faithfully come back for more. Though med khanoon is not a traditional Mon dessert, it is a great enticement to come visit this community. Spare some time to explore the village, including a visit to Uncle Kallaya’s house, where he makes his own musical instruments, and to the house of Uncle Rod, who makes whips from the fibre of the water palm.
Pa Piak Khanom Thai is near Wat Bang Kradi, Bang Khun Thian. You need to take a car to explore this serene part of Bangkok.