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Krystalle Teh

My Scholarship entry - Understanding a Culture through Food

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 23 April 2012 | Views [357] | Scholarship Entry

I've been told Thai cuisine revolves around the four fundamental taste senses and my nose is inclined to agree. A few steps inside the Don Hwai local market in the outskirts of Bangkok, the curtain of spicy incense smoke lingering from the outer temple grounds begins to give way to a myriad of other smells. Each passing market stall supplies me with its own, naturally-concocted perfume - from the tangy aroma of lemongrass to the smell of salty air-dried anchovies intermingling with the market-goers’ body odours. Like having one too many whiffs of a range of perfumes, my nose is slowly becoming numb from this olfactory cocktail. I can hardly even breathe.

Yet, my taste buds remain unsatisfied.

According to my late grandfather, my Thai surname is 'Sukhumvit'. It should follow then that the taste for fiery, bowel-churning cuisine should have been genetically bestowed upon me by way of my Southern Thai ancestry, but for the month since I’ve been here, the bittersweet taste of imported durians back home cannot be replaced by the cloyingly sweet flavours of the fresh, home-grown durians in Thailand; and my next-door Thai neighbour can whip up a meaner green curry than the diabetes-inducing versions here. My ancestral roots had set my taste buds high hopes, but my profound familiarity with Thai cuisine from growing up and living in Singapore – a country in geographic proximity to Thailand - had left me well and truly jaded.

Beyond the thick, stale market air, we hop on board the ferry service available on the Tha Chin River alongside the market. A curious, questioning stare on my part at a neighbouring family’s dessert soon leads to the gleeful exchange of food between both parties, and we strike up a conversation. Although I can’t find Thai cuisine agreeable to my taste buds, I revel in the Thais’ sense of blissful contentment amidst other loquacious families enjoying their cuisine as a social activity. Mai pen rai – I’m sure my grandfather would have approved.

Tags: travel writing scholarship 2012

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