Daily Archives: January 25, 2006

Phra Putthasothon

A replica of the sacred Buddha image Phra Phutthasothon arrived in Samut Prakan yesterday on its journey to Bangkok. It left Chachoengsao on Monday and journeyed by boat down the Bang Pakong River (where I went to watch the dolphins) and along the northern coastline of the Gulf of Thailand. It then entered the Chao Phraya River at Paknam on Tuesday night. Many local people came to pay respect to this Buddha image which is one of the most revered in the country. There is a legend that Phra Phutthasothon is one of three brothers that fled from the ravages of war during the Ayutthaya period. They just got up one day and jumped into the river. One of them ended up at Samut Songkram. Another ended up here in Samut Prakan. The third arrived in Chachoengsao. In each case, the Buddha images only came to shore when the local villagers paid the proper respect. A nine day celebration will take place at Sanam Luang starting Friday.

Taste of home

You know you’re in California when you opened the bag of your Thai food delivery, the foam boxes containing your dinner combos are embossed with a picture of a cactus, sombrero, and “Muchas Gracias”.

Confused? Me too. 🙂

Yep. That was our dinner. Dinner combo came with “shrimp fried rice”–well, a mound of fried rice with 2 shrimps, that is–2 fried chicken kyosa dumplings, and a choice of entree. Brandon ordered panang beef, and me gaeng keow wann chicken (green curry).

Yet, another downside of having Brandon orders food on the phone, other than the fact that food ordered by farangs who could actually handle the heat never get spicy enough for their flame-retarded mouths, is that the restaurant sometimes would westernize the food a little bit.

The panang is standard to what we usually get from them. Actually, they got the spicy right. Enough to give Brandon the run for his money, burn the hell out of my mouth, but yet still a medium-spicy for ordinary Thais.

My “curry” wasn’t much of a curry. Maybe they were concerned about the curry splashing about in a compartmental foam container. But there was a lack of curry in my, well, curry. It’s not even a “dry curry” like in Richard’s recent post. I mean, this thing is more like chicken and thinly sliced bamboo shoots tossed around with green curry and coconut milk gravy. But then again, I haven’t ordered green curry from here before so perhaps they only make it farang way. *shrug*

That is what we get for being lazy and not trekking out to a reliable Thai food joint, and settled with a decent, hold me over until the weekend, shack. We’re just too cold to go back out there, huddling in our warm abode, away from the harsh California winter of 54F/12C. 😉

Yeah. We’re lazy. We’ve had a long day. So sue us!

If you have been reading my entries/comments for a while, you’d notice I’ve been raving about a local Thai joint called “Treasure Pot”. They have new owners now and at first we couldn’t quite tell the difference in the food, but we noticed the flavors were different. Not to mention the new faces behind the counter. But we figured it’s a new weekend service crew. Then our friends Jim and his Thai wife Att, who introduced us to the Treasure Pot in the first place, told us that actually the ownership did change. Ah-ha! That’s why we can’t get quality, slow cooked to perfection panang on weekdays any more!

This past weekend, Jim and Att told us that the original owner and cook of the Treasure Pot has started a new restaurant called Kapow Thai. So, we waltzed in. To our surprise, the owner remembered us! (And shame on me, I still don’t know his name!) He was quite puzzled as to how we found his new joint. We told them about Jim and Att. He was very pleased to hear that Jim and Att have been spreading the words around too!

So, our wish was granted. Brandon has the wonderful panang he’s been craving, flavored Thai spicy the way he likes it. Same with padd kraprow chicken (chicke and Thai basil). And me? I had me a bowl of kuayteow ruah (boat noodles) with everything in it. Yum-o!

As authentic the restaurant is, and as willing as the kitchen is to prepare whatever it is off the menu, going to Thai restaurants here still can’t beat home.

I am putting together a list of stuff I want to eat, so Pueng, my maid/nanny would be ready to feed me. Oh, she can hardly wait to feed me, she told me over the weekend when she answered the phone. Even more so, she can’t wait to freeze the panang in tubs for me to bring back to Brandon!

Oh yes, my mom and I already planned out how to pack frozen tubs of homemade panang to bring back to the U.S. (Shh…don’t nobody tell the custom office!) Last year we sneaked in frozen roti sheets which were still frozen solid when I unpacked many hours later. I hope it works the same way for frozen meat.

Yes, this time next week I’d be putting around LAX, waiting to board my THAI direct flight to Bangkok where wonderful home made food awaits.

On the sidenote:

My trip schedule is shaping up to be a busy one. My brother’s wedding on the 4th. Head down to Khao Lak with my dad for the Tsunami Memorial design competition on the 5th. And after that, my mom is supposed to start her chemotherapy. Richard, I’d probably have to skip visiting your school this time around. But I’m still hoping to go grab a beer with any of you somewhere around my neighborhood i.e. Langsuan/Ploenchit. So far, I know Steve want in…right? Email me your email address and I’ll coordinate.

Celebrating Chinese New Year I

Being of Penang-Phuket Peranakan Chinese ancestry, Chinese New Year (CNY) or Trut Jeen is my family most significant celebration of the year.

Besides the firecrackers, the ‘ang pows’ (red packets), and the ‘sinfully’ rich food, it is also a time of prayers, merit-making, and more importantly the coming-together of the large extended family.

It all begins with the ritual cleaning of the house with lime and lemon leaves. This can start as early as one month before CNY. Rituals aside, it is not easy task — house-painting, cleaning all the windows, scrubbing the floors etc etc.

