Central thai cultural melting pot serves up delights

Sangkhla Buri town on the Thai-Myanmar border played host to a collection of connoisseurs led by a former prime minister on a mission to experience authentic Mon cuisine and learn more about the prominent ethnic group in Thailand

In a mission to spotlight Thailand's cultural diversity through culinary arts, a group of foodies led by former prime minister Anand Panyarachun were recently in Kanchanaburi province's Sangkhla Buri district on the Thai-Myanmar border.

Former prime minister Anand Panyarachun with the Mon beauties.

Sangkhla Buri was chosen not only for its ethnic Mon culture and authentic Mon food, but also because this border town is home to the famous Sangkhla Toh Diaw, a "one-table" restaurant where connoisseurs must make reservations beforehand for months _ not to mention the five-hour drive from Bangkok _ to sample savoury central Thai dishes there.

Prof Frank Flatters and Siriwan Tempati.

The trip, organised by Siam Cement Group, aimed to highlight the country's cultural pluralism as richly manifested in local cuisines and to underscore the need to protect the environment because this is where some of the best fresh ingredients come from.

In the first year, the group went to Pran Buri, a coastal town in Prachuap Khiri Khan where a grass-roots movement succeeded in keeping local seas safe from coal-fired power plants. The following year the trip was to Chanthaburi, home of the ethnic Chong tribe and a place where local culinary cultures are influenced by the rich forests and the sea, as well as close ties with neighbouring countries.

On the way to Sangkhla Buri, a stop at the ancient Prasat Muang Singh brought into focus the fact that what we call Thailand today was not always a "nation", but once comprised principalities under the influence of the ancient Dvaravati and Khmer civilisations before the rise of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Cultural exchanges and integration have long been the central theme in the region, not racial supremacy.

SCG PR team as chef assistants.

In Sangkhla Buri, all those who made the trip were treated to a vast array of ethnic Mon dishes. According to local Mon expert Nirand Saengdee, there are two branches of Mon cuisine in Thailand. One has been adopted as "palace food" and includes dishes such as khao chae and khao kloog kapi. Mon was once a vast and powerful kingdom with intricate fine arts. When its last kingdom fell to Myanmar in the 18th century, there was an exodus of Mon elites to join the Siamese palace and aristocracy, and they brought with them their culinary arts. Trip leader Mr Anand has Mon ancestry himself.

The second type of Mon dishes were developed by ordinary Mon people. The preparations are less elaborate and the ingredients are mostly from nearby forests.

The trip capped off with a contest between two teams of foodies. This year, economics professor Frank Flatters and magazine editor Siriwan Tempati won hands down with their East-meets-West menu, featuring succulent duck breasts with mango sauce, kale tabuleh and a spicy tuna bowl.

About the author

Writer: Sanitsuda Ekachai
Position: Assistant Editor