Is Lek a Good Cook?
Lek was brought up by her own parents, but she stayed with her grandparents, and especially her grandmother,
while her own parents were working in the fields. This is different to nowadays, when village parents often work
away in a city and leave their kids with their grandparents full-time, as Lek had to do.
Lek had the benefit of being with her grandparents all day and then her own parents and her aunties and uncles
in the evening. Some of these aunties and uncles had worked away or married people from other parts of Thailand, so
they brought variety to her culinary life.
Lek had a good childhood because there were always people around her. It also meant that she learned to cook
from her parents, her grandparents and all her aunties and uncles. She spent most of the first twenty years of her
life cooking with various people.
When Lek was a girl, it was still normal for boys and girls to learn how to cook, but not only to cook, also to
slaughter, preserve and care for livestock. Boys were taught to cook, but they tended to concentrate on
slaughtering rather than cooking. In Lek's family, everyone learned to cook and enjoy cooking.
However the story was not the same for subsequent generations and many modern Thai girls have never learned to
cook without a microwave. They were not taught by their parents, who were not interested in living in a village.
Furthermore, most Thai cooking is done outside.
Town people tend to eat in restaurants or grab a take-away. In fact, Thai townies eat out far more often than
their European counterparts, because eating out is cheap and apartments don't have kitchens.
Lek's village is in northern Thailand where most people eat food with a lot more chillis than a Westerner would
like, but their food is not hot by Thai standards. The hottest food in Thailand is cooked in Isaan and the far
south near Malaysia.
Lek learned to cook northern Thai style at home, but she learned other styles, like Isaan, in Pattaya, because
most of the girls in Pattaya come from Isaan and Pattaya is a melting pot for Thailand as a whole anyway. This also
accounts for why so many insects are consumed in Pattaya.
Lek liked fried insects, although as a rule they were not sold where she came from. In Isaan, they also ate
rice-field snails, but not anywhere else. Lek's favourite 'bush tucker' at home was rat, frog and snake.
However, her normal everyday food usually consisted of pork and fish, for which she knew hundreds of recipes.
Most of them could be adapted for chicken too, but she had virtually given up eating chicken when the bird flu
scare spread, not that she knew anyone who had contracted the disease.
A typical day's food for Lek would be something like:
Breakfast (before getting dressed): rice soup and chillis with a consistency of porridge.
Lunch: mild curry of sun-dried fish, pork or just vegetables and white boiled rice.
Dinner: 4-8 separate dishes of anything that was being sold fresh, cooked without rice.
Supper: rice soup as for breakfast.
Snacks: fresh fruit and home-made rice sweets.
Lek's diet was traditional Thai, although she had lived in Pattaya for ten years. She did not regularly drink
tea, coffee or milk. She did not eat Western sweets or chocolate, nor bread or dairy. She got her calcium not from
milk or cheese, but from eggs and the small bones of fish, birds and frogs.
She did have a passion for pork scratchings and crisps though, but only as an occasional treat.
by Owen Jones