Symbolically, the most important item to be cleaned is the Buddhist Altar. At my house, on an auspicious day and time, I would usually do the ‘bathing’ of the Phra Puthachao, Chao Meh Kuam Imm and Chenrezig images. This is followed by the tablets of the San Phra Bum Jeen (Teh Chiu Ee Earth God) and the Kitchen God. After all the ritual cleaning and polishing, it is time to re-decorate the altar with ornaments such as red couplets stickers, peacock feathers and host of other offerings.

Usually, one week before CNY, my family would usually make merit (tamboon) at a local Thai Buddhist Temple by offering cash, rice, oil and daily necessities to the Buddhist monks. For a Thai-Chinese family, making merit for CNY accrues among the highest merits. Perhaps, this is the only Buddhist aspect of CNY, the rest being traditionally Peranakan and Chinese.

Later at night on the same day, there would be a special offering of barbeque pork, fruits, nien guo (sticky rice cake), chocolates (Kit-Kat, Toberone and Mars), biscuits, and sugar cane to the Kitchen God. This is a very ancient Peranakan practice and many families have discarded this ritual, but my family still practices this earnestly.

Accordingly, it is believed on the 24th night of the 12th Lunar Month, the Kitchen God ascends to Heaven to report the domestic happenings. This is the time for my family to ‘bribe’ the Kitchen God with sweet sticky stuff (thus the sweet chocolates) for him to report only ‘good stuff’ about the family. Of course, this is also a symbolic prayer for enough food on our dining table for the coming year.

On the morning of CNY’s Eve, just before putting up the ‘chaiki’ (a kind of red cloth) at the main entrance of the house, there is another prayer to honour our ancestor with the ‘Sembahyang Abu.’ (Ash Prayer).

Traditionally, the expensive blue-and-white Peranakan ware would be taken out to offer our ancestors with a most sumptuous feast of pork, duck, chicken, fish and mushroom dishes. But being staunch Buddhist, we only offer vegetarian dishes these days. As we don’t have an ancestral tablet, this ‘Sembahyang Angin’ (Wind Prayer) takes place in front of the main entrance.

On the night of CNY’s eve, my extended family would have our reunion dinner. This is usually celebrated at my grand-parents house with traditional Peranakan Chinese dishes on the tok panjang (dining table) such as ‘kiam chye ap’ (salted vegetable duck soup), ‘pongteh’ (marinated pork knuckles), gulai ayam (chicken curry) and ‘acar chilli’ (preserved and stuff chilli with dried shredded papaya).

However since their passing, my extended family would have our reunion dinner at a hotel restaurant in the city. Bedecked in all our richly- red clothes, it is the time for the family to have the traditional family meal and the ‘loh sang’ (Throw Prosperity). The expensive food and the small talk aside, this gathering is a time for well-wishing for a better year, for better business deals, for job promotions, and for a healthy and prosperous year ahead.

After dinner, the extended family disperses. It is time to return home with only me and my parents. At 12.00am sharp, on the first start of the Chinese New Year, my father would perform the ‘Sembahyang Sambut Kepala Tahon’ (welcome the start of the year) Prayer.

He will ritually offer a golden joss-stick, switch on all the lights at home, open all the doors and windows, and call for Phra Puttachao to symbolically bless our home and the family. Then, there will be three ritual callings of ‘Huat Chye,’ or ‘Tuah -Berkat Mari’ (Come’ye Prosperity) in Peranakan.

On CNY’s morning, after a vegetarian breakfast, we usually start our day with more family prayers. With a ritual lime and flower bath, my family will wear our newest and brightest clothes and make our first visit of the year to the Thai Buddhist Temple. There, it is time for more prayers and blessing from the Phra Putthachao and his Thai Buddhist Monks.

Only after these Buddhist Prayers, in true Malaysian style, we will visit my family’s relatives’ open houses for the pai nien (CNY visits). Traditionally, the women-folk of the older generation, would wear their traditional sarong-kebaya, (a see-through tight traditional blouse) festooned with their huge diamond kerongsang (a three-piece button set) and diamond earrings. Sometimes, I find all these a little too flashy for an octogenarian or a nanogenarian, right?

On the second day of CNY, it is my family’s traditional open house. Thankfully we have a good Malay caterer serving non-Chinese food such as roti jala (a type of Malay deep-fried bread), curry chicken and mee siam (Thai vermicelli). I don’t see how I can cope with more than 150 guests of my father’s relatives, business clients and friends. Also thanks to paper cups, plates and plastic forks and spoons, there is no washing to be done.

Even after the second day, there are still so many CNY rituals like receiving the arrival of the Kitchen God, the prayers to the Jade Emperor and the final Chap Goh Meh. Interestingly, Chap Goh Meh is also the Buddhist Magha Bucha Day which commemorates the spontaneous gathering of the Buddha’s disciples.

(PS – To my non-Malaysian readers, I would emphasize that my family’s CNY rituals and practices are a syncretic reflection of my Chinese, Peranakan and Thai ancestry, I doubt many other Chinese families follow the same rituals.)

Year of the Dog

A Thai worker feeds stray dogs at the Home for Handicapped Animals Foundation in Bangkok. The foundation’s president, Sataporn Deepa, said Thai people have donated more money to the foundation for the strays hoping it would bring them good luck and prosperity in the Year of the Dog. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom