What is Thai Cuisine? Thai Culinary Identity Construction From The Rise of the Bangkok Dynasty to Its Revival

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Near Bangkok, Siam, c1866

Near Bangkok, Siam, c1866

What is Thai Cuisine? Thai Culinary Identity Construction From The Rise of the Bangkok Dynasty to Its Revival

By:  Panu Wongcha-Um (B.A. (Hons) Melb), 2010
A Thesis Submitted For Degree of Master of Arts Department of History National University of Singapore.

An Introduction

There is a degree of ambiguity attached to the understanding of Thai cuisine.  Having lived half of my life outside of Thailand, it seems that food became Thai only in foreign settings, whereas Thai food in Thailand is rarely identified in such fashion. There  must  be, to borrow Roland Barthes’ terminology, ‘a system of communication’, 1)Roland Barthes, ‘Towards a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption’, in Food and Drink in History: Selections from the Annales, Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations,Vol. 5, edited by Robert Forster and Orest Ranum, Baltimore: Johns Hopkis University Press, 1979, p.168.  and an established body of knowledge that enables Thais and foreigners alike to identify what food is and is not Thai. The making of this body of knowledge and its system of communication shall be explored in this thesis.

In the popular understanding and representation, ‘Thai’ cuisine today can be divided into seven subsidiary variations.  Six of these are distinguishable regional variations: Northern or Lanna, North-eastern or Isan, Eastern, Southern, Central Plain, and Bangkok. The seventh variation is the royal cuisine. The emergence of a singular ‘Thai’ cuisine, as marketed throughout the world today, represents an encompassing culinary landscape that includes dishes from all of these subsidiary culinary cultures.

The problem is not unlike the emergence of an ‘Indian’ cuisine discussed by Arjun Appadurai, who argues that a singular ‘Indian’ cuisine materialized, and continues to do so, through the increase of representations and articulations of varieties of culinary forms, a cultural process influenced by what he calls ‘the seductiveness of variety’. 2)Arjun Appadurai, ‘How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India’, Comparative Studies of Society and History, 30:1 (1988), p.10. The invention of an ‘Indian’ cuisine, as argued by Appadurai, belongs to the larger cultural process of constructing a complex national public culture, spearheaded by the urban middle class in accordance to the spirit of nationalism, and also fueled by the new socio-economic dynamic of the post-colonial era. 3)Ibid.

In the case of ‘Thai’ cuisine, the formulation of the culinary form came about in a landscape dominated by the culture of the Central Thais, and led by their aristocratic elites. 4)Maurizio Peleggi, Thailand: The Worldly Kingdom, London: Reaktion Books, 2007, p.47. Two factors played an important part in this formulation: first, the social dynamic of Thai settlement; and secondly, the emergence of Bangkok as the political and cultural center of Siam following the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767.  But before proceeding, scholarly approaches in understanding cuisine need to be explored.

Bangkok: "The Venice of the East"

Bangkok: “The Venice of the East”

Anthropological Approaches to Food

Food scholars have evaded the ambiguity of ‘cuisine’ by concentrating on the larger process of food production, often referred to as the ‘food system’.  This system consists of ‘complex interdependent interrelationships associated with the production and distribution of food’ that can be divided into five different phases: growing or farming, distribution and storing of ingredients, cooking or preparing, eating and consumption, and disposing of  leftovers. 5)Alan Beardsworth and Teresa Keil, Sociology on the Menu: An Invitation to the Study of Food and Society, London: Routledge, 1997, p.32-33.

This concept of  the ‘food  system’ is utilized by scholars from a variety of academic fields, but its initial usage was mainly by anthropologists.  The cultural meaning of ‘cuisine’ is dealt with by two different anthropological approaches: the first concentrates on the cultural meanings of food from its preparation and production, while the second focuses on its consumption and consumer’s demand.

The first approach, inspired largely by Claude Lévi-Strauss and Mary Douglas, reduces the process of food production, preparation, and presentation to a system of syntagmatic relations, or linguistic structure.6)Claude Lévi-Strauss, ‘The Culinary Triangle’, in., Food and Culture, A Reader, edited by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik, New York: Routledge, 1997, p. 28-35; Mary Douglas, ‘Deciphering a Meal’, Daedalus, 101:1, 1972, pp.61-81. This method approaches food from the way a meal is produced, prepared, and cooked. It does this by treating food as ‘encrypted codes’ so that the social components of dishes need to be ‘decoded’ to reveal ‘pattern of social relations’ such as ‘hierarchy, inclusion and exclusion, boundaries and transactions across the boundaries’ within the food system. 7)Mary Douglas, ‘Deciphering a Meal’, p61. As Douglas herself remarks, this approach requires a ‘close understanding of a microscale social system’, 8)Ibid. meaning that the analysis unravels the social component of dishes at a certain place and time.

The weakness of this approach in analyzing the making of a ‘cuisine’ is that it only offers a static social picture existing in a static timeframe. It usefully explains the need to unravel the various culinary codes that exist within the repertoire of a meal to understand the social dynamic behind the concoction of a cuisine. However, the process of the identity making of the ‘cuisine’ is left unanswered. This approach may explain, for example, how a certain dish like kaeng matsaman, or ‘the curry of the Muslim’ considering that the Thai word matsaman derived from Persian and Arabic word musliman or ‘Muslim’, came to Siam via Muslim traders in the seventeenth century Persian-Siamese trade. 9)Sombat Plainoi, Kraya Niyai (Eatery stories), Bangkok: Matichon, 1998, p.44. Nevertheless, this does not explain the historical process of how matsaman became a dish in ‘Thai’ cuisine. The framework of a ‘microscale social system’ also leaves little room for understanding the creative dimension of cooking itself.

King Tiger and The Streeman From a painting by a Siamese artist. circa early 1900s

King Tiger and The Streeman
From a painting by a Siamese artist.
circa early 1900s

Treating each culinary code as either the ‘lexicon’ or ‘grammar’ of a meal does not explain why new cooking techniques are incorporated into the preparation of an old dish, or why ingredients are added overtime, or in some cases, why old ingredients are left out. It also does not explain the existence of many variations of a dish. Going back to the example of matsaman, approaching the meal as a rigid linguistic code does not sufficiently explain why modern matsaman is oily and highly seasoned with tamarind and sugar, as opposed to the Ayutthayan version that required only dried spices, onions, and ginger. 10)The differentiation between modern and Ayutthaya’s recipe of the matsaman has been suggested by the Australian chef David Thompson. See David Thompson, Thai Food, London: Viking, 2002, p.329. In short, this approach relies too much on the particular concept of a dish in unlocking its culinary code. Food, after all, is very different from language. As Mintz points out, ‘we can eat without meals, but we cannot speak without grammar’. 11)Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, New York: Penguin, 1986, p.200. The cultural importance of linguistic structure, from its usage to its grammar, is very different from the reliance of food dishes to styles of dining.

The second anthropological approach led by scholars such as Jean-François Revel, Jack Goody, Michael Freeman, Arjun Appadurai, and Sidney Mintz is largely influenced by the work of French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu. 12)Jean-François Revel, Culture and Cuisine: a Journey Through the History of Food, New York: Double Day, 1982; Jack Goody, Cooking, Cuisine, and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1982; Michael Freeman, ‘Sung’, Food in Chinese Culture, edited by Kwang Chih Chang, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1977; Arjun Appadurai, ‘How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in contemporary India’; Mintz, Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom; Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984 Still viewing ‘cuisine’ as part of the larger ‘food system’, these scholars approach the system by dissecting culinary codes through consumption and demand in order to identify food’s relationship with the wider social and cultural structure. They do this largely by using social class as a tool of analysis. It was Freeman, in his analysis of the Chinese culinary landscape during the Sung dynasty (960-1279 AD), who first pointed out that ‘cuisine’ is related to the particular system of producing and distributing food. 13)Freeman, ‘Sung’, p.44. This system includes: availability of ingredients derived from both farmland and trade, and a society daring to indulge in food consumption and be experimental in food preparation.

Goody adopted Freeman’s approach and expanded it by identifying internal social dynamics of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culinary traits within a society’s gastronomic culture. He argues that it is important to view food, from its production, preparation, and consumption, as comparative to social structure. This comparison between food and society is distinguishable in terms of social hierarchy. 14)Goody, Cooking, Cuisine, and Class, p.2. Goody’s identification of the ‘high’ and ‘low’ culinary subsystem is echoed by Revel, who argues that ‘any cooking, in any country and in any tradition, has two sources’. 15)Jean-François Revel, in the preface of Alain Ducasse, Livre de Cuisine: Alain Ducasse’s Culinary Encyclopedia, New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2005.  one ‘popular’, and another ‘erudite’. 16)Revel, ‘Retrieving Tastes: Two Sources of Cuisine’, in The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink, p.53. 

‘Popular cuisine’ is based on nature: ingredients deriving from the soil, determined by geographical region and seasonal changes; and meals prepared by age-old cooking methods, passed down from generation to generation. ‘Erudite cuisine’ is based on invention, renewal, and experimentation. As Revels puts it, ‘in the course of history there has been a peasant cuisine and a court cuisine; a plebeian cuisine and a family cuisine prepared by the mother; and a cuisine of professionals that only chefs fanatically devoted to their art have the time and the knowledge to practice.’ 17)Ibid.

traditional-thai-kitchen

These two definitions, of ‘popular’ and ‘erudite’, offer a model adopted by others who have looked at ‘cuisine’ in various contexts. Mintz articulates this dichotomy by arguing that there is no ‘cuisine’ other than the ‘popular’ one. For him, ‘cuisine’ has to do with the ongoing food system of a region ‘within which active discourse about food sustains both common understanding and reliable production’ of that particular culinary code . 18)Mintz, Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom, Boston: Beacon Press, 1996, p.104. The ‘erudite’ cultural demarcation is simply a representation of more than one regional culinary code and its articulation can even be considered ‘imagined’, basing itself on the larger cultural and socio-political dynamic of a particular time . 19)Ibid., p. 96; Christine M. du Bois and Sidney W. Mintz, ‘The Anthropology of Food and Eating’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 31, 2002, p.109.

The dichotomization between ‘high’ and ‘low’ can be utilized in a social context by consulting Bourdieu’s work. In reference to food consumption, Bourdieu defines the ‘taste of luxury’ as ‘taste of individuals who are the products of material conditions of existence defined by distance from necessity, by the freedoms or facilities stemming from possession of capital’, whereas ‘taste of necessity’ is largely defined by individuals’ adjustment to their economic condition . 20)Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. p. 177. This view is shared by Roland Barthes in his analysis of food recipes in French popular magazines. He points out that the ‘bourgeois’ inclined magazines provide elaborate recipes that use a variety of ingredients, both for consumption as well as garnishing, whereas magazines with a largely working class audience import more practical, and straightforward food recipes . 21)Barthes, ‘Ornamental Cookery’, in Mythologies, London: J. Cape, 1972, p. 85-87. In short, the cultural choice of food consumption that is manifested in the cultural identification of a culinary code is based upon social differentiation within a society. But how does this dichotomization work in a specific historical context? Historical work on food shall now be examined.

Photograph album of Siam, c1900

Photograph album of Siam, c1900

Historical Approaches to Food

French Historians from the Annales School were the first to look at food in various manners. Inspired by Fernand Braudel’s idea about different temporalities of historical time: from the longue durée or the near-constant duration determined; ecological changes; the conjoncture (conjuncture) or what he called ‘history of gentle rhythms of groups and grouping’, brought about by factors like consistent economic interactions; and the histoire événementielle or short-term sequences shaped by people. 22)Fernand Braudel, On History, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1980, p.3-4, 13-14, 39-41. Historians who have looked at food applied Braudelian’s temporalities of historical time in various ways.

The work of Jean-Jacques Hémardinquer, for example, traces the role of the family pig and the consumption of pork meat from the sixteenth to nineteenth-century France. 23)Jean-Jacques Hémardinquer, ‘The Family Pig of the Ancient Régime: Myth or Fact? in Food and Drink in History, p. 50 – 72. Using statistical records like pork meat prices, rates of population growth and rates of deforestation, Hémardinquer demonstrates how pork meat, the grub of medieval peasantry, became the food of the nobles and the bourgeoisie by the early modern period. The time frame of Hémardinquer’s historical enquiry reflected a mixture of two Braudelian temporalities: the longue durée in terms of the change that took place in the ecological system which shifted the agricultural pattern; the conjuncture in terms of shift in meat prices and consumption patterns of different social classes.

Poo Kao Tong, Bangkok Street Scene by Y. Ebata. Coloured Post Card c1908-1912

Poo Kao Tong, Bangkok Street Scene by Y. Ebata. Coloured Post Card
c1908-1912

Other French scholars influenced by the Annales School were less interested in the shifting consumption pattern of food. Rather, they were more interested in extracting the socio-cultural worldview (mentalités) associated with food culture from culinary texts and food-related literature. For example, Jean-Claude Bonnet looked at the eighteenth-century French worldview on the discourse of diet, fasting, and hunger from Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie. 24) Jean-Claude Bonnet, ‘The Culinary System in the Encyclopédie’, in Food and Drink in History, p. 139-165.  In a similar fashion, Jean Leclant used diplomatic texts and trade statistics in analyzing the localization of coffee and the creation of French café culture in the seventeenth-century. 25)Jean Leclant, ‘Coffee and Cafés in Paris, 1644-1693’, Food and Drink in History, p. 86-97.

The French scholars were not the only ones who looked at the socio-cultural worldview of food. English sociologist, Stephen Mennell, who looked at the place of food in the social life of France and England, is an example. 26)Stephen Mennell, All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1996.  Mennell uses sources like cookbooks and women’s magazines to sketch the development of French and English gastronomie, the underlying attitude towards the enjoyment of food, from the Middle Ages through to the present. On the usage of cookbooks and culinary texts as a primary source, Mennell entered a debate with an English food writer Elizabeth David and the French Scholar Alain Girard. 27)Alain Girard, ‘Du manuscript a l’imprime: le livre de cuisine en Europe aux 15 et 16 siecles’, Pratiques et discours alimentaires a la Renaissance, edited by J.-C. Margolin and R. Sauzet, Paris: G.P. Maisonneuve & Larose, 1982, p.107-117; Elizabeth David, French Country Cooking, London: John Lehmann,1955.  Girard and David argue that there are generally several decades’ time lag between actual cooking fashion and its textual culinary representation. Mennell, on the other hand, argues that food writing, in the context of his two case studies, represent the latest culinary fashion that is ahead of general practices . 28)Mennell, All Manners of Food, Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present, p.65.    The utilization of the cookbook and culinary text as historical evidence thus needs careful contextualization within the larger social, literary, and cultural framework of the society in question.

The residence Dr. Carl August Friedrich Gutzlaff, Bangkok (c1828)

The residence Dr. Carl August Friedrich Gutzlaff, Bangkok (c1828)

Giovanni Rebora and Massimo Montanari also took a similar approach to Mennell in looking at food culture in Italy and the Mediterranean world through consulting sources like cookbooks and culinary literature . 29)Giovanni Rebora, Culture of the Fork, A Brief History of Food in Europe, trans. Albert Sonnenfeld, New York: Columbia University Press, 2000; Massimo Montanari, Food is Culture, trans. Alberto Sonnenfeld, New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.   Rebora in particular was expansive in his usage of sources in portraying the early modern gastronomic worldview of not just Italy, but the Mediterranean world. The food culture, as he points out, respond to major political happenings, changes in the territorial order of regimes, great discoveries, the outcome of wars, the triumphs and defeats of countries, and to international commercial agreements . 30)Rebora, Culture of the Fork, p.xvi.    Other scholars have similarly used a variety of sources in looking at food in relation to the wider socio-cultural worldview. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, for example, employs sources like religious texts, folklore, taxation records, and statistics on seasonal patterns in her analysis of food and the formation of a modern Japanese identity . 31)Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Rice as Self, Japanese Identities Through Time, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993.

The dialectical relationship between food and modern cultural identity is explored in Appadurai’s work on the making of Indian national cuisine . 32)Appadurai, ‘How to Make a National Cuisine’, p.4.   Applying Goody’s idea of the ‘high’ and the ‘low’ to the context of post-colonial India, Appadurai looks how modern Indian cookbooks helped creating a national cuisine from regional variations.

In his analogy between the ‘high’ and the ‘low’ culinary code, Appadurai points out the typical dichotomy between court food and peasant food, as well as the distinction between the diet of urban centers and rural peripheries. The ‘high cuisine’ in preindustrial society, Appadurai argues, ‘drew upon regional, provincial and folk materials and recipes’ . 33)Ibid., p.4.   This cultural phenomenon is attributed to the elite desire to ‘display their political power and commercial reach, and their cosmopolitan taste by  drawing in ingredients and techniques and even cooks from far and wide’. 34)Ibid  This approach is adopted by Thai scholars who have attempted a conceptual formulation of the Thai culinary code in the Thai cultural landscape.

Voyage dans les royaumes de Siam, de Cambodge, de Laos et autres parties centrales de l'Indo-Chine, 1858-1861 Page 3 -mod

Voyage dans les royaumes de Siam, de Cambodge, de Laos et autres parties centrales de l’Indo-Chine, 1858-1861 Page 3

Food in the Thai Context

Thai scholars have identified two social spaces in the Thai cultural landscape in which the culinary code could be formulated: the town (muang) and the temple (wat), the religious center of the community . 35)Sombat, Krua Thai (Thai kitchen), Bangkok, Ton-ao, 1994, p.66-67; Vespada, Yaowanuch ed., A- han: Sub lae Sin Pandin Thai (Thai cuisine: treasure and art of the land), Bangkok: Export-Import Bank of Thailand, 2001.   Sombat Plainoi argues that the social spaces of towns are the grounds for the concoction of cooking techniques, and a confluence of raw ingredients collected from the countryside and acquired through trade . 36)Sombat, Krua Thai, p.66-67. 

Adopting an outlook similar to Revel’s and Mintz’s, Sombat divides the Thai culinary code in terms of chao muang, or townspeople, and chao chonnabot, or rural folks . 37)Ibid. 

Another social site that brings together a variety of culinary codes is ‘the temple’. From providing daily alms to monks through merit making (tham bun) in religious ritual and festivities, the social space centered around ‘the temple’ provides an alternative site to the town in bringing together various culinary codes from the countryside on a regular basis. The social spaces around the ‘temple’ provides a site where there is an ongoing communication about food from the surrounding community, arguably sufficient in shaping the culinary code of a region.

Image: Religious ceremony in the palace Image: John Thomson c1865-66

Religious ceremony in the palace
Image: John Thomson c1865-66

Thai scholars points to the Hit Sipsong Khong Sipsi, or ‘the twelve annual festivals and fourteen social rituals’ observed by people in the Lao-Isan region, as a possible social phenomenon that shaped the culinary code of Isan . 38)It is believed that these religious rituals are influenced by the Lan Sang (or known in Thai as Lao- Lan Chang) culture. The ritual is also observed in some ethnic Khmer part of Isan. Vespada, Yaowanuch ed., A-han: Sub lae Sinpan Din Thai, p.40-41.   The Hit Sipsong Khong Sipie is a year-long series of Buddhist festivities where people in the community join together in various merit-making occasions to pay their respect to their Buddhist faith, as well as local spirits and deceased relatives. A large part of the merit making involves the offering of specific delicacies, specifically designated for each occasion, to the monks, the local spirits, and the deceased.

This example shows how the culinary code from the countryside came together in the social space of the temple to shape a repertoire of dishes, distinctive for that particular community, in this case the Lao-Isan region. Nevertheless, the culinary exchange throughout the Hit Sipsong Khong Sipsi is very inflexible since the food associated with merit makings for each month is allocated and specified. For example, a delicacy known as khao pan is offered in March, khanom thian and khao tom mut is offered during Songkran festivals in April . 39) Ibid.   With social norms determining specific delicacies involved for each month, there is little room for culinary inventiveness at ‘the temple’. The social space of the muang on the other hand, is more vibrant. The social dynamic of the muang will now be examined.

Since at least the thirteenth century, concentrated Thai political settlements have been called muang. Without clearly defined territorial boundaries, the muang is better understood in Maurizio Peleggi’s words as ‘the spatial configuration of a hierarchical relation of power; the rulers of smaller muang subjected themselves to the authority of the overlord of larger muang by accepting tributary status. ‘ 40)Peleggi, Thailand: Worldly Kingdom, p.58-59.    The organization of muang is done around the patriarch rulers (chao), who acted as ‘landlords’ both in terms of managing the agrarian economy of the surrounding area through the control of labor forces (phrai), as well as being responsible for organizing defense in times of trouble . 41)Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit, A History of Thailand, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, p.7-8. 

Voyage dans les royaumes de Siam, de Cambodge, de Laos et autres parties centrales de l'Indo-Chine, c1858-1861

Voyage dans les royaumes de Siam, de Cambodge, de Laos et autres parties centrales de l’Indo-Chine,
c1858-1861

In the culinary realm, this distinction between the noble and ‘the rest’ was also reflected in language. In the classification of rice, for example, the word khao chao, (literally ‘rice of the noble’) was and is still used, to describe steamed rice, whereas the word khao phrai, (rice of the plebs), was used to describe sticky rice . 42)In the present day the word khao niao, which literally mean sticky rice or glutinous, is used instead of khao phrai. See Suchit Wongthet, Khao Pla A-han Thai: Tummai? Majakhnai (Rice, fish, and Thai food: Why? And where did it come from.), Bangkok: KD Fund, 2008, p.71-77. For further also see Suchit Wongtet ed., Khao Phrai-Khao Chao Khong Chao Siam (Rice of patriarch-rice of plebs for the Siamese), Bangkok: Sinlapa Wattanatum, 1988.   Thai historian Suchit Wongthet speculates that this distinction between ‘rice of the noble’ and ‘rice of the plebs’ predates any known Thai kingdom, and can be traced back to the ancient Mon culture of the Dvaravati period (c. sixth to tenth century AD), situated in the delta of the Chaophraya River. The terminology came about because scholars hypothesize that Dvaravati rulers imported foreign rice for their consumption to distinguish themselves from their sticky-rice-eating subjects. 43)Suchit, Khao Pla A-han Thai, p.75.    The prominent Thai writer and former Prime Minister, Kukrit Pramoj (1911-1995), explains that this rice dichotomy was formulated in the vernacular language deriving from the rural phrai’s encounters with the chao’s diet in the urban social setting of a muang . 44)Kukrit Pramoj, Khun Chang Khun Phan, Bangkok: Dok Ya, 2001, p.4-5.

Another important aspect that needs to be considered is that up until the middle of the nineteenth century, the chao also controlled most of the trade that came to Siam from the outside world. Many of these traders settled on Siamese shores. In the seventeenth-century Ayutthaya for example, there were settlements of ‘Chinese, Viet, Cham, Mon, Portuguese, Arab, Indian, Persian, Japanese, and various Malay communities from the archipelago.’ 45)Baker and Pasuk, A History of Thailand, p.13.   Because of this cosmopolitan characteristic, the muang became a confluence of ethnically diverse culinary forms. Throughout this thesis, the anthropological term ‘foodway’ will be utilized in referring to the culinary sub-culture of the non-Thai ethnic groups, while the term ‘culinary code’ will be used in referring to food influence . 46)Anthropologist have developed this terminology in studying ‘multicultural society’ like the United States of America. In this thesis, I have utilized the terminology to identify the cultural influences from ethnic groups that have been assimilated to the Thai national culture. For further on anthropological work on ‘foodway’ see Keller Brown and Kay Mussell, ‘Introduction’, Ethinic and Regional Foodways in the United States: The Performance of Group Identity, Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2001, pp.3-15. 

The ethnic diversity of the Thai muang and the relationship between the chao and foreign traders is the point of departure to understanding the formation of Thai cuisine. The first text best represents modern Thai cuisine as it emerged in the early nineteenth-century from the royal court of Bangkok. This text, known as Kap Hechom Khrueang Khao Wan (Boat Song Admiring the Savory and the Sweets), was composed by King Buddha Loetla Nabhalai (Rama II, r. 1809-1824). The second chapter of this thesis looks at the foreign culinary influences of dishes by dissecting this text. Using the Braudelian approach of conjuncture, the chapter sketches the process that led various culinary codes, derived from centuries of seaborne trade, to become part of the Siamese court’s diet, the culinary ‘high’ code. At the same time, the Braudelian approach enables speculation about the diet of Siamese hinterland, and thus a sketch of the culinary ‘low’ will also be examined.

The third chapter explores the formation of a Thai culinary language that came about through the birth of the Thai cookbook. This process took place in the social space of the royal court with the first cookbook of Thai food, Mae Khrua Hua Pa (literally meaning ‘skillful women chefs’, and hereafter will be refer through as MKHP), published in 1908 by an aristocrat, Lady Plian Phasakorawong (1847-1912). This chapter sketches the shift in the Siamese elites’ culinary worldview about their diet, and its dialectical relation to the diet of other people. This shift in the mentality of the Siamese elite came about through the increasing threat of Western imperialism to Siam, best typified by the Bowring Treaty of 1855 that eroded much of the court’s power. In response to this threat, the Siamese elite modernized themselves by localizing western modernity a process known as siwilai. The cookbook was born in this context. This chapter focuses on the MKHP and consults sources like literature, memoirs and recollection accounts of Western sojourners in Siam, as well as Siamese sojourners in the West.

ท่านผู้หญิงเปลี่ยน ภาสกรวงศ์ Thanpuying Plean Passakornrawong

ท่านผู้หญิงเปลี่ยน ภาสกรวงศ์
Thanpuying Plean Passakornrawong

The fourth chapter examines at the enculturation of modern Thai cuisine and dissects the different cultural layers of this process based on different groups of Thai food consumers. This chapter traces the historical context in the development and maintenance of each of these culinary codes by using sources like cookbooks, memorial volumes, textbooks, and popular literature throughout the twentieth century. These culinary codes allow three different perspectives of modern day Thai gastronomic culture.

The observation of a two-centuries process in the making of this modern Thai gastronomic culture, from a sociological point of view, illustrated how food preparation and consumption corresponded with the socio-cultural dynamics of Thai society. The label of ‘Thai cuisine’ reflected the way people articulated their culinary identity in the context of the larger cultural landscape. Initiated by the royal court, the development of the Thai culinary culture reflected how Thai society views itself in terms of social classes, gender roles, and its national identity. The sketches of this two century-long process in the formation of Thai gastronomic culture also reflected how Thai society and its ruling elite interacted with the outside world and modernity.

Ladies of the Bunnag Lineage preparing food at the Dusit palace  c1898

Ladies of the Bunnag Lineage preparing food at the Dusit palace  c1898

Formulating the Siamese Kitchen: Royal Menu and Culinary Conjunctures

A love poem in the Thai literary canon, Kap Hechom Khrueang Khao Wan (hereafter KHKKW), composed by then Prince Isaransundhorn (who later became Rama II), is regarded by many to be the first comprehensive representation of the Thai culinary repertoire.47)Plian, MKHP, book 1, Bangkok: Sirijarean Sapanhan, 1908, p.29-42. Written sometime during the final years of the eighteenth century, it is believed that the poem was a dedication to Princess Bunrod, who later became Queen Sri Suriyendra Boroma Rachini (1767-1836) ,48)She will be refers as Princess Bunrod throughout this thesis. Rama II’s wife and mother of King Mongkut (Rama IV, r.1851-1868) and Prince Pinklao (1808-1866) .49)Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, Kap Heruea Chao Fa Kung Lae Sepha Kong Sunthorn Phu Thang Song Rueng, (The boat song of Chao Fa Kung and two stories by Sunthorn Phu), Bangkok: Funeral Service Division, Royal Thai Army, 1955, p.5. This poem, more importantly, was a tribute to Princess Bunrod’s legendary culinary prowess. Princess Bunrod’s cooking was so celebrated that Lady Plian, a culinary legend of her own, paid tribute to her almost a century later.50)Plian, Mae Krua Hua Pa, Book 1, p.2. The ensemble of culinary dishes in the KHKKW was one of the earliest literary representations of a Siamese ‘high’ menu: a precursor to contemporary Thai cuisine. It also reflected the culinary interaction of the Bangkok court with the world around them.

Mae Khrua Hua Pa

Mae Khrua Hua Pa

The forty-seven stanzas of the poem are divided into three sections: savory dishes (khrueang kao), fruit (phonlamai), and sweets (khrueang wan). It provides reference to fourteen types of savory dishes, fourteen kinds of fruits, and sixteen kinds of sweets. Moreover, despite its theme of love and longing of a man for a woman, in the genre of a poetic boat song (kap heruea) used for pacing oarsmen in the procession of royal barges, the detailed description of food provides not only their name, but also the ingredients as well as the cooking techniques. Reading the poem today, its vivid description appears still very relevant to the repertoire of dishes in Thai cuisine.

The dishes in the KHKKW belong to the ‘high’ culinary code: a menu of the Siamese royal court in the early Rattankosin era. With the printing press still almost half a century away from its introduction to Siam, 51)The printing press and Thai type characters were introduced into Siam in 1835. Kasian Tejapira, Commodifying Marxism: The Formation of Modern Thai Radical Culture, 1927-1958, Kyoto: Kyoto University Press, 2001, p.7. the KHKKW can be considered as a ‘fluid’ representation of food, transmitted orally as sung poetry.52)‘Fluid’ as oppose to ‘Fixity’ of printed culinary recipe. Robert Appelbaum, Aguecheek’s Beef, Belchs Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Interjections: Literature, Culture, and Food Among the Early Moderns, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006, p.67-68.  Scholars attributed the KHKKW to Princess Bunrod and pointed out that she, as wife and later Queen to Rama II, had an enormous influence on the formulation of the Bangkok court’s kitchen.53)Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, Kap Heruea Chao Fa Kung Lae Seapa Kong Sunthorn Phu Thang Song Rueng, p.5: Sansanee, Luk Kaew Mia Kwan, p. 142-147.  Lady Plian utilized the KHKKW as a platform for her discussion of the Royal kitchen (khrueang chaonai) in the MKHP.54)Plian, MKHP, book 1, p.28-44.

This alone reveals the importance of the KHKKW in the Thai culinary discourse. As a text, the KHKKW was the first piece of literature in the Thai language that provides a repertoire of food dishes consumed by the Siamese court, and probably the inhabitants of Bangkok at the time. This made the KHKKW the first Siamese food menu in which later generations of cookbooks of Thai food emulate and discuss. Following the approach taken by historian Janet Theonophano, where she likens the reading of a cookbook to ‘peering through the kitchen window’.55)Janet Theophano, Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote, New York: Palgrave, 2002, p.6.   of that cookbook’s author, in the case of KHKKW, we are peering through the dining table of Princess Bunrod and Prince Isaransundhorn. It is this dining table, and how some of the dishes got onto it, to which we shall now turn our attention.

HM King Chulalongkorn The Great Cooking

HM King Chulalongkorn The Great Cooking

The KHKKW was composed in the historical context of what historian Nidhi Eoseewong classifies as the rise of a Thai ‘bourgeois’ culture .56)Nidhi Eoseewong, ‘Bourgeois Culture and Early Bangkok Literature’, in Pen and Sail: Literature and History in Early Bangkok, Bangkok: Silkwork, 2005, pp.3-151. According to his definition, the ‘bourgeois’ culture to which he refers was a new high culture that emerged from the royal court of the early Bangkok era, a culture that was markedly different from the aristocratic culture of Ayutthaya. This was because the Bangkok upper class, Nidhi argues, was formulated from an economic system where the main source of growth came from the royal court’s involvement with foreign trade. This early Bangkok upper class integrated the aristocracy, whose power rested on the control of labor, with the mercantile class that was made up of foreign settlers. As more foreign merchants became ennobled in the Thai feudal order (sakdina) Nidhi observes, the Thai aristocracy also absorbed many foreign cultural traits into their way of life. The KHKKW reflects this new ‘bourgeois’ culture from its literary style and content.

The KHKKW’s literary style demonstrates a merging of folk oral elements to the literary tradition of Ayutthaya’s royal court, a characteristic that is typical, as Nidhi points out, to the new ‘bourgeois’ literature of Bangkok .57)Ibid., p.25-57. He further points out that this new literary tradition emerged in the late Ayutthaya period, 58)Ibid., p.21.   before flourishing in the Bangkok court. Nidhi’s argument follows a similar observation made by Prince Damrong (1862-1943) who pointed out that boat songs produced in the court of King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (Rama I, r.1782-1809) and Rama II are very similar in style to the boat song produced in the reign of King Boromakot (r.1732-1758) in the late Ayutthaya period .59)The earliest surviving poetic boat song in Thai language was attributed to King Boromakot’s son and celebrated poet in the history of Thai literature, Prince Thammathibet, who was commonly known as Chao Fa Kung (1705-1746). See Damrong, Kap Heruea Chao Fa Kung Lae Sepha Kong Sunthorn Phu Thang Song Rueng, (The boat song of Chao Fa Kung and two stories by Sunthorn Phu), Bangkok: Funeral Service Division, Royal Thai Army, 1955, p.3. It was during this period, Prince Damrong argued, that the boat songs were first composed in Thai instead of the traditional use of Sanskrit .60)Ibid., p.2-5.

Lady Aab Bunnag in the kitchen of Ruen Ton residence

Lady Aab Bunnag in the kitchen of Ruen Ton residence

Further, the mentioning of foreign food ingredients in the KHKKW, for example the usage of ‘Japanese fish sauce’ (nam pla yipun) in the making of Yum Yai, or name that indicates a point-of-origin, like the fruit ‘Chinese persimmon’ (phlub chin), 61)Plian, MKHP, Book 1, p.29, 39.  reflects the receptive taste of Prince Isaransundhorn, and most likely many of the Siamese aristocratic households during that time. Being one of the important princes of the court and later becoming King, Prince Isaransundhorn’s receptiveness for foreign food revealed the degree of intimacy existing between the political elite and foreign trade. Taste for foreign cuisine suggested that the prince and his household were probably comfortable sharing tables with foreign merchants and settlers. The familiarity with foreign dishes supports what Nidhi sees as the emergence of a new culture, forged by the Bangkok political elites closeness to mercantilism .62)Nidhi, ‘Bourgeois Culture and Early Bangkok Literature’, p.100-101. 

The mentioning of dishes like kaeng matsaman (matsaman curry), kaeng chute rang nok (birds’ nest soup), khanom chip (Chinese dumpling) in the KHKKW also reflected Bangkok’s ethnically plural demographic .63)Plian, MKHP, Book 1, p.32, 34, 37.  While some scholars have speculate that this culinary plurality may have existed in Ayutthaya as far back as the early seventeenth century through names of markets, folk legends, or foreigners’ observations, 64)Sombat, Kraya Niyai, p.38-77, 106-130: Santi Sawetwimon, ‘Bazaar Talat Lae A-han Batwithi’ (Bazaar, Market, and Street Food), in A-han Miti Hang Sastra lae Sin (Food in Science and Art), eds. Chongjit Angkatavanich and Kamon Chaiyasit, Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University Press, 2005, p. 92-99:  the KHKKW revealed for the first time how the Siamese assimilated foreign culinary influences in great detail. It also reflected the background of Princess Bunrod since many of these dishes were attributed to her. Princess Bunrod’s family, like many Ayutthaya evacuees came to settle along the waterways of Klong Bang Luang, next to King Taksin’s Thonburi palace. In spite of being born into a noble family, she made a living, as Sansanee Verasinchai points out, selling sweets until the age of fifteen .65)Sansanee Verasinchai, Luk Kaew Mia Kwan (Royal daughters and wives), Bangkok: Matichon: 1997, p.142.  It was during her time in Klong Bang Luang that she cultivated her cooking skills, and adopted foreign influence dishes from the ethnically diverse settlers in the area.

The diversity of foreign dishes appealed to consumers like Prince Isaransundhorn and Princess Bunrod. An example of this would be the way he describes the ‘mysterious Middle Eastern (khaek) allure of the chicken curry’ .66)From the passage about Luti, a type of Thai dish similar to Indian’s Roti; ‘Ocha Na Kaeng Kai, Khlang Khong Khaek Plaek Klin Ai’ from Plian, MKHP, Book 1, p.32. This fascination with foreign dishes and its ‘mysterious allure’ was rationalized by Lady Plian in the MKHP a century later. Lady Plian categorized KHHKW’s dishes according to the standard Thai nomenclature for foreignness like khaek, farang, and chin .67)Plian, MKHP, book 1, p.28-44, 121-23: Sombat, Kraya Niyai: and Khanom Mae Oey (Mommy’s Snack), Bangkok: Sarakadee, 2003. These labels are a form of what anthropologist, Pattana Kitiarsa, calls ‘Siamese Occidentalism’, a ‘Thai production system of power/knowledge based on specific historical and culture encounters with its Others’ .68)Pattana Kitiarsa, ‘Farang as Siamese Occidentalism’, Asia Research Institute Working Paper Series, No. 49, National University of Singapore, 2005. In the case of food, these encounters came from trade, migration, and particularly, the way Thai kings and Thai aristocracies made foreign dishes their own. This chapter will scrutinize the Thai adaptation of foreign food by using Braudel’s approach of ‘historical conjunctures’ to examine culinary influences that led to the composition of the KHKKW .69)Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Vol. II, p.892-900. 

What is Thai Cuisine?

‘Conjuncture’ is the term Braudel used to distinguish historical development that occurs between the near-constant duration of changes, the longue durée, and the short-term sequence of events, or histoire événementielle .70)Braudel, On History, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980, p.27. While the near- permanent dimension of history is determined by factors like ecology and climate, and the short-term dimension by people, ‘conjunctures’ are often associated with ‘chain of causality’ instigated by consistent sets of economic interaction and traffic of goods between regions over time, or the demographic dimension of a polity determined by movement of people .71)Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Vol. II, p.893, 899.

Applying the Braudelian approach to dissecting the Thai culinary landscape at the time the KHKKW was composed, three culinary conjunctures will be examined. The first two parts look at the seaborne culinary conjunctures, one coming from the West and another from the East of Siam. These two seaborne conjunctures are most apparent in the KHKKW. The last section will look at the hinterland culinary conjunctures, which are indistinctively represented in the KHKKW. Using other sources, the hinterland conjunctures represent a near constant culinary interaction that served as the foundation for the ‘high’ Siamese culinary code. This approach will reveal the culinary dynamic that led to the assembling of dishes in Rama II’s love poem; the earliest text that represent the Siamese ‘high’ kitchen.

King Rama II of Siam

King Rama II of Siam

Western Seaborne Culinary Conjunctures

Western culinary conjunctures identified by Lady Plian’s dissection of the KHHKH are the khaek and the farang influences. In the Thai language, these two terms are ambiguous because they are used to classify ‘Others’ in various ways. Khaek, for instance, is used to refer to South Asians, Middle Easterners, Persians, Indo-Malays, and most Asian Muslims.72) According to the Thai dictionary composed by the Royal Institute (Rachbanthitstan), the term khaek specifically excludes ‘Jews, North African, and African’. Phojananukrom Chabab Rachabanthitstan (Royal Institute’s Dictionary), Bangkok: Aksorn Charoen, 2003, p.205. The term farang is an adaptation from the medieval Arabic frangi and is used by Thais to indicate ‘every white-skinned foreigner’.73) Peleggi, Thailand: The Worldly Kingdom, p.205. The culinary usage of the two terms by scholarships on dishes represented in the KHKKW is that khaek signifies Islamic influence with a Persian accent, while farang signifies Portuguese influences. Farang cultural influence, in the context of food, can also be attributed to those settlers of European descend and Eurasian, who retained European culinary heritage. Scholars have attributed the localization of ‘high’ culinary concoction to two sites: the Ayutthaya aristocratic milieu centered on the royal court, and the foreign settlements in Klong Bang Luang, Thonburi.

Concerning the dishes attributed to farang in the KHKKW, most scholars have identified many of the dishes as originating in Ayutthaya. Sweet dishes in the KHKKW such as the thong yod, thong yip, and foi thong, is sometime collectively called khanom farang in the Thai culinary discourse.74)Sombat, Khanom Mae Oey, p.83-89. Lady Plian identified the concoction to be Portuguese and to have come from Portuguese traders. It was through these dishes, Lady Plian argued, that the European dessert cooking technique (using milk, butter, and egg, as well as the usage of the brick oven and European baking techniques), was localized.75) Plian, MKHP, book 1, p.122-123; book 3,p.437-439. Furthermore, she reported that King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, r.1853-1910) encountered similar sweets on his sojourn to Portugal in 1897.76)Ibid.

Historians Sansanee Verasinchai and Pramin Khruetong have attributed these culinary treats as emerging from the Portuguese settlement of Ayutthaya during the time of King Narai in the mid seventeenth century. The first farang to arrive in Siam were the Portuguese, who established an embassy to the court of Ayutthaya in 1511, following their capture of the port city of Malacca on the Malay peninsula. Prince Damrong wrote that a large number of Portuguese began to settle and build a trading station in Ayutthaya during the reign of King Chairacha (r.1534-1546) .77) Damrong, Thai Rob Phama (War between the Thais and the Burmese), Bangkok: Klang Vidhaya, 1962, p.188-189. The trade relation established between the Portuguese and Ayutthaya were soon followed by other similar arrangements with other farang – the Spanish, the Dutch, the English, the Danes and the French – throughout the sixteenth and the early seventeenth century. These early ‘European’ conjunctures brought not only new ingredients into Siam, but also new cooking techniques. The strongest link in this localization of culinary code is that between the Ayutthaya court and the Portuguese community of traders.

เฉลิมกรุงสโตร์ (Chalermkrung Store) กรุงเทพมหานคร (พระนคร) | Bangkok ถ่ายเมื่อปีค.ศ.1939 (พ.ศ.๒๔๘๒) Image Source: The Siam Hotel, Thailand

เฉลิมกรุงสโตร์ (Chalermkrung Store)
กรุงเทพมหานคร (พระนคร) | Bangkok
ถ่ายเมื่อปีค.ศ.1939 (พ.ศ.๒๔๘๒)
Image Source: The Siam Hotel, Thailand

In terms of the sweet delicacies mentioned in the poem, historians have pointed to the Thai adaptation by a Catholic lady called Maria Pina de Guimar, 78)Guimar has several names: Maria Pina de Guimar, Marie Gimard, Catherine de Torquema, Dona Guyomar de Pina. From Sansanee Verasinchai, ‘Thao Thong Kip Ma: Madame Phaulkon’ in, Tao Tong Keep Ma, Madame Phaulkon: Khanom Thai Rue Khanom Tet (Thao Thong Kip Ma, Madame Phaulkon: Thai Snack or Foreign Snack), Bangkok: Matichon, 2003, p.6. who worked for King Narai (r.1656-1688) as Thao Thong Kip Ma, the sweet/snack maker of the King.79)While many have attributed the title Tao Tong Keep Ma to be a variation of Guimar’s original name, Sombat have argued that it is an old Ayutthaya court title for sweet/snack cook. From Sombat, Khanom Mae Oey, p.88. Maria Guimar was of mixed Japanese, Portuguese, and Bengali ancestry. Historians believe that Guimar was born in Ayutthaya, a descendant of Yamada Nagamasa (1590-1630), a Japanese adventurer who advanced in the court of King Ekatotsarot (r.1605-1610) to become the ruler of Nakhon Si Thammarat, the largest Southern tributary town under the suzerainty of Ayutthaya. She was also the wife of Constantine Phaulkon, King Narai’s trusted chief adviser.

Thai scholar Pramin argues that because of Guimar’s Japanese ancestry, there are two possibilities for the dish’s provenance.80)Pramin Khruetong, ‘Toa Tong Keep Ma Dai Sud Khanom Thai Tong Yip Foi Tong Jak Portugate rue Yipuin’ (Did Toa Tong Keep Ma’s recipe for Tong Yod and Foi Tong came from Portugal or Japan), Thao Thong Kip Ma, Madame Phaulkon: Khanom Thai Rue Khanom Tet, p.127-128. Firstly, the culinary form could have been localized in the Portuguese and Japanese settlements in Ayutthaya. Another possibility is that it came from a ‘second-hand’ localization that had occurred in the sixteenth century in the Portuguese settlement in Nagasaki, and then came to Siam via the Japanese settlement in Ayutthaya. Regardless, the sweets are attributed to the Portuguese culinary code.

Like the farang, the khaek or Islamic culinary code is linked to another seventeenth- century trade network, the Ayutthaya-Persia trade.81)Santi Sawetwimon, Tumnan A-han Thai (Legends about Thai Food), Bangkok: Nammee Book, 1999: Sombat, Kraya Niyai: Thompson, Thai Food. Lady Plian classified five dishes in the KHKKW as being khaek: kaeng matsaman, khao buri luti, and muskot.82)Thanphuying Plian, MKHP, Book 1, p.32, 37.  Indeed, in the KHKKW, the first stanza reads: ‘matsaman curry is like a lover, as peppery and fragrant as the cumin seed. Its exciting allure would arouse any men. I am urged to seek its source’.83) My alteration from a partial English translation of the poem in, David Thompson, Thai Food. p.24-25. Scholars have approached the khaek culinary legacy by hypothesizing the story of individual dishes through their names. Khao buri or buri rice, for instance, is linked to the word ‘Kabuli’, a culinary form of rice-based dish deriving from the city of Kabul and influenced by the Persian ‘Briyani’- a dish of roasted rice mixed with herbs famously localized across the Malay World.84)Sombat, Kraya Niyai, p.64-66. The Siamese variation, according to Lady Plian, uses butter, milk, clove, coriander, cardamom, and peppercorn.85)Lady Plian wrote that this recipe came from her version of Prince Damrong’s recipe. See Plian, MKHP, Book 1, p.205-206. The sweet snack of muskot, its name deriving from the port city of Muscat in the Hormuz Strait, is also reputed to have arrived in Ayutthaya via the Persian trade, although some sources attribute it to the contacts with South Asian Muslims.86)Sombat argue that Musgot came from Persian traders, but he said that a Thai textbook attributed the sweets to Muslim Indians. See Sombat, Khanom Mae Oey, p.83-84.

Thonburi c1900 ธนบุรี พ.ศ.๒๔๔๓

Thonburi c1900
ธนบุรี พ.ศ.๒๔๔๓

The story of kaeng matsaman, according to gourmet David Thomson is intertwined with the House of Bunnag.87)Thompson, Thai Food, p.329. The house of Bunnag is a Thai aristocratic family descended from a Persian merchant, Sheikh Ahmad Qomi, native of Qom under the Safavid dynasty of Iran, who settled in Ayutthaya at the beginning of the seventeenth century. By the time of King Songtham (r.1611-1628), Sheikh Ahmad had risen to the position of Chao Krom Ta Kwa, literally ‘Lord of the Right Pier’, in charge of all seaborne trade traffic coming from the West to Ayutthaya. He also rose to the rank of Chularachamontri, the royal overseer of Muslims in Siam. 88) In the early days, the position of Chularachamontri was dominated by the Achmad’s decendant and Shiite Muslim both in Ayuthaya as well as in the Chakri Court of Bangkok. It was not until the post World War II government of Pridi Banomyong (1900-1983), who appointed Cham Phonhomyong, or Sumsudin Mustapha (1901-1989), in 1945, that a Sunni filled the position of Chularachamontri. See Pinya Bunnag, Muslim Phunam ‘Pratom Chularachamontri’ Khon Rak Nai Siam: Kan Duean Thang Kong Than Sheik Achmed (Muslim Leader ‘The first Chularachamontri’ in Siam: the travels of Sheik Achmad), Bangkok: Matichon, 2005.

It is possible that Thompson attributes the kaeng matsaman to the Sheik because he was given its recipe by a member of the Bunnag family 89)From Jib Bunnag, Lady Plian’s granddaughter. Thompson, Thai Food, p.133, 329. but his view is also echoed by Thai scholar Santi Sawetwimon.90) Santi Sawetwimon, Tumnan A-han Thai, p.20. Santi even takes it further by arguing that the various Ayutthaya courts, because of their close relation with the Bunnag since the time of Sheik Achmad Qomi, employed many Persian and Indian Muslim cooks.91)Ibid., p.45-47.

He supports his claim by pointing to the record of the Persian diplomat, Ibn Muhammad Ibrahim, who was part of an embassy sent by Shah Sulaiman of the Safavid (r. 1666-1694) to the court of King Narai. Wherever the concoction of kaeng matsaman took place, both Thomson and Santi point to Persia as its source, and the Bunnag in particular. The Bunnag, apart from being a very powerful family connected to various courts until the present time, plays an important role in culinary transmission, noticeably by the fact that Lady Plian herself was married to a Bunnag.92)Jib Bunnag, the lady who gave David Thompson the recipes for kaeng matsaman is the descendant of Lady Plian. From Sombat, Kraya Niyai, p. 61: and Thompson, Thai Food, p.329.

Beyond seventeenth-century Ayutthaya’s aristocratic milieu, the farang and the khaek culinary codes were also transmitted to Siam from another site: communities that were situated next to each other in the vicinity of Klong Bang Luang in Thonburi. The Portuguese settlement is located in a Catholic neighborhood now called Kudi Chin, an area synonymous with khanom farang.93)Paladisai Sithithanyakij, Krueng Thep Sueksa (Bangkok Study), Bangkok: Buntuek Siam, 2008, p.151. The Portuguese began to settle in this area since establishing regular trade with Ayutthaya. Its population grew exponentially with Portuguese, Thais with Portuguese ancestry, and other Catholics escaping from the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. The center of the present day community is the Santa Cruz Catholic Church, which was originally built in 1770. Thai scholar Sombat argues that the name of khanom farang such as tong yod, tong yip, and foi tong was only coined in Thai during the reign of King Buddha Yodfa Chulalok (Rama I, r.1782-1809), from various khanom farang available from Kudi Chin.94)  Sombat, Khanom Mae Oey, p.88-89. This etymology, he argues, makes the Ayutthayan roots of these items, while still probable, questionable.

นนทบุรี | Nonthaburi ถ่ายเมื่อปีค.ศ.1969 (พ.ศ.๒๕๑๒)

นนทบุรี | Nonthaburi
ถ่ายเมื่อปีค.ศ.1969 (พ.ศ.๒๕๑๒)

Regarding the khaek culinary conjunctures, the Islamic community of Klong Bang Luang is centered on the seventeenth-century masjid Ton Son, which is now a Sunni Mosque. Originally populated by Persians and their Shitte converts, the area’s population also grew as a result of the Persian exodus out of Ayutthaya in 1767, and a new mosque, masjid Bang Luang, was built during this time. Many of the surviving Ayutthaya nobles close to the Bunnag family also settled in this area, noticeably Princess Bunrod, to whom the KHKKW was dedicated. Perhaps it was during this time that she picked up the various culinary traits along the confluence of waterways of Klong Bang Luang and the adjacent Kudi Chin.

This hypothesis is supported by Sombat’s argument that dishes like kaeng matsaman are actually local concoctions by local Islamic communities in Siam. This is because the word matsaman came from the Persian and Arabic musliman or ‘Muslim’, so that kaeng matsaman means simply the curry of the Muslim.95) Sombat, Kraya Niyai, p.44. The Persian/Shiite aristocrats, like the Bunnag, might have named the dish thus.

Today, Klong Bang Luang is known as Yan Talat Khaek, or khaek market. Scholar San Sawewimon identifies the mixed immigration and emigration of various Islamic groups, from Shiite to Sunni, and other ethnicities that came to and left this area throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.96) Santi Sawetwimon, ‘Bazaar, Talat lae A-han Batwiti’ (Bazaar, Market, and Street Food), A-han Miti Hang Sastra and Sin, p.97. Further, scholar Prayurasak Chlaidecha points out the harmonious relation between Thai Shiite and Sunni in Bangkok during the three years they shared the Ton Son Mosque after the fall of Ayutthaya.97)Prayurasak Chlaidecha, Muslim Nai Pratet Thai (Muslim in Thailand), Bangkok: Hor Samut Klang Islam, 1996. According to him, the Sunni and Shiite in the Bangkok-Thonburi area practically lived together in this particular community. One of the reasons that led the Muslim to settle in this area, San argues, was the market selling Halal produce. From its Persian origin, the area was populated in the early twentieth century by Malay Sunnis from Pattani after the sultanate of Pattani was annexed by Siam in 1909. From the middle of the twentieth century until now, the area has been largely populated by Muslims from South Asia.98)The Malay Pattani moved to settle in Tanon Tani in modern day area of ‘Bang Lampu’ in ‘Koh Rattanakosin’. Santi Sawetwimon, ‘Bazaar, Talat lae A-han Batwiti’, p.97. The distinction of Islamic sects in Bangkok is probably less important in the making of a community, than their ethnic origin.

ถนนสี่พระยา (Si Phraya Road) กรุงเทพมหานคร (พระนคร) | Bangkok ถ่ายเมื่อปีค.ศ.1948 (พ.ศ.๒๔๙๑) Photographer: จิตต์ จงมั่นคง (Chitt Chongmankhong)

ถนนสี่พระยา (Si Phraya Road)
กรุงเทพมหานคร (พระนคร) | Bangkok
ถ่ายเมื่อปีค.ศ.1948 (พ.ศ.๒๔๙๑)
Photographer: จิตต์ จงมั่นคง (Chitt Chongmankhong)

On whether the concoction of foreign influenced dishes in the KHKKW happened in Ayutthaya or in old settlements in Thonburi, this much is certain: the majority of these dishes are attributed to trade with the ‘west’, which began from the seventeenth century onwards, led by the Portuguese and Persian trade networks. These networks brought about cultural influences, religions and most importantly, people to settle on the Siamese shores, enabling further localizations and interactions. Further, Western seaborne conjunctures introduced a series of new crops such as papaya (malako) and various kinds of chili peppers (known in Thai as phrik tet) 99) Borrowing a terminology coined by Kukrit Pramoj, from Thannet Wongyannawa, ‘Prab Lin Chin Hai Pen Lin Thai’(Adjusting Chinese Palate into Thai), Khamkhop Fah: 60 Pee Shigeharu Tanabe (Across the Sky: Sixty Years of Shigeharu Tanabe), Bangkok: SAC, 2007, p.306. to Siam, as a result of a great historical event known as the Columbian Exchange. 100)The phenomenon is attributed the moment that Christopher Columbus’s voyage landed in the Americas in 1492. By bringing back a series of new crops, both animals and plants from the new world, the Spaniards initiated one of the most significant global change to the culinary landscape from Africa to Europe and Asia. For further see Jean-Louis Flandrin, ‘The Early Modern Period’, in Food: Culinary History from Antiquity to the Present, edited by Jean-Louis Flandrin, Massimo Montanari, and Albert Sonnenfeld, New York: Penguin, 2000, p.355-373.  The legacy of these crops introduction is enormous since most Thai dishes today utilize American chili peppers. 101) Montip Sittipipat, ‘Phrik Thai’ (Thai Chili), in Kin Bab Thai, Bangkok: Sang Dad, 1999, pp.151-165.

In short, the Ayutthayan trade with the West can be seen as part of a larger economic conjuncture of the Indian Ocean trade system of the sixteenth to the middle of the eighteenth century. 102) K.N. Chaudhuri, Asia before Europe: Economy and Civilization of the Indian Ocean from the rise of Islam to 1750, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990; Michael Pearson, The Indian Ocean, London: Routledge 2003.  The dynastic transition in 1688 led to the decline of Siamese Western trade in terms of its importance to the crown as well as trade volume. Some have argued that this was part of the new ruling dynasty’s xenophobia, which led to a more ‘isolationistic’ foreign policy. 103)Michael Smithies ed., Witnesses to a Revolution: Siam 1688, Bangkok: Siam Society, 2004; E.W. Hutchinson, Adventurers in Siam in the Seventeenth Century, London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1940.  Others, like Dhiravat na Pombejra, saw it as part of the a political transition which realigned of trade, particularly with the Chinese and other non-European partners, helped the post-1688 rulers consolidated their power. 104) Dhiravat na Pombejra, ‘Ayutthaya at the End of the Seventeenth Century: Was There a Shift to Isolation?’, in Southeast Asia in the Early Modern Era, ed. Anthony Reid, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993, pp.250-272.  The issue of administrative decline, Dhiravat argues, has to be analyzed separately from the realm of culture. 105)Ibid., p.272.  In this regard, the culinary conjunctures that had taken roots from the sixteenth century onwards made a lasting impact upon Siamese society and its royal court in spite of later political development.

Eastern Seaborne Culinary Conjunctures

The eastern seaborne culinary conjuncture, or the chin conjuncture, is the food influence that came to Siam from China. Being in close proximity to Siam, the seaborne trade with China is a much older culinary conjuncture, stretching back to the thirteenth and fourteenth century. 106)A Fourteenth century Han Chinese Wok, or Krata was unearthed by archeologist in Chonburi. Suchit, Khao Pla A-han Thai: Tummai? Majakhnai, p.123.  By the fifteenth century, Ayutthaya had become a crossroad between the Chinese and the Indian Ocean trade systems. 107)Baker and Pasuk, A History of Thailand, p.10.  Because of this historical link, many of the Thai cooking methods have been adopted from the Chinese. Thai vernacular kitchen utensils, such as the anglo or terracotta brazier, the krata kon luek or wok, and taliw or spatula, as well as the technique of phat or stir- fry, have all been localized from Chinese culinary practice, in particular the Hokkien dialect group. 108)Sombat, Krua Thai, pp.14, 38.  Even the Thai word gaeng (curry) is believed to be of Chinese origin because of its similarity to the word used in various Southern Chinese dialects. 109)Sombat, Kraya Niyai, p.57.  These culinary influences possibly were introduced during the Ayutthaya period or an even earlier stage due to the contacts the Thais had with Chinese culture.

sansen-1911

Samsen Road, Bangkok c1911

The chin communities in Siam can be divided according to their dialect differences, signifying their point of origin from the southern part of China. In Siam there were five groups of chin settlers based on their dialect: Hokkien, Teochew, Hainanese, Cantonese, and Hakka. 110) Pimprapai Pisanbut, Sampao Siam: Tumnan Chek Bangkok (Siamese Junk: Legends of Chek in Bangkok), Bangkok: Nammee Books, 2001, p.110.  In this discussion of culinary conjuncture, the chin conjunctures can be divided into two strands according to their influences: one dominated by the Hokkien from the fifteenth century onwards, and another by the Teochew, a strand which is interwoven with the rise of Bangkok in the nineteenth century.

From the early 1400s, the Hokkien had dominated the Chinese trading networks that linked Ming China with Ayutthaya. Trade networks had been formally established since the voyage of Admiral Cheng Ho, who visited Ayutthaya in 1408. 111)Pimprapai Pisanbut, Sampao Siam, p. 44-45.  Historian Pimprapai points out that Prince Nakorn Inn, who later became king of Ayutthaya in 1409 (King Nakharinthara Thirat, r. 1409-1424), visited the Ming Imperial court in Beijing in 1377, a fact that shows how the relations between the Ming court and Ayutthaya flourished during that time. 112)Ibid.

chinese-in-siam

After the fall of the Ming Dynasty and the rise of the Qing (Manchu) in 1644, a large number of Hokkien Chinese fled the Middle Kingdom and joined the Hokkien community in Ayutthaya. Many Hokkien merchants were ennobled by the Ayutthaya Kings during those times, and a network of alliances was established between the Thai court and the Hokkien community. The Chinese foodway was certainly distinctive. The Talad Chin or Chinese market in Ayutthaya was unique in that it offered meats that were not available in other markets. 113) Phraya Boran Rachatanintra, Tumnan Krung Kao, Bangkok: Mahamakut, 1960, p.71-72.  The seventeenth century French diplomat to the court of King Narai, Simon de la Loubère (1642-1729), observed that the Chinese can eat anything, ‘even cats, dogs, horses, asses, and mules’. 114) Simon de la Loubère, The Kingdom of Siam, Part II, Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1986, p.37.

This link between the Hokkien community and the Ayutthaya court, nevertheless, was not as strong as the link between the nobles and the farang and the khaek. At the height of Ayutthaya’s fortunes as a trade entrepôt during the ‘Age of Commerce’, 115)According to Anthony Reid, this was between 1400-1650. See Anthony Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680, Vol. I and II, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1988.  the attention of the court lay with the trade networks of the Indian Ocean rather than trade with the East. Historian Pimprapai stresses this uneven attention by arguing that while the rise of the House of Bunnag was well-documented, there were no substantial records of the ‘Left Pier’ who was in charge of the trade with the East. While the office of Chodikrachasethi, the noble position of the chin as royal overseer of the Chinese community equivalent to the Chularachamontri for the khaek, was created, the degree of importance was different. The noble rank of Chao Phraya (Lord) was given to all Chularachamontri from its creation, whereas the Chodikrachasethi was only granted the rank of Luang (lesser lord), a less senior status in the Siamese court. 116) Pimprapai, Sampao Siam, p.58. This unevenness in rank signified the court of Ayutthaya fixation with Western trade during the ‘Age of Commerce’, the fixation that was only transformed after its fall in 1767.

This unevenness of the royal court’s attention to trade with China during the ‘Age of Commerce’ nevertheless does not reflect continued Chinese migration into Siam. According to W.G. Skinner, the Sino-Thai trade since the beginning of the fifteenth century grew and flourished in the form of private trade up to the fall of Ayutthaya. 117)G. William Skinner, Chinese Society in Thailand: an Analytical History, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1957, p.7-15.  Despite a brief disruption in the 1620’s, 118) During the reign of King Ekatotsarot, the Japanese settlers in Ayutthaya gained enormous influent with the Thai court, and dominated trade between Siam and other foreign countries. The situation improved for the Chinese during the reign of King Prasat Thong (r.1629-1656), the father of King Narai. Coming to power as an upsurper, King Prasat Thong eradicate the influential Japanese element at the court due to their possible opposition to his rule. In 1632, he drove the Japanese out of the country. After this event, the Japanese trade passed almost entirely into the Chinese hands. See Skinner, Chinese Society in Thailand, p.8-9.  or the inauguration of the royal monopoly in 1629, 119) Introduced by King Prasat Thong. See Skinner, Chinese Society in Thailand, p.6, 9.  the Chinese private traders were well established and flourished across Siam. Unaffected by the isolationistic turn in foreign policy due to dynastic transition in 1688, the Chinese trade during this time expanded, largely by incorporating the European share of Siam’s Eastern trade.

Skinner argues that the reason why the Chinese thrived during Siam’s isolationism was due to the fact that they ‘were never considered foreigners by the Thai’. 120) Skinner, Chinese Society in Thailand: an Analytical History, p.11.

Perhaps it is more apt to say that Chinese have interacted with the Thai for a very long period of time and that the Thais, like many other ethnic groups in mainland Southeast Asia, have been influenced by Chinese culture for centuries, thus making things Chinese less ‘foreign’. As an ethnic group that conducted seaborne trade, the Chinese position in Siam was unique in comparison to others. Because of this, the uneven attention they received by the Ayutthaya court in contrast to farang and khaek does not reflect their cultural impact on the Siamese cultural landscape. The influences that the chin dialect groups have, particularly the contrast between the Hokkien and the Teochew, need to be further examined.

Throughout the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there was also a steady migration of Teochew Chinese to Siam. Unlike the Hokkien, who enjoyed favor from the Ayutthaya court, the Teochew community in Ayutthaya was located in the disreputable port area of Ban Suan Plu, outside the city walls. Apart from Ayutthaya, Pimprapai traced the Teochew migration during this period and pointed out that most of the Teochew settled along the east coast of Siam during this time in places like Cha Cheong Sao, Bang Pra Kong River delta, Bang Pla Soi, Koh Kong, Bang La Mung, and Chan Tra Boon River Delta (Chantaburi). 121)Pimprapai, Sampao Siam, p.95.  It was there that the Teochew thrived on farming. The planting of crops like peppercorn, cardamon, and eagle wood that were synonymous with the area is attributed to the Teochew settlers. 122)Ibid.  From there, the Teochew traded with both Ayutthaya and Khmer coastal towns along the Gulf of Siam.

The turning point for the Teochew community in Siam came with the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 and the subsequent rise of King Taksin, whose father was a Teochew tax collector. Historian Edward Van Roy points out that the legendary flight of Phraya Tak (King Taksin) from beleaguered Ayutthaya followed the path of Teochew migration to the east coast of Siam to the towns of Chonburi, Rayong, and Chathaburi. 123)Edward Van Roy, ‘Sampheng: from ethnic isolation to national integration’, SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, 23:1 (2008): 1(29) Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. National University of Singapore Lib. 5 Aug 2009,  The Ayutthaya Teochew escaped the war by land to join their communities along the east coast of Siam, while the Hokkien left the capital by their junks and sailed south to places like Surat, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Songkhla, all traditional Siamese settlements under the Ayutthayan tributary system. 124) Ibid.

According to Nidhi, the political landscape during the post-1767 Siamese revival can be understood in terms of King Taksin’s newfound support received from the Teochew, 125)The Teochew support for King Taksin is exemplified by their label of ‘Chin Luang’ or Royal’s Chinese, from Nidhi, Karn Muang Thai Samai Pra Chao Krung Thonburi (Thai politics during the reign of Thonburi King), Bangkok: Matichon, 1993,p.135.  and the lack of support from the old Ayutthayan Hokkien. Nidhi explains that some of these Hokkien have enjoyed favors from the old Ayutthayan political system, and some even rose to prominent positions, and thus were not keen on the way King Taksin bestowed royal favors towards the Teochew. Prominent Hokkien descendants, like the ruler of Songkhla for example, turned to support Phraya Chakri’s faction when King Taksin was overthrown. 126)Ibid., p.137.  After establishing Thonburi as his royal capital, King Taksin honoured his alliance with the Teochew by giving them land on the east bank of the Chaophraya River, opposite his Thonburi palace. During this time, many Teochew families rose to prominence through the favor they enjoyed from Taksin’s court. King Taksin encouraged more Teochew migration from China to Siam to revive the economy. 127)Baker and Pasuk, A History of Thailand, p.32-33.  Many of the older Teochew settlers on the Siamese east coast also moved to the new settlement allocated by King Taksin on the east bank of the Chaophraya during this period. 128)Pimprapai, Sampao Siam, p.155.  The Hokkien- Teochew divide can still be seen in the physical landscape of Bangkok-Thonburi today. Most old Hokkien temples are located in Thonburi, whereas most of the old Teochew temples are on Koh Rattankosin, in Bangkok. 129)Ibid. pp.112-113, 155-156.

The subsequent regime change brought about by Rama I reversed the Teochews’ fortune. In his bid to ‘rebuild a new Ayutthaya’, Rama I brought back the aristocracy- Hokkien alliance of the old order. With the new Chakri ruler, the site of the new royal palace was chosen to be a Teochew settlement on the east bank of the Chaophraya, thus forcing the Teochew settlers, who numbered around five Thousand 130)Van Roy, ‘Sampeng’. to move to the port area of Sampeng. The trade policy of King Taksin, though, was not reversed, and Chinese and Teochew immigrants in particular continued to flow into the new capital of Bangkok. It was not until the time of Rama IV that the court again turned its attention to the West, notably due to the threat from Western imperialism. The rise of Thonburi and Bangkok from late eighteenth century up until the Bowring treaty in 1855 was owed mostly to the Chinese junk trade and migrants.

The KHKKW reflects the attitude of the Ayutthayan aristocracy of favoring the West over Siam’s Eastern relations. Only one dish was classified as chin by Lady Plian, and it was the gaeng chued rang nok or Birds’ nest soup, 131) Plian, MKHP, Book 1, p.34.   although persimmon fruit, which the Thai call plab chin, was also included. If one returns to the metaphor that the poem was a ‘window into Princess Bunrod’s kitchen’, the inclusion of only one dish is a surprising revelation. This is because Princess Bunrod’s father, Chao Khrue Ngoen, was a prominent Hokkien trader in the court of Ayutthaya. 132) Pimprapai, Sampao Siam, p.114.  Perhaps the simple explanation is that she learnt to cook from her Thai mother, Princess Sri Sudarak (c.1739-1799), rather than her Chinese father. Or perhaps this is just another example of the nature of cultural assimilation, in culinary terms at least, between the Thai, the Chinese, and all the other urban dwellers during that time.

In terms of the dish, the choice of birds’ nest soup is also interesting since the harvesting of birds’ nests, was a form of ‘revenue farming’ that required the crown’s permission. Most of the notable birds’ nest harvesters at the time of early Bangkok were Hokkien Chinese. 133) Ibid., p.135-136.  This may reflect the Hokkien role in the court culinary concoction. Nevertheless, it still a minimal role compared to the Western conjunctures of khaek and farang. The importance of the Chinese conjunctures only came after the age of Rama II. In the dissection of the KHKKW, Lady Plian added seven more stenzas to Rama II’s original poem to include seven more dishes from the Chinese repertoire. 134)Plian, MKHP, Book 1, p.34-36.  The confluence of the Chinese conjuncture with the ‘high’ culinary code of the Thai will be discussed in subsequent chapters.

Hinterland Culinary Conjunctures 

The Braudelian approach of conjuncture has so far provided a picture of various culinary codes localized through seaborne interactions. Taking this methodology beyond the KHKKW to analyze the Thai culinary code, a culinary constant is revealed: the interaction between Thai muang and its hinterland. The hinterland culinary influence is less obvious than the seaborne conjuncture because it reflected a longer time span in culinary localization and it relies mostly on the basic ingredients of different regions, which are largely ignored in the historical record. This culinary constant represents a Thai culinary ‘low’.

Scholars have been forced to use language, archeological finds, and calculated guesses to locate the culinary constant. Various Thai lexical and culinary adaptations from older civilizations, like the Khmer or the Mon, are revealed in language. For example, the Thai word for snack (khanom) is derived from an old Khmer word, which bears close resemblance to other neighboring languages like Lao. 135)Sombat, Khanom Mae Oey, p.17-19.

The hinterland culinary constant largely reaffirmed the Thai cultural affiliation with, to borrow Peleggi’s terminology, the Indic or Theravada oecumene. 136)Peleggi, Thailand: The Worldly Kingdom, p.12.

Going back to Sombat’s identification of the vernacular culinary code, the food of the chao chonabot or rural people, stands in contrast to his idea that the Thai muang is the place where a more complicated culinary concoction occurs. Sombat further argues that while the complicated codes are formulated in the muang, the ‘popular’ diet, consisting of rice, fish, nam phrik and its accompaniment, did not change much for ordinary people who migrated to the town from the countryside. 137)Sombat Plainoi, Krua Thai, p.66.

eating-siamese

Surviving the test of time, a common expression like kin khao kin pla, literally ‘eat rice eat fish’, is still used both as a reference to food and a form of greeting in contemporary Thai culture, reflecting this culinary constant.

The meal of chao chonabot can then be classified as the ‘low’ culinary code that was not restricted to the rural diet, but was also the staple among the urban vernacular diet. In Thai culture, the representation of ‘rice’ and ‘fish’ possessed social potency. It symbolized the prosperity and abundance of the land, as well as the staple foundation of the Thai diet. The correlation between the vernacular staple of rice and fish with the land of the Thais comes from its mention in the thirteenth-century stone inscription of King Ramkhamhang of Sukhothai (1279-1298). The inscription’s famous line, ‘there is fish in the rivers, there is rice in the fields’, 138)From Face 1, Line 16: ‘There are fish in the rivers, there are rice in the fields. The Lord does no levy toll on his Subjects.’, Luang Wichit Wathakan, Charuek Phorkhun Ramkhamhaeng (Ramkhamhang Stone Inscription), Bangkok: Prajan, 1934, pp. 19, 35-36. was arguably made popular in the 1950s by Luang Wichit Wathakan’s (1898-1962) nationalist song, rather than the inscription itself. 139) From Luang Wichit Wathakan’s song Nai Nam Mee Pla, Nai Na Mee Khao (There are fish in the rivers, there is rice in the fields) in the play ‘Arnuparp Phorkhun Ramkhamhaeng’, 1954.

The association between rice and fish with the abundance of the land had a cultural currency long before the age of nationalism. It has long existed, argues Thaweethong Hongwiwat, in the Thai language and in various poetic expressions. 140)Thaweethong Hongwiwat, Khrua Thai, Wattanatum A-han Khrue Pumipak, Khrue Tong Tin, Lae A- han Pean Ban Khong Thai (Thai Kitchen, culinary culture of regional kitchen, provincial kitchen, and folk cuisine), Bangkok: Sang Dad, 2002, p. 117-129.

The connection between the vernacular diet and the land conceptualized in the language reveals the historical roots of the ‘popular’ culinary form.

Besides the staple of rice and fish, there is nam phrik, a chili paste, the most basic staple of Thai diets from all regions. The modern Thai culinary repertoire has identified over one hundred different variations. 141)One recipe book has over one hundred and twenty-three types of Nam Phrik recipes in it. See Duangduean Pisalabut, Nam Phrik Roy Rod (One Hundred Taste of Chilly Pastes), Bangkok: Monkol, 1974.

Gourmet David Thompson identifies nam phrik as the ‘most ancient style of Thai dish’, with basic ingredients combined by using ‘the primitive crucible’ of pestle and mortar. 142)Thompson, Thai Food, p.188.

Thompson argues that the popular ingredient of thua nao, or fermented soybeans, popularly used in some nam phrik especially in the Lanna and Lao culinary codes suggests that nam phrik could have possibly come to the Thai culinary universe from China. 143)Ibid.

Instead, the renowned monk Buddhadasa Bhikkhu attributed nam phrik to the localization of old Indian forms, coming perhaps since the spread of Theravada Buddhism into mainland Southeast Asia. 144)From a quote provided by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu in Jan Ap, Nam Phrik See Pak (Nam phrik from four region), Bangkok: Phumpanya, 2003, In p.6.

This explains why in the modern Thai culinary repertoire, there are nam phrik with names like Nam Phrik Phama (Burmese nam phrik), Nam Phrik Karen (Karen nam phrik), and even Nam Phrik Singapore (Singaporean nam phrik). 145)Jan Ap, Nam Phrik See Pak, pp.26, 57, 58.

The last example reflects the fluid usage of the word nam phrik in naming various kinds of chili paste according their regional affiliation.

Travelers to Siam in the nineteenth century all observed the Siamese basic diet composed of rice and fish. Their observations form sketches of the nature of the urban vernacular culinary code of Bangkok of that time. The American Reverend Noah A. McDonald (1830-1897), who came to Siam as a Protestant missionary from 1860 until 1886, observed this culinary practice and suggested that the simple diet of rice and fish was due to religious beliefs. 146)Rev. Noah A. McDonald, A Missionary in Siam (1860-1870), Bangkok: White Lotus, 1999, p.52 Sir John Bowring (1792-1872), the British Ambassador to the court of Rama IV in 1855 also observed the Siamese ‘popular’ diet of rice and nam phrik. 147)Sir John Bowring, The Kingdom and People of Siam; With a Narrative of the Mission to that Country in 1855, Volume II, London: John W. Parker and Son, 1857, p.108-111. Bowring’s observation highlights the element of class distinction in the basic diet, noticeably in his description of the Siamese consumption of rice. ‘Rice’ he remarked, ‘is used by the poor as the main aliment of life; by the opulent as an accompaniment to their meals, as bread in Europe’. 148)Ibid., p.111.

In the same period, Anna Leonowens (1831-1915), the famed English governess to the court of King Mongkut, also described a ‘popular’ fish commonly consumed by the Thais in Bangkok. She identified the plathu, which she thought was a kind of sardine, as a staple of the Siamese diet. She observed: ‘The stream is rich in fish of excellent quality and flavor, such as is found in most of the great rivers of Asia; and is especially noted for its plathu, a kind of sardine, so abundant and cheap that it forms a common seasoning to the laborer’s bowl of rice. The Siamese are experts in modes of drying and salting fish of all kinds, and large quantities are exported annually to Java, Sumatra, Malacca, and China’. 149)Anna Harriette Leonowens, The English Governess at the Siamese Court, London: Trubner & Co., 1870, p.3. The plathu remains until today the ‘popular’ fish eaten by Thais of the Central Plain.

The picture of constant conjuncture is reaffirmed by the earliest known foreign record of the Thai ‘popular’ culinary code. The most famous of these was the seventeenth- century account from la Loubère. During his time in Ayutthaya, la Loubère not only observed that the basic diet of the Siamese was rice and fish, but he also provided a recipe for nam phrik. He wrote about nam phrik in detail by first describing it as ‘the common sauce accompaniment to the Siamese meal’. This sauce is ‘plain, like adding water with some spices, garlic, chibols (type of onion), and sometime with Baulm’, and incorporated with ‘a mustard like sauce, which consisted of Cray Fish corrupted (fermented fish); which they called krapi’.150)la Loubère, The Kingdom of SIam, p.35. What la Loubère described was a basic variation of nam phrik, possibly a common recipe collected during his embassy to Ayutthaya.

Prine Narathip (1861-1931), who first translated la Loubère’s text into Thai, made an interesting remark in brackets after this section stating that ‘la Loubère’s nam phrik was probably not tasty (mai aroi) because it lacks sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and too much use of chibols’. 151)See Prince Narathip translation of la Loubère’s text. He stated that ‘la Loubère tum nam phrik mai a aroi kad namtan (suger), manaw (lime), nam pla (fish sauce) kern hua hom (too much Chibols)’.

This last part means that the three ingredients left out could have balance the flavor of the Chibols. Simon de la Loubère, la Loubère Pen Jodmaihet Pongsawadan Siam Khrang Krung Sri Ayutthaya Pandin Somdej Pra Narai Maharajjao (la Loubère’s letters: Siamese Chronicle of Ayutthaya During the Reign of King Narai the Great), Vol. 2, translated from English by Prince Narathip Prapanpong, Bangkok: Preedalai, 1908. p.121. The Thai translator’s remark on a translation reveals the potent connection between flavor, as created through ingredients, and the general understanding of this particular Thai dish, despite the two centuries time gap between the original text, written in 1691, and the Thai translation, done in 1908.

Prince Narathip’s remark also reveals two dynamics at work in the Thai culinary landscape. Firstly, it shows the unchanged culinary ‘form’. The culinary matrix of nam phrik is automatically recognized two centuries later through simple description of its ingredients. Secondly, it reveals the pace of change in the cooking process of the nam phrik. Prince Narathip’s suggestion of adding ingredients perhaps corresponds to the culinary trend of the Prince’s own times. It could also represent, to use Mintz terminology, the ‘bowdlerization’ of nam phrik in the way early twentieth- century Bangkok absorbed and altered the seventeenth-century Ayutthaya version of nam phrik learnt by la Loubère.152)Mintz, Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom, p.115. Regardless of the change, the fact that Prince Narathip recognized la Loubère’s description reveals the historical constant of the culinary form conceptually.

This conceptual relationship of the culinary form, nam phrik, to its actual variations in different historical contexts and urban settings reveals another aspect of the analysis of ‘cuisine’: the distance between the language describing the culinary code, and the actual dishes prepared in the kitchen. This distance also represents the cultural gap between the ‘popular’ dish, qualified by regional and ingredient constraint, and the ‘high’ invention of the urban center. This issue of the culinary language will be explored in the following chapter.

This chapter has tried to portray the formulation of a distinctive Thai kitchen, using Braudelian concepts and the KHKKW. Whether one believes that the culinary repertoire in the poem came from the court of Ayutthaya, or that it came from the confluence of culinary traits along Thonburi’s Klong Bang Luang, the KHKKW itself has become the text to which the present day Thai culinary code subscribes. The first theory can also be attributed to the fact that the Chakri family was close to the majority of the ‘foreign’ aristocrats of Ayutthaya through intermarriage. Thus, the

culinary repertoire might have come from the Chakri’s family kitchen.153)David Wyatt, ‘Family Politics in Seventeenth-and-Eighteenth-Century Siam’, Studies in Thai History, Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1994, p.102. The second theory attributes the food repertoire in the KHKKW to the confluence of cultures in the early settlement of Thonburi. In a way, Rama II and Princess Bunrod were the first Thai gastronomes in ‘describing a world in which eating was not a biological imperative, but an artistic passion’.154)Rebecca L. Spang, The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000, p.150. From this perspective, the KHKKW, I would argue, represents the first Thai gastronomic record, the first Thai text that initiates the public culture of good eating. Here, the idealized Thai kitchen was first articulated, and the king and his queen were its gourmets.

Establishing the Thai Culinary Language: Cultivating the Self and Others and the Birth of the Thai Cookbook

The birth of the Thai cookbook made possible the public discussion and transmission of Thai culinary knowledge. Prior to this, culinary knowledge was transmitted orally in the setting of private cultural space. Lady Plian’s MKHP was the first Thai cookbook that was published in an era that can be call the age of siwilai. Historian Thongchai Winichakul has defined siwilai in the context of Western Imperialist threat as ‘an attempt originated among the elite, later including urban intellectuals, to attain and confirm the relative superiority of Siam’.155)Thongchai Winichakul, ‘The Quest for ‘Siwilai’: A Geographical Discourse of Civilizational Thinking in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century Siam’, The Journal of Asian Studies, 59: 3, (2000), p.529. As a traditional regional power, Thongchai explains, Siam was anxious about its position among modern nations. Peleggi attributes this process of siwilai to the way the Thai royal elite ‘re-fashioned’ themselves, ‘both as individuals and as a social group, vis-à-vis their aspiration to status and authority in the late nineteenth-century globalized arena’.156)Peleggi, Lords of Things: The Fashioning of the Siamese Monarchy’s Modern Image, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2002, p. 3. In short, the Siamese elite during the time of Lady Plian aspired to be part of the modern European world order.

In the culinary realm, the ‘re-fashioning’ of the Thai Self expressed in the MKHP came about through the gradual cultivation of culinary Self-awareness; a process that happened long before Lady Plian published her book. The chapter traced this gradual process by looking at a variety of sources, including fiction, memoirs, and travels literature. The first part looks at the legacy of the KHKKW and the way Rama II  conceptualized the Siamese culinary code. The second part looks at the transformation of the Siamese culinary worldview over the course of the nineteenth- century, locating the Bowring Treaty of 1855 as the rupture that shifted the Siamese understanding of Self and Others. The last part examines the birth of the Thai cookbook and the establishment of Thai culinary language.

The Legacy of the KHKKW

The culinary knowledge reflected in the KHKKW represents Rama II’s role as the collector of diverse culinary codes, the royal court’s role as the center of culinary culture, and cosmopolitan Siamese urban subjects as the repository of that culture. In order to understand the legacy of the KHKKW, the process of negotiation between the center of the culinary culture and the repository must firstly be analyzed. This is because this process of negotiation established a platform for the construction of Thai culinary language a century later. The approaches from two case studies of early nineteenth-century French culinary culture, conducted by Priscilla Ferguson and Julia Scergo,157)Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, ‘Is Paris France?’, The French Review, 73: 6, 2000, pp.1052-1064: Julia Csergo, ‘The Emergence of Regional Cuisines’, in Food: A Culinary History from Antiquity to the present, pp.500-515. are applicable in understanding the legacy of the KHKKW.

Ferguson and Scergo have independently identified the construction of a cohesive French culinary language, used to communicate both Parisian and regional culinary codes, as a product of the French revolution of 1789 and the urbanization of Paris after its wake. Csergo argues that during this time, the regional cuisine was ‘reconstructed’ to allow modern urban society to ‘resurrect its provincial roots by savoring dishes consecrated by memory’.158)Csergo, ‘The Emergence of Regional Cuisines’, p.507. Ferguson classifies the new restaurant culture of Paris, resulting from post revolution urbanization, as responsible for creating a modern French culinary identity. In her words, ‘the pantheon that speaks for the country speaks from the center’.159)Ferguson, ‘Is Paris Frace?’, p.1054. Nineteenth-century Paris, Ferguson argues, supplied ‘the template of French culinary civilization’.160)Ibid., p.1059. Both scholars argue that it was the gastronomic language formed in Paris, the center of French society, during the course of the nineteenth century that was exported throughout the country and defined the overall culinary landscape of France, subsuming even the regional culinary tradition.

To some extent, the same could be said about Bangkok in the way it dominate and symbolized ‘Thai’ cuisine. This domination was centered on the sociological space of the royal court. The royal court made up for the lack of restaurant culture, in comparison to the Paris example, by assuming the role of ‘culinary pantheon’ in creating a coherent food repertoire, as reflected by the KHKKW, from the diverse foodway of Siam. As the royal page chanted out the KHKKW during the barge procession, the variety of dishes from the boat song reminded the residences along the two banks of the Chaophraya about how their diversity, and how they came to live in harmony together as a community. In this sense, the assimilation of food was very much a part of the state building.

The KHKKW also revealed the cosmopolitan reach of the King. It functions as a site of memory (lieu de mémoire) linking Bangkok with the heydays of Ayutthaya.161)Pierre Nora, ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire’, Representations, 26 (Spring, 1989), pp.7-24. The Bangkok audience of the poem was reminded of the way Thai royal power had harmoniously ruled the ethnic diversity of Siam through the assimilation of culinary forms, and the way the court had served as a site of cultural confluence. Only decades from the fall of Ayutthaya and the turmoil of the Thonburi reign, here was a song that not only represented diversity, but told people that their new home of Bangkok would be as harmonious and prosperous as Ayutthaya through celebrating their diverse kitchens. Not unlike the birth of the French culinary identity, the poem here could signify the Thai court as a center speaking out to the diverse population of Bangkok, and expounding on the cohesion of the new Thai state through the language of food and love.

It must also be mentioned that Rama II enjoys the fame of ‘artist king’ in the official Chakri historiography. His reign is remembered in the official historiography for the revival of the ‘high culture of the Ayutthaya court.162)Prince Chula Chakrabongse, Jaow Chivit: Siam gon yuk Prachatipatai, (Lords of life: Siam before the age of democracy), Bangkok: River Books, 1993, p.118. The culinary repertoire was a reflection of this cultural revival. While the origin of these dishes was questioned in the previous chapter, the repertoire itself is a reflection of the court’s ‘high’ culinary culture. The culinary menu of elaborate dishes and the diversity of it sources reflected Rama II’s desire to represent the culinary power of the Bangkok court, a culinary power that could rival the most elaborate court of Ayutthaya. This chapter looks at the shifting Siamese mentality in identifying the ‘Self’ and ‘Others’ in order to understand food assimilation through the 19th Century.

The Siamese Culinary Occidentalism

The formation of Bangkok took place amidst a new global economic reality that forced the Chakri court to redefine Siam’s place in the world. This new economic reality was a result of the gradual European eastward conquests that had started since the middle of the eighteenth century and had become widespread after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. This new world-system shifted Bangkok’s international relations and simultaneously transformed their sense of Self. During this period, the most important Other was the farang, particularly the British. Throughout the nineteenth-century, the Siamese collective imagination of the Other transformed after the signing of the Bowring Treaty in 1855. These two phases shall now be examined.

The First Phase of Siamese Occidentalism: Siam before the Bowring Treaty

The cultural Other of farang shifted from the Ayutthayan perception to a new outlook. In the old perception, the farang were seen as ‘movers, travelers, and intruders into the Oriental Land, while the Siamese were primarily stationed at home and prepared to deal with farang from their cultural base’.163)Pattana, ‘Farang as Siamese Occidentalism’, p.12. By the mid-nineteenth century, this perception began to change dramatically as the farang were not just ‘movers and intruders’ that came to the ‘stationary’ Siamese cultural base. Now, the Siamese themselves had to contemplate venturing out into the new world order made by the farang in order to secure their home. The concern from the farang threat was articulated by King Nangklao (Rama III, r. 1824-1851) on his deathbed in 1851 when he reportedly said: ‘There will be no more wars with Vietnam and Burma. We will have them only with the West’.164)Baker and Pasuk, A History of Thailand, p.39.

Since the foundation of Bangkok as Siam royal capital, the gradual process of European eastward conquests did not go unnoticed by the Siamese court; the British in particular stood out. One by one, the British swallowed up old trade entrepôts across the old Indian Ocean networks, starting from India since the middle of the eighteen century and then Ceylon (Srik Lanka) in 1796. The British were right at the Siamese doorstep by the early nineteenth century, with the British East India Company establishing the Straits Settlement in 1826. As the British Empire in the east was beginning to take shape, Lord Francis Rawdon-Hasting (1754-1826), the then British governor of India, dispatched John Crawfurd to the court of Rama II in 1822 In the realm of food, Crawfurd observed that the meal prepared and served him was ‘a mix of Siamese and European food’.165)Chakrabongse, Jaow Chivit, p.116.

The culinary Other based on the threat of European Imperialism was being formulated in the Thai literary work of Sunthorn Phu (1786-1855) that came out of the court circle during this time.166)Sunthorn Phu’s past have been much debated topic among Thai literary scholars. The conventional belief was that Sunthorn Phu was of a lowly origin, thus his view reflected the vernacular view of Bangkok dwellers at the time. Historian Davisakd Puaksom argues otherwise, and points to Sunthorn Phu Brahmin ancestry from Petchburi, and his close connection with the court circle throughout his life. See Davisakd Pueaksom, Khon Plak Na Nana Chart Khong Krung Siam (International Strangers of Krung Siam), Bangkok: Matichon: 2003, p.12. The culinary Occidentalism first appeared in Sunthorn Phu’s picaresque epic, Phra Apai Mani, an adventure tale set in the imagined geography of the Indian Ocean. Parts of the story followed the journey of Phra Apai Mani, the Rattanakosin hero, who battled with his foes across the sea. These villains are the thamin and jon surang, based in Lanka or Sri Lanka. The term thamin is used to refer to Southern Indian ethnic group, Tamil, but it is also used to denote savages and barbarity.167)Phojananukrom Chabab Rachabanthitstan (Royal Institute’s Dictionary), p.500. This was probably influenced by the early Bangkok court’s localization of the Sanskrit epic, Ramayana, where the primary antagonist, Ravana (Thotsakan) came from Southern India. As for Jon surang or ‘surang’ thief, historian believed that it is a portrait of the English (possibly derived from the word farang).168)Suvarnabhumi Sangkom Wattanatam column, ‘Sunthorn Phu Tang Pra Apai Mani Tor Tan Songkram La Muang Khuen’ (Sunthorn Phu composed Pra Apai Mani as a critique against colonialism), Matichon, 22 August 2008, p.20.

A Thai scholar believes that Sunthorn Phu began working on the composition from 1833 to 1845, and the story itself was based on the first Anglo-Burmese war in 1823-1826.169)Ibid. Further, the ruler of Lanka was a woman, Nang Lewong, a character which historian believes to have been based on Queen Victoria (r.1837-1901).170)Ibid. Regardless of the literary interpretation linking the villain of Pra Apai Mani to Britain, what Sunthorn Phu represented in his epic story was the Other from a Siamese point of view.171)Davisakd, Khon Plak Na Nana Chart Khong Krung Siam, p. 17.

The Klong tang phasa (Poem on Various Languages) was a poetic depiction of thirty- two ‘foreigners’ known to the Siamese. It was inscribed within the Wat Phra Chetuphon sometime during the reign of Rama III, between 1824-1851. Scholars Davisakd Puaksom and Suchit Wongtet link Sunthorn Phu Pra Apai Mani to the Klong tang phasa and argue that the two literary works represented the construction of ‘Otherness’ among the Siamese elite between the reigns of Rama II and Rama III.172)Ibid., pp.16, 25-44. Davisakd argues that the Klong tang phasa was one of the earliest manifestations of ‘Siamese Occidentalism’, which the Bangkok elite composed in order to maintain its cultural superiority, comparable to the Other it has  constructed.173)Ibid., p.36-137. Similar to Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’, the logic behind the Siamese construction of the Other was inspired by a ‘cultural hegemonic self’.174)Edward Said, Orientalism, London: Penguin Books, 1995, p.7.

I would argue that the construction of ‘otherness’ during this period was a response to the increased threat of European colonialism on the one hand, and the desire of the Bangkok elite to establish its place in the world on the other hand. That is why the ‘others’ depicted in Klong tang phasa were dominated by the various categories of khaek and farang, the familiar foreigners of Ayutthaya. In this sense, the Klong tang phasa represented the early Bangkok elite’s desire to establish Bangkok’s place in the world in the same way that Ayutthaya once occupied. As the new Indian Ocean trade system changed, the elites of Bangkok continued to look westward in a desire to reclaim Ayutthaya’s place as a major maritime entrepôt of the region.

In the culinary realm, the Phra Apai Mani depicts the various diets of the Other as the binary opposite to the Thai diet. For instance, the thamin is depicted as the Other who does not eat rice but fish, elephants, horses, and all kinds of animals and birds.175)Sunthorn Phu, Phra Apai Mani, book 1, Bangkok: Klang Wittaya, 1963, p.405.

Their ‘Otherness’ is also manifested in the way these thamin ‘kill their game with The farang, on the other hand, is represented in the story as the ruler of Lanka. The hero, Phra Apai Mani is admitted into the city as the guest of its ruler, Nang Lewong, and is served a mixed variety of dishes accompanied with rice, compatible to the Siamese diet which mixed the khaek-influence dishes, like panang and gaeng ped (duck curry), with the chin-influence dishes, like mu han (suckling pig) with its vinegar dip.176)Ibid. book 2, p.546. As a European touch, ‘brandy made of grape’ is served to Phra Apai Mani at the end of the meal. The stark contrast between the farang ruler of Lanka and the thamin illustrated the Siamese worldview of culinary Others to be organized around power as imagined by Sunthorn Phu. The ruler of Lanka stands on equal terms with the Rattankosin’s hero, whereas the raw-food-eating thamin is ‘exoticized’ through what the Sunthorn Phu imagined to be the reverse of the Siamese diet.

knives and then mix their killings in blood, vinegar, and fish sauce, and then consume it raw’.177)Ibid. According to Sunthorn Phu, this culinary practice gave the thamin extraordinary strength. Sunthorn Phu further depicted the thamin dressing like farang. The lifestyle of the thamin also reflected the Siamese worldview of the ‘Others’ in the Indian Ocean network because ‘they make a living through trade, and do not do farming or rice growing of their own’.178)Ibid.

The Second Phase of Siamese Occidentalism: Siam after the Bowring Treaty

The turning point for the Siamese collective imagination of the Other came about from the middle of the Nineteenth Century. It was during this time that Western Powers were imposing their military powers to open up more trade, and eventually colonized more territory for their respective empires. According to Prince Damrong, Rama IV and many Siamese aristocrats were fully aware of the gravity of Western gunboat diplomacy in Asia, which resulted in unequal treaties like the Treaty of Nanking between China and Britain (1842), or the Convention of Kanagawa (1854) between Japan and the United States, long before Bowring arrived in Siam.179)Prince Damrong, Phrarachaphongsawadan Krueng Rattanakosin Rachakan Ti Ha (The Bangkok Chronicle written in the Fifth Reign), Bangkok: Chamlongsin, 1950, p.359-375. In this historical context, the Bowring Treaty (1855) conducted between Sir John Bowring,

Queen Victoria’s emissary, and Rama IV, was far from equal. The demands imposed upon the Siamese court by Bowring, like the elimination of royal trade monopoly and the granting of extraterritoriality to British subjects, have an immense impact in transforming the Siamese governmental and financial structure, as well as a major alteration in the Siamese elites’ idea about themselves. Similar treaties were conducted by other Western powers in subsequent years. This new political landscape, some scholars argue, made the Siamese elite become more self-critical by comparing themselves culturally to the West.180)Nidhi, Krung Taek, Pra Chao Tak, Lae Prawatsat Thai (The Fall of the Capital, King Taksin, and Thai History), Bangkok: Sinlapa Wattanatum, 2005, p.10-26;Pattana, ‘Farang as Siamese Occidentalism’, p.21.

The abolition of the royal trade monopoly resulted in the exponential growth of Chinese businesses in Bangkok over the second half of the century.181) Skinner, Chinese Society in Thailand, p.99-109. Initially, the trade liberalization introduced by Bowring challenged the commercial dominance enjoyed by the Chinese. The power of the Chinese trade monopolists, amongst whom the Hokkien featured prominently, went into a state of decline at first.182)Van Roy, ‘Sampeng’.

Nevertheless, by the expanding the market, the monopolists ended up benefiting from their revenue farms at a far greater aggregated value.183)Skinner, Chinese Society in Thailand, p.120. With the Europeans soon realizing their lack of necessary connection and knowledge of the Siamese market, they consolidated their position by co-opting the Chinese mercantile network inside the country as well as the one that connects Bangkok with other Asian port cities, like Singapore and Hong Kong. Skinner argues that the European domination of the Siamese market was, in actuality, an injection of European capital into the existing Chinese trading networks.184)Ibid., p.104-105.

The foreign investment made the Chinese into a leading commercial class, particularly the retailers, merchants, business middleman and bankers connected with Western commercial interests. Many of this new commercial class joined the ranks of the old Chinese merchant lords (Chao Sua) in the society’s upper strata.185)Baker and Pasuk, A History of Thailand, p.46.

Commercial opportunities also led to an influx of Chinese migration and according to one European observer, Bangkok in 1900 resembled many characteristics of other Chinese dominated port cities in the region.186)Charles Buls, Siamese Sketches, Bangkok: White Lotus, 1994, p.17. During this time, the Siamese economy became more dependent on the food and agricultural industries dominated by the Chinese.187)Industries such as sugar plantations, rice mills, salt production, fisheries, vegetable gardens, and animal slaughterhouses. See Skinner, Chinese Society in Thailand, p.111- 113, 120.

Dependency on the Chinese became apparent on 1 June 1910; the Chinese community in Bangkok staged a general strike that paralyzed many businesses in the capital and made food produce scarce and very expensive.188)Skinner, Chinese Society in Thailand, p.162. This came about because of the Chinese were dissatisfied with the head tax, introduced in 1909.189)Skinner argues that the Chinese has been paying less tax than other Siamese subject when the head tax replaced the corvée system in 1899. This tax subsidy came about because there was urgent demand for labor by the Siamese government. This event intensified the Thais’ ill feeling towards the Chinese. This sentiment was best manifested by King Vajiravudh (Rama VI, r.1910-1925), who portrays the Chinese as disloyal economic parasites in a work published in 1913 titled ‘Jews of the Orient’

(Phuak Yiw Haeng Burapha Thit).190)Aswaphahu (Rama Vi’s pen name), Phuak Yiw Haeng Burapha Thit Lae Muang Thai Chong Thuen Thueat (The Jews of the Orient and wake up Muang Thai), Bangkok: Foundation in Memory of King Rama VI, 1985. By designating the Chinese as the Other, Rama VI’s sentiment was utilized by Thai nationalists of the 1930s and 1940s. The implication that the anti-Chinese attitude had on the Thai culinary discourse shall be discussed in the following chapter. In terms of the Siamese ‘high’ culinary code, the anti-Chinese sentiment did not make an impact on the Thai court’s incorporation of Chinese dishes. It could also be suggested that the Siamese elite identified Chinese cuisine, not with the chin immigrant population in Siam, but rather with China as a culture. This incorporation of Chinese dishes is reflected in the MKHP, where Lady Plian added seven more dishes into the royal culinary repertoire.191)These dishes are: Tom Kaew Samong Pla, Gaeng En Kwang Kab Hue Ue, Gaeng Baht Ped Gab Pu Talae, Pad Lin Lae Nuea Kai Priew Wan, Pad Hu Chalam, Sukorn Yang, and Hae Kueng. See Plian, MKHP, book 1, p.34-36.

The demand of extraterritoriality to foreign subjects from Bowring and subsequent Western powers altered the Siamese elites’ idea about themselves, their ‘foreign’ subjects, and their place in the world. While this legal privilege was not a new thing in Siam; during the reign of King Narai in seventeenth century Ayutthaya, extraterritoriality status was granted to Dutch and French traders.192)Trongsri Atarun, Kan Kaekai Sonti Sanya Waduai Sitti Sapap Nok Anaket Kab Pratet Maha Aumnat Nai Rachasamai Prabat Somdej Pra Mongkutklao Chao Yu Hua (The extraterritoriality treaties with foreign powers during the reign of King Mongkut), Bangkok: Sangkom Sastra, 1963, p.84-85. The historical context of the nineteenth century relationships between Siam and various Imperial powers though, was very different from the time of King Narai. For one, the Imperial powers were no longer establishing small trade factories in the Siamese towns as during the Ayutthaya period. Rather, the Imperial powers were expanding their influence into the hinterland across the Asian region, and in some cases, took total control of local government apparatuses.

In the realm of culture and collective imagination, the Others were no longer imaginatively portrayed on the murals walls of Wat Phra Chetuphon, or as characters in Sunthorn Phu’s celebrated story, but became new judicially powerful figures with real presence in the social life of mid-nineteenth-century Bangkok. By the reign of King Chulalongkorn, a new dimension was added to this extraterritoriality: the colonial subjects of Europeans that arrived in Bangkok in search of job

opportunities.193)Ibid., p.91-92. Superficially, this new legal dimension of extraterritoriality created a great deal of irritation among the Siamese ruling class when the chin and khaek merchants and began to claim English or French protégé status.

More profoundly, the extraterritoriality, among other unequal treatments of Siam by Western powers, signified that Siam was a ‘barbarous’ country, and the Siamese elite must become like the West in order to be treated as equal.194)Nidhi, Krung Taek, Pra Chao Tak, Lae Prawatsat Thai (The Fall of the Capital, King Taksin, and Thai History), p.12-13. The anxiety created from extraterritoriality was not felt by the Siamese elite at its onset simply because Western community in Siam were quite small in number. It was only in 1890s, as historian Tamara Loos points out, that extraterritoriality became a problem when the Asian colonial subjects, like the Chinese, Cambodian, Burman, Javanese, Laotian, and even some Siamese, claimed extraterritoriality status.195)Tamara Loos, Subject Siam: Family Law, and Colonial Modernity in Thailand, Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2002, p. 43-44. They were able to do this either because they were employed by foreigners or were a colonial subject to foreign powers with treaty protection, or had illegally purchased their extraterritorial status on the black market.

In a sense, extraterritoriality law, among many other forms of uneven interactions between Siam and the West, replaced the relationship between the Siamese elite had with its Others, and put in place a clear legal hierarchy that placed the West as a benchmark of superiority. The only way the Siamese elite could address this unevenness was to become like the West, and in turn transform its relationship with other non-Western Others as well. From the days of Bowring onwards, Otherness in terms of cultural roots became a yardstick in the construction of a Thai identity, along with the manufacturing of social hierarchical structure in the Thai mindset that was comparable to the mid-Nineteenth Century Western framework. The Siamese elite, from the Monarch, its aristocracy, and the educated commoners, became very self- critical from this period onwards. Their interactions with the Others were no longer about pure assimilation of values and techniques, but also about cultivating their own sense of superiority in order to be placed among the elite of the civilized world.

In the culinary repertoire, this new sense of ‘Otherness’ is reflected in Lady Plian’s dissection of KHKKW. The poem that had been composed as a coherent repertoire, arranged along culinary categories (savory dishes, fruits, and sweets) now became a new object for Lady Plian’s examination and explanation. The emergence of khaek, chin, and to a lesser extent farang culinary definitions in Lady Plian’s cookbook could also be viewed within the context of siwilai.196)Since farang dishes were only classified under sweet, their classification was not as apparent as Lady Plian’s representation of khaek and chin savory dishes from Rama II’s poem. The savory dishes were clearly divided according to their cultural origin of khaek and chin, whereas the farang heritage of several sweet dishes were discussed later by Lady Plian in these dishes own section. See Plian, Mae Krua Hua Pa, book 1, pp.29-42, 121-123. The world order of the late nineteenth century, historian Thongchai argues, was very disruptive for the Siamese elite. The quest for siwilai was an attempt by the Siamese elite to ‘locate their position in the new world order’, and ‘to avoid the disgrace of inferiority for being less civilized’.197)Thongchai, ‘The Quest for ‘Siwilai’’, p.546. The new reality of the mid-Nineteenth century had forced the Siamese elite to define its sense of ‘self’ within the European cultural hegemony.

In the realm of food culture, the new sense of ‘Self’ was constructed around the phu di, a term that came to classify a new social classification that distinguished those with education in social etiquette and manners adopted from Europe.198)Kamontip Changkamon, ‘Food: Eating Etiquette Standardization and Class Identity’, Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, Silapakorn University, 2002. Of these, one of the biggest changes was the use of European cutlery, which Kukrit Pramoj attributed to the reign of Rama IV, and became more commonly used during the reign of Rama V.199)Kukrit, introduction, Laksana Thai (Thai Characteristics), Book 3, Bangkok: Wattanapanich, 1998. The introduction of European cutlery was noticed by Sir John Bowring, as he observed a courtier’s awkwardness in using fork and knife during an official banquet. The courtier, observed Bowring, ‘held the prongs of the fork in his hand, not knowing which end (he) was to employ’.200)Bowring, The Kingdom and People of Siam, Volume II, p.327. Adopting European manners and etiquettes became an important cultural tool in attaining the status of siwilai.

Etiquette aside, culinary practices presented a more complicated picture in the light of siwilai. Since the foundation of Bangkok, the western culinary codes (both khaek and farang) had been of great importance to the Court, despite the fact that Bangkok was largely populated by Chinese migrants. From European visitors such as John Crowfurd in the early nineteenth century, to Sir John Bowring and Anna Leonowens in the middle, all commented on how the Siamese aristocracy’s culinary repertoire consisted of both European and Siamese dishes. When Bowring visited the court in 1855, he was given a personal welcome by Rama IV. The King offered Bowring and his embassy a welcome lunch which Bowring described thus:

We were conducted to a large apartment in which the King is accustomed to receive the talapoins, and we found a lunch, or tiffin, laid out in perfect European taste, though the table was covered with Asiatic fruits and preserves. There were, however, American biscuits; and one dish at least that I tasted evidenced that the cuisine was one of his Majesty’s cares, and that his cooks, if not Europeans, have (to) all events received European instruction201)Ibid., p.317.

The culinary mix between Siamese and European dishes was not only restricted to the court of Mongkut. The household of Chao Phraya Sri Suriyawong (1808-1882) for instance, also served foreign visitors with mix culinary treats, as reported by Leonowens when she attended a welcoming dinner at his house in 1862:

Dinner at the Premier’s was composed and served with the same incongruous blending of the barbaric and the refined, the Oriental and the European, that characterized the furniture and adornments of his palace.202)Leonowens, The English Governess at the Siamese Court, p. 24.

The court’s culinary repertoire, as described by these two foreign visitors, reveals that both European and Siamese dishes that could be seen as a form of culinary diplomacy, aiming to reveal the siwilai status of the court kitchen. Conversely, the culinary mix was perhaps a true reflection of some of the Siamese aristocratic tastes in mixing dishes from many cultures, a practice that was exposed in the KHKKW.

Another report from Bowring of a dinner at Chao Phraya Sri Suriyawong’s offers an added dimension to the culinary mixing of the Siamese:

An excellent dinner: the soup highly spiced; birds nests, shark-fins, and sea-slugs were excellent. There was roasted pig, game, delicious fruits, and most remarkable of which was the durian, prepared with cocoa-nut milk, which even the impugners of the durian (I am not one) declared unexceptionably excellent203)Bowring, The Kingdom and People of Siam, Volume II, p. 328.

The meal that Chao Phraya Sri Suriyawong provided here as reported by Bowring seems to belong to the Chinese culinary code, with dishes like ‘birds’ nests’, ‘shark-fins’, and ‘sea-slugged’ cited. What this reveals is the variations in the culinary taste of the Siamese elites, and their correspondence with the court’s cultural orientation.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, aristocratic households like the house of Bunnag and even the court consumed both European as well as Chinese dishes. Even though the word ‘Thai cuisine’ was not yet coined by the age of siwilai, what was celebrated by the Siamese elite was their cosmopolitan taste in food consumption. As they interacted with the world, the Siamese elite’s culinary cosmopolitan mix offered a glimpse of their power and their connection with the world around them.204)This reflects similar trend in the Bangkok elites’ consumption of material culture, or what Peleggi calls ‘prestige consumption’, see Peleggi, Lords of Things, p.21-22. The culinary ‘Self’ for the Siamese elite at this stage, was still largely defined by their role as a culinary crossroads between what was East and West to the Siamese cultural home. Their taste, in this sense, was a reflection of their seaborne economic activities.

Moving away from the cultural home, the Siamese slowly developed a sense of their culinary ‘self’ as they ventured out into the world. Responding to the diplomatic initiative of Sir John Bowring, King Mongkut decided to send an embassy to court of Queen Victoria in 1857, led by Phraya Montri Suriyawong (Chum Bunnag, 1820-

1882). An account of this embassy was kept by the embassy’s translator, Mom Ratchothai (M.R. Krathai Isarangkul, 1820-1867).205)Ratchothai (M.R.), Nirat London (Voyage to London), Bangkok: Akrasorn Jaroentasna, 2001. After arriving in London, Mom Ratchothai observed that the English fresh market offered an abundance of meat, but not nearly enough fruits or vegetables.206)Ibid., p.101-102. His view of the London market reflected the nature of nineteenth-century Bangkok market, which offered an abundance of

vegetables and fruits, as one foreign observer noticed in 1900.207)Buls, Siamese Sketches, p.17. The meat, on the other hand, was only sold by the Chinese, as it was not popular with the Thais.208)Ibid., p.18.

As more and more Siamese traveled abroad in the late nineteenth century, they experienced new – mostly European – culinary practices. These new experiences enhanced their own sense of culinary ‘self’, through local dishes that were unavailable to them overseas. King Chulalongkorn, for example, constantly expressed a sense of longing for vernacular home dishes such as nam phrik and khai chiew while traveling through Europe in 1907.209)King Chulalongkorn, Klai Ban (Far from home), v.1, Bangkok: Prae Witaya, 1965, p.626. More significantly, the encounters with the culinary ‘others’ beyond the Siamese cultural home forced these travelers to reconsider their own food in a different cultural landscape. A dialectical relationship emerged between the home culinary practices and the ‘Others’. It was through these experiences that the Thai culinary language was constructed.

The MKHP: The Birth of the Thai Cookbook

The discourse of siwilai in the late nineteenth century played an important part in the creation of cookbooks in the Thai language. The Siamese elite at this stage were eager to re-position themselves culturally to fit into the civilized world order shaped by the European powers. In 1890, the first cookbook written in Thai was completed within the confines of the Bangkok court. This cookbook, Tumra Thum Kub Khao Farang (farang cookbook), was a collection of recipes translated from English and French sources by King Chulalongkorn and one of his lesser wives, Chao Chom Nom Jotikasthira.210)King Chulalongkorn, Tumra Thum Kub Khao Farang, Bangkok: Amarin, 2003.

The Tumra Tum Kub Khao Farang represented the Siamese elite’s first effort in localizing the European culinary codes (mainly British and French) through cookbook writing. The farang cookbook provided the Siamese with a culinary window that reveals the inner workings of a siwilai culinary repertoire. The Siamese court retained its position as the center of the culinary ‘high’ code by translating these European recipes. Unlike the Siamese court’s localization of seaborne culinary codes from the time of Ayutthaya and early Bangkok, the translation of the siwilai culinary code in the late nineteenth century represented something entirely different. Instead of being at the pinnacle of the culinary landscape seizing upon ordinary kitchens, the Siamese court was now the translator of siwilai. In short, by translating the European culinary codes, the Siamese court positioned itself as the culinary bastion of siwilai, a gateway between the civilized European world and the Siamese cultural home.

By 1908, the first Siamese recipe book, the MKHP, was compiled by Lady Plian Phasakorawong. Inspired by Isabella Beeton’s cookbook, The Book of Household Management, Lady Plian assembled the culinary codes available to her and wrote a five-volume long, encyclopedic cookbook.211)Isabella Beeton, The Book of Household Management, London: S. O. Beeton, first edition 1861, reprint 2003. In MKHP, cooking recipes were presented along with stories about some of the dishes. In some part, Lady Plian even discussed the suitability of different Siamese regions for growing different kinds of crops.212)Plian, MKHP, book 1, p.120-122. MKHP can be also considered as a culinary example of the Thai ‘manual knowledge’ that was constructed.213)Craig Reynolds, ‘Thai Manual Knowledge: Theory and Practice’, Seditious Histories, Contesting Thai and Southeast Asian Pasts, Singapore: University of Washington Press, 2006, p.235-240. The virtues represented in Lady Plian’s cookbook is what the Siamese elite of the time considered as essential attributes to a modern Lady (suphap-satri). In his analysis of modern Thai gender relation in early Twentieth century Scott Barmé points out that the desirable characteristics of a Thai modern lady are base on a combination of ‘traditional’ domestic skills and ‘modern’ learning and sociability.214)Scott Barmé, Woman, Man, Bangkok: Love, Sex, and Popular Culture in Thailand, Lanham: Rowman&Littlefield, 2002, p.11. Suphap-satri was defined as a counter part to suphap- burut (gentlemen), their attributes were not fixed, but follow the modernization landscape of the turn of the century Siam where social relations between men and women, and between social classes gradually transformed according to the way the Siamese ruling class translated Western modernity.

The invention of their modern meanings were inspired by the idea of instilling a set of morality that was of contemporary relevance to the modernization process, and a behavioral code that the modernizing Siamese elite considered fundamental to the nation’s progress and prosperity. This new meaning of modern and refined men and women were based largely on class consciousness, perpetuated by the literati.215)In his study of the emergence of protofeminist discourses at the turn of the century Siam, Barmé shows how the literates Thai ‘middle class’ were responsible in defining the appropriate gender role of a modern woman through popular women magazines. Barmé, Woman, Man Bangkok, p.17-37. The Sombat Phu Di, or ‘Characteristics of a Properly Behaved Person’ written by Chao Phraya Wisut Suriyasak (Pia Malakul, 1867-1961) best exemplified the Siamese elites’ obsession with instilling behavioral coded of conduct among its educated populace.216)Wisut Suriyasak, Sombat Phu Di (Characteristics of a properly behaved person), Bangkok: 1916. This manual provided its readers with a list of socially appropriate behaviors. From ‘show respect to elders’, ‘do not lie’, ‘be mindful of personal hygiene’ to ‘do not show your merriment when others are suffering’, Sombat Phu Di provided an appropriate code of conduct as defined by the ruling elite.

Historian Craig Reynolds points out that the principles informing Sombat Phu Di are ‘very bourgeois and very Buddhist’.217)Reynolds, ‘Thai Manual Knowledge’, p.235. These two dynamics represented the Siamese elite’s modernization project. Reynolds argues that the Buddhist morals, which have its own list of ‘dos and don’t’, were the ideological precursor to the phu di code, since they also reflect the traditional Siamese education system. The articulation of the phu di code, nevertheless, was based on social classes. The ‘proper’ social behavior was determined by the Siamese elite, which by the late nineteenth century began to include a phu di middle class, although still very dependent on the Bangkok court.

Applying Reynolds’ analysis of the Sombat Phu Di to Lady Plian’s cookbook, one could say that the principles behind the MKHP were also very bourgeois on the one hand, and very court-centric on the other. Lady Plian’s approach to the culinary art represented continuity in the Siamese court’s culinary tradition. Not only did Lady Plian utilize Rama II’s culinary code as one of her point of departure, she also praised Princess Bunrod for pioneering the Bangkok court’s culinary tradition.218)Plian, MKHP, Book 1, p.2. The praising of Princess Bunrod also reflected the important role of female chefs in the Siamese court’s kitchen. With title Mae Krua Hua Pa, literally meaning ‘skillful women chef’, it was perhaps Lady Plian’s celebration of the role of women chef in the Siamese court, a tradition stretching back to the time of Ayutthaya.

Lady Plian’s own life reflected the exceptional role that women played in the Siamese court. Her social role was also intertwined with the modernization and the siwilai project of the late nineteenth-century Siamese court. In 1893, she helped set up the Red Unalom Society of Siam, which later became the Thai Red Cross Society.219)Santi, Tumnan A-han Thai, pp.33-35, 49-51.

This was because in 1893, before the infamous Paknam Incident,220) ‘The Paknam incident’ epitomized the decades of tension between French Colonial ambition and the Siamese Court. By 1893, the Siamese clashes with the French colonial forces at various spots on the east bank of the Mekong River. The French responded by sailing two gunboats up the Chaophraya River to threaten Bangkok itself. The two ships fought their way through as the Siamese Fort of Paknam fired upon them. See Baker and Pasuk, A History of Thailand, p.58-61. there were a series of skirmishes between French and Siamese forces over a territorial dispute on the left bank of the Mekong River. The skirmishes resulted in many casualties that were not sufficiently looked after. In a philanthropic spirit not unlike the privileged Victorians in English society, Lady Plain gathered a group of female volunteers and proposed to King Chulalongkorn to set up a charitable organization to aid the injured soldiers. After its formation, Lady Plian became the society’s first secretary. In 1893, the king assigned Lady Plian to organize a collection of items produced by Siamese women to send to the Chicago World Fair, for which she won several awards for her effort.221)Anake Nawigamune, Tong Chart Nai Tang Dan (Siamese Banners in Foreign Land), Bangkok: Satapon Book, 2006, p.131-132. Prince Damrong, who was Lady Plian’s contemporary, was full of praises for her, and described her as ‘a very intelligent and very able woman, almost unmatched by any’.222)Prince Damrong, Prawat Bhukkhon Sumkan (The biographies of significant individuals), Bangkok: Banjakit, 1988, p.227.

In terms of the culinary contribution by Lady Plian, MKHP celebrated the ‘high’ culinary tradition of the Siamese court, especially the gastronomic vision of King Rama II. While no recipes of the ‘popular’ culinary code of Siam were featured, the book nevertheless presents a variety of dishes from a cross-section of the Siamese culinary repertoire. Lady Plian offered seven hundred and forty-nine pages of detailed instructions, tips, and suggestions for Siamese mae ban, or ‘female heads of household’, in the art of running their kitchens and their homes. The MKHP provides

the modern mae ban with essential tips like the way to pick fish at a typical Siamese market, or the way to apply modern ingredients like canned salmon to Thai cooking techniques.223)Tips for shopping at a fresh market in Plian, MKHP, Book 5, p.619-632. Usage of canned salmon in Plian, MKHP, Book 3, p.428-429. Further, Lady Plian, for the first time, introduced the idea of fixe measurement in Thai cooking. She did this by applying units of weighing and measuring used by Thai officials, in offices like the Royal Treasury, to the art of cooking.224)Applying fixed measurement units in Thai cooking in Plian, MKHP, Book 3, p.345-353. She also introduced the Thai mae ban with a list of measurements from

the Imperial as well as the Metric system.225)Introducing Imperial and Metric measuring systems in Plian, MKHP, Book 3, p.353-373. In this sense, Lady Plian was essentially modernizing the Siamese kitchen.

Thai scholar Thanet Wongyannawa suggests that MKHP was composed for the Siamese elite, especially women, who were not proficient in foreign languages, but were curious about the culinary practices and the inner workings of a modern kitchen.226)Thanet, ‘Kan ‘Khrob’, Krua Fai: Jak Tawantok su Tawanauk” (Family and fire: from west to east), in Chakawan Wittaya: Bod Kwam Per Pen Kiad Kae Nidhi Eoseewong (Universal topics: collection of essays in honour of Nidhi Eoseewong), ed. Thanet Wongyannawa, Bangkok: Matichon, 2006,p. 252. The readers of MKHP were interested in Lady Plian’s ‘modern explanation’ of the old Siamese kitchen. What Lady Plian created, I would argue, was a modern Siamese culinary language. She combined the tediousness of the kitchen life, like grocery shopping and measuring, with the creative culinary repertoire of the Siamese court. The combination of the tedious and the creative represented the emergence of the new Siamese bourgeoisie at the dawn of the twentieth century.

The modern Siamese bourgeois kitchen reflected the larger historical context of various reforms that took place under the guidance of King Chulalongkorn. The effects of the Bowring Treaty of 1855 significantly transformed the old commoner-

aristocrat dynamic of Siamese society. The liberalization of trade after 1855 made the old corvée system largely irrelevant to the economy. The legislative reforms that took place from the 1897 to 1905 effectively put an official end to the old corvée system.227)Baker and Pasuk, A History of Thailand, p.61. In a way, MKHP represented what the Siamese mistress of the house (Mae Ban) had to accommodate due to the profound changes in economic and social life. The mistress of the house now had to fully take charge of her kitchen, from buying ingredients in the market to understanding food preparation techniques and operating a modern kitchen on their own. Like the guidelines of the phu di represented by the Sombat Phu di, the MKHP articulated the definition of a modern Mae Ban. The new culinary language had effectively modernized both the Siamese kitchen and the lady who was in charge of it.

The end of the corvée signals a shift in the role of Siamese women across class strata. In the royal court, Rama V designated Queen Saowapha (1864-1919) as regent during his second tour to Europe in 1897. Among the aristocrats and the Chinese merchant elite’s (Chao Sua) households, females were protected by law, permitted to own property and money, as well as conduct their own businesses. Female commoners dominated the street and canal markets to an extent that the government appointed women as market overseers.228)Ibid., p.102-103. As a text, MKHP reflected the transformation of the role of gender in the upper-class household, where the mistress of the house have more fiscal responsibility in the running of the modern household. Another major economic change that has an impact on domesticity is the gradual end of the debt bondage system, which was directly responsible for reducing the number of domestic servants. This was perhaps why the MKHP assigned the way of managing household

expenditures and grocery shopping to the mistress of the house.229)Plian, MKHP, book Book 5, p.619-632. Not quite as strong as the advice given by Mrs. Beeton to English women, where she insisted them to be ‘the commander of an army, or leader of any enterprise’ in managing the domesticity of the household,230)Beeton, The Book of Household Management, p.1. Lady Plian urged her female readers to make the most out of her advice in managing their households.231)Plian, MKHP, book 1, p.2.

Further, the MKHP established a Siamese culinary ‘fixity’: a language explaining the Siamese culinary code.232)Appelbaum, Aguecheek’s Beef, Belch’s Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Interjections, p.67-68. Like Rama II, Lady Plian collected the culinary codes from her environment, and crafted a logical representation of what she considered a proper Siamese ‘high’ kitchen. What she did, however, had a different impact than that of the KHKKW. Lady Plian, through the writing of the first Siamese cookbook, set up a template in the Thai language for explaining the Siamese culinary art. The creation of culinary ‘fixity’, as scholar Amy Trubek argues, made cookery ‘less permeable to change’.233)Amy Trubek, Haute Cuisine: How the French Invented the Culinary Professions, Philadelphia: Univesity of Pennsylvania Press, 2000, p.11-12. In the case of MKHP, Lady Plian articulated the old Siamese court’s culinary code and established it as the standard bearer that future Thai culinary practices would have to either comply with or challenge.

There were also other cookbooks that were written during the modernizing period of Siamese history, such as Princess Yoawapa Phongsanit’s Tum Rub Sie Yoawapa, published in 1939.234)Princess Yoawapa Phongsanit, Tum Rub Sie Yoawapa, Bangkok: Roh Poh Udom, 1939. Like MKHP, Princess Yoawapa’s book made modern the Siamese kitchen, and perpetuated the new Siamese culinary language established by Lady Plian. And similarly to MKHP, Princess Yoawapa’s cookbook represented the Siamese elite’s kitchen, and explained it in a modern fashion.

The Thai kitchen itself did not stop evolving because of the MKHP or Princess Yoawapa’s fixity. After all, cookery and people’s appetites change over time, regardless of how culinary printing materials represent them. The Siamese way of localizing foreign culinary code also continued, despite the creation of the new cookbook. This early twentieth-century culinary ‘fixity’, nevertheless, became the point of reference for subsequent culinary debates for the Siamese. By adopting a Western cookbook format, these new cookbooks made modern the Siamese culinary Self. The cookbook also represent a process of ‘bourgeoisification’ of Thai court cuisine by making the Siamese ‘high’ culinary repertoire accessible to those outside the palace, the new literate middle class.

The Enculturation of Modern Thai Cuisine: The Standardization of the Mainstream and the Vernacular

The enculturation of Thai cuisine happened at different stages throughout the twentieth century, and occurred in different manners in accordance to the diverse socio-cultural spectrum of Thai food consumers. This enculturation, or the ‘process of becoming, a process through which the implicit background of a culture, its set of underlying and motivating assumptions and premises about the way things are and must be, comes to be accepted,’235)Eliot A. Singer, ‘Conversion through Foodways Enculturation: The Meaning of Eating in an American Hindu Sect’, in Ethnic and Regional Foodways in the United States: The Performance of Group Identity, eds. Linda Keller Brown and Kay Mussell, Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2001, p.195. can be captured by looking at the way Thai culinary discourses interact with their different audiences through texts. Analyzing these different layers of enculturation also reveals the larger social picture of cultural interaction generated through shifts in the economic structure, migration, urbanization, transformation of family structure, and the shifting of gender roles. Agencies in this process of enculturation are the state, the media, the school, the culinary literature and its critics, and the market.

In the Thai case, the process of enculturation worked on two different levels: continuation of culinary tradition constructed by the court, and the invention of the vernacular tradition cultivated by the post-absolutist nationalism. These two processes played and continue to play their role in formulating a public understanding of the connection of food and Thai culture.

This public understanding is at the core of modern consumption of Thai food.

Beyond being a matter of sustenance, modernity has made food a symbolic bearer of tradition. In this respect, the historical approach to understanding the construction of the Thai mainstream culinary culture is similar to the study on Thai ‘bodily practice’ and evolution of the public meanings of clothing undertook by Peleggi,236)Peleggi, ‘Refashioning Civilization: Dress and Bodily Practice in Thai Nation-Building’, in The Politics of Dress in Asia and the Americas, eds. Mina Roces and Louise Edwards, Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press, 2007, pp.65-80. and the study of the construction of the nation’s ‘Geo-body’ by Thongchai.237)Thongchai, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation, Honolulu: University of Hawai’iPress, 1994. Construction of the national culinary norm is a process of cultivating a cultural value based on a sense of continuity and homogeneity of Thai culture. The shifting trends in Thai food can be understood by the way the Thai culinary Self mediated the demands of ‘Thai- ness’ in food throughout the period of national consolidation after the fall of absolutism, the dynamic of the Cold War, and through to the greater integration with the global market in the late part of the twentieth century.

Cultural value in the public understanding of Thai food, similar to the study of French food by Barthes, reflects two historical themes: on one hand, the aristocratic tradition; and the ‘flavorful survival of an old, rural society, that is itself highly idealized’, on the other.238)Barthes, ‘Towards a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption’, p.168,170. In the twentieth century, the new ‘high’ and ‘low’ of the Thai culinary code assumed the culinary dichotomy existed between the court, the royal capital, and the countryside. The difference is that the physical space of the kitchen, both the ‘high’ and the ‘low’, is replaced by a body of culinary knowledge constructed and represented by text like the cookbooks and travel guides. These textual representations formed what Ferguson calls, a ‘gastronomic field’ of the Thai nation.239)Ferguson, ‘A Cultural Field in the Making: Gastronomy in 19th Century France’, American Journal of Sociology, 103:3 (1998), p.598. This ‘gastronomic field’ constitutes a cultural space for culinary knowledge to interact, formulate, and eventually speak for the entire nation. It maintained the mainstream culinary template that reflected and perpetuated the sense of the historical continuity of the nation.

The Mainstream Culinary Culture

According to Ferguson, culinary national identity came about from a society that developed a ‘gastronomy field’. ‘Gastronomy’, she argues, became a site of memory for the French nation.240)Ferguson, ‘Is Paris France?’, p.1061. Further, the gastronomic culture of a nation is perpetuated by texts in order to ‘reach beyond the confines of the originating group’.241)Ferguson, ‘A Cultural Field in the Making’, p.614. Texts such as cookbook, culinary criticism, and in Ferguson’s case study of Nineteenth century France, texts on gastronomy, or the art of eating good food. The argument that the construction of a national culinary identity relies on text is apparent in the work of Appadurai as well. Appadurai has looked specifically at the evolving genres of cookbooks which developed in various historical contexts of post-colonial India, and identified the cookbooks as the primary source for the construction of a national Indian cuisine.242)Appadurai, ‘How to Make a National Cuisine’, p. 2-22.

Food Historian Piero Camporesi has made a similar case in his discussion of the rise of national cuisine in late nineteenth-century Italy. In the case of Italy, he argues that one could pinpoint a singular cookbook that was responsible for constructing a popular culinary code that became a code for national identification during the late nineteenth century.243)Pellegrino Artusi, La Sciensa in cucina et l’art di magiar bene – Manuale pratico per le famiglie (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well, 1891). From Piero Camporesi, The Magic Harvest: Food, Folklore and Society, trans. J.K. Hall, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993, p.113-52 This popular Italian culinary code, comprised of dishes such as spaghetti with tomato sauce, corn polenta, and potato gnocchi, was more important, Camporesi argues, than the standardization of the Tuscan dialect into modern Italian. All three scholars have concluded that culinary text(s) is essential in laying the foundation for a culinary discourse that would sustain the identification linkage between food dishes and the nation.

In the Thai case, one could identify the already mentioned MKHP by Lady Plian as the text that started the modern Thai culinary discourse. Thanet points to the fact that Lady Plian is already viewed as the ‘savior of Thai gastronomy’ because of her cookbook.244)Thanet, ‘Kwam Pen Anitchang Kong A-han Chin Chan Sung Nai Krung Tep: Kan Doen Tang Su Sen Tang Kong A-han Prachathipatai’ (The transient nature of Chinese high cuisine in Bangkok: Towards a democratic foodway), Sinlapa Wattanatum, 4:1, February (2003), p. 251. The celebrated Australian chef, David Thompson, used the MKHP as the format for the writing of his own Thai culinary encyclopedia, Thai Food (2002). Most importantly, he pays tribute to Lady Plian for being the first to ‘quantify recipes’, and so to ensure that that ‘they could be faithfully reproduced’.245)Thompson, Thai Food, p.132-133. True to all the praises, MKHP brought together the ‘high’ culinary concoction of the Bangkok court and presented it in a western format of cookbook writing. In this sense, the MKHP made the ‘high’ culinary knowledge systematically transmittable to the modern educated Thai middle class readership.

MKHP did not encapsulate the culinary narrative of the nation in the same way as the various culinary texts discussed by Furguson, Appadurai, and Camporesi. Lady Plian’s book remained potent in the public culinary discourse of Thailand because of its role as a guideline for the conduct of Thai ‘modern’ women in the private sphere of the home and the cosmos of the family, but not as a guideline for the consolidation of the Thai state. Despite being the cornerstone of Thai culinary discourse, the Mae Krua Hua Pa is rather obscure in the Thai popular imagination due its lack of circulation. From the onset, the publication was a huge commercial failure.246)Thanet, ‘Kan, Krob, Krua, Fai: Chak Tawan Tok Su Tawan Ok’, p. 252. This was partly due to its expensive price at the time.247)In the early 1900 the MKHP 5 books series was initially sold at 1 baht and 50 satang and later rose to 2 baht per book. This was during the time when an annual salary of a minor government official was around about 1,000 baht. Tanyarat Samattiya, The Importance of Indo-Pacific Chub Mackerel on Thai Society and Economy 1854 – 1953, Master’s thesis, Department of History, Thammasat University, 2002, p.53-54.

Further, I would argue that there was a lack of interest in the ‘civilizing’ of the Thai kitchen due to its long association with the social space of the female gender. In comparison to the localization of knowledge and other civilizing practices, the culinary art was given the least attention. The lack of attention, I would argue, is because the Thai culinary art is not considered a sastra, or a body of knowledge. In the discussion of Thai manual knowledge, historian Craig Reynolds points out that the Indic word sastra was used as a signifier of important corpus of Thai knowledge as well as to forge a neologism coined for Western disciplinary knowledge.248)Craig Reynolds, ‘Thai Manual Knowledge: Theory and Practice’, Seditious Histories, Contesting Thai and Southeast Asian Pasts, Singapore: University of Washington Press, 2006, p.218. While the word tamra, or manual, is used in referring to cookbooks, the Thai culinary realm has never been associated with the word sastra. I would further argue that knowledge could only be classified as a sastra when its codification of knowledge has a public relevance. Unlike European gastronomy, Thai gastronomy remained in the shadow of the well-defined public knowledge such as Western sciences or medicine.

Moreover, the case of the culinary discourse not being considered a sastra in the Thai public consciousness reflects the gender dimension of Thai public knowledge. Because culinary art has been synonymous with women and the private space of the kitchen, the complex culinary discourse was never granted the status of sastra in its

male dominated public consideration. As the gourmet Thompson notes, ‘little is known of most of the great cooks of Thailand’. While appreciated and occasionally celebrated, the place of the Siamese women who contributed to the maintenance of Thai cuisine ‘remained in their kitchen.’249)Thompson, Thai Food, p.133.

While food did not became a sastra, the historical context of siwilai introduced the term a-han, the Pali rooted word for food to the Thai culinary discourse.250)Ratchabandit Dictionary, p.1371. In text, this word first appeared in Lady Plian’s book. Prior to this the word commonly used were Khrueang Khao (savory dishes) and Khrueang Wan (sweet dishes), as evident in Prince Isaransundhorn’s KHKKW, and Kub Khao, which literally means ‘an accompaniment with rice’, used by King Chulalongkorn’s Tumra Thum Kub Khao Farang. The original usage of the word a-han verbally is unknown, but through text we can linked the Pali rooted word with the modernization of food knowledge.

MKHP, nevertheless, initiated a Thai middle class ‘gastronomic field’ which is very different from the case studies of France, India, or Italy previously mentioned. MKHP did create its ‘Republic of Letters’ even if it was in very small numbers. Re- printed sporadically six times over the course of the twentieth century, (in 1929, 1927, 1952, 1958, 1971, and 2002),251)Most of the printings have been in an incomplete manner, and only the 1927 version (used in this thesis) and the 2002 version present the most of Lady Plian’s writing. In term of circulation, figures are unreliable at best. The Suan Dusit Culinary School website revealed, for example, that only 2000 copies were printed for the 1958 version. It is also worth to mention that the 2002 edition has long been out of circulation and that the Thai National Library did not possess this particular version. See information on MKHP printing and circulation at the website of Suan Dusit Culinary Museum, of the Suan Dusit Rajabhat University. the MKHP had an intriguing pattern of circulation that reveals the peculiar nature of Thai middle class gastronomic culture: the funeral memorial cookbook. This is because half of the MKHP literary life was due to its publication being a part of a cremation volume. The copies of MKHP available at the

National Library of Thailand, for example, were all photocopies from the 1927 publication, which was part of a cremation volume from the funeral of Khunying Pradit Amonpiman.252)Khunying Pradit Amonpiman, MKHP (1927).

The first instance when cremation volume cookbooks were given out was in 1880 at the funeral of Queen Sunandha Kumariratana (1860-1880), the first Queen of Rama V.253)Montip, ‘Tumra A-han Ngarn Sop’ (cremation cookbook), in Kin Bab Thai,pp. 221-224. After the end of absolutism in 1932, the royal court’s practice of publishing cremation volume cookbooks was adapted by what could be considered the ‘Bangkok middle class’ families. The definition of Bangkok ‘middle class’ is rather ambiguous. Prior to the overthrow of the absolute Monarchy in 1932, Barmé identifies that the Bangkok middle class was composed of both ‘Thai and Chinese’, with the male component of the Thais ‘drawn largely from the lower and middle ranks of the newly restructured bureaucracy’, and the Chinese working in the private sector as lesser merchants, entrepreneurs, and skilled artisans.254)Barmé, Woman, Man, Bangkok, p.9.

Reviewing the cremation cookbooks consulted during my research at the National Library of Thailand, as well as my family and friends private collection of cremation cookbooks,255)Thanks must go to Dr. Sumet Thantivejkul. the panoramic view of the deceased’s social and professional background supports Barmé’s claims. Throughout the twentieth century, the families that sponsored cremation cookbooks came from the old aristocracy,256 256)Khunying Pradit Amonpiman 1926; Mom Chao Raohinawadi Diskul 1984; Thanphuying Prasansuk Thantivejkul, 2003. the army,257)Khunying Wibunluk Choonhavan (wife of Field Marshall Phin Choonhavan), 1955; Wanna Ketsakun (daughter of lieutenant colonel Phra Sanwit Pricha), 1973; Air Marshall Montri Harnwichai,
1989; 258)Lieutenant General Chalerm Mahatananon. the police,259)Deputy Superintendent Tim Penrot, 1976. the bureaucracy,260)Khunying Panni Winitnaipak, 1991; Chaiwat Hutachareon, 2008. and the Chinese entrepreneurs,261)Sanguan Lamsam, 1942; 1991. all of whom are centered in Bangkok. A similar picture is painted by Thompson’s research where he used over sixty-six cremation volumes a culinary primary source in composing his cookbook.262)Thompson, Thai Food, p.638-641.

Like the MKHP, these cremation volumes usually have restricted circulation.263)An example from 2003 Creamation Volume of Thanphuying Prasansuk Tantivejkul, who was the head chef of Chitralada Palace only two thousands copied were published. See Thanphuying Prasansuk Tantivejkul, Kong Wang, Kong Wan, A-han Kaw Muang Petch (Snack, Sweets, and Savory of Petchaburi), Bangkok: Nana Sing Pim, 2003.  With a few exceptions, the cremation cookbook lacks commercial value.264)Khunying Panni Winitnaipak’s cremation volume, Krua Mae (Mother’s Kitchen) is an example of this. After her funeral in 1991, a thousand and five hundred copies were re-published and sold for charitable causes. A restaurant even adopted many of her recipes to their menu and used it as their selling point. See Khunying Panni Winitnaipak, Krua Mae, Bangkok: Modern Associate Press, 1991. What it possesses is the cultural capital due both to its exclusivity in circulation and the social background of the deceased and their family. Further, the lack of commercial value reflects the Bangkok middle class’s attitude towards the Thai culinary discourse, which remained not a body of public knowledge or sastra, but a private venture of culinary adventurism and personal taste.

Nevertheless, the continued printing of the cremation cookbooks demonstrates the continuation of a tradition set by the royal court that spread to the Bangkok middle class in the post-absolutist era. It even, I would argue, constitutes a Thai ‘gastronomic field’ as it reflects a socialization of complex recipes and culinary repertoire that were consumed by the middle class. The socialization reflects a coherent tradition in the exchange of culinary knowledge and its enculturation. Further, these cremation volumes represent the new bastion of the ‘high’ culinary system of Thai society in the age of global capitalism. Reviewing some of these examples reveals the process of ‘high’ culinary concoction in the context of twentieth-century modernity.

The cremation volume of Lady Prasansuk Tantivejkul (1919-2003), who was the head chef of Chitralada Palace, points to a variety of food recipes available in the province of Petchaburi, both the vernacular and the elaborate.265)Thanphuying Prasansuk, Kong Wang, Kong Wan, A-han Kaw Muang Petch. Introducing these recipes to her cookbook’s audience, made up largely of the Bangkok middle class, reveals the role of cookbooks in explaining and categorizing the provincial Petchaburi food to the Bangkok middle class audience. Through her cookbook, food sources that were originally available in that particular coastal area along the Gulf of Thailand can now be made available in a Bangkok middle-class household. In short, Lady Prasansuk’s cookbook is an example of how Bangkok middle class classified and constructed knowledge of ‘local’ food across the country. In this sense, Thai regional food knowledge needs to be seen in terms in the historical context of its construction rather than a timeless entity. Because the process of food concoction, adaptation, and evolution across Thailand happened at a very different pace, some dishes that are considered as ‘typical’ to a certain provinces or regions may be a result of a temporal popularity, rather than deeply rooted community traditions. The example of Lady Prasansuk’s cookbook shows how important the Bangkok middle class of her generation is to the process of categorizing the knowledge of Thai regional cuisine.

Another example of middle class culinary knowledge construction is the personal recipes of Khunying Panni Winitnaipak, published in the cremation cookbook, Krua Mae (Mother’s Kitchen) at her funeral in 1991. Reviewing Khunying Panni’s culinary concoction is like ‘peering through her kitchen window’,266)Theophano, Eat My Words, p.6. as her recipes offered her personal culinary inventiveness on the existing well-known vernacular dishes such as the nam phrik and various kinds of common curry dishes.267)Khunying Panni, Krua Mae, p.84, 94-98, 114-15. Her variations offer a new culinary path in gastronomic experimentation with various vernacular dishes, and in doing so, make them part of the middle class culinary knowledge. Further, the inventiveness of vernacular dishes like the nam phrik further emphasizes the importance of the existing vernacular culinary culture as the base for culinary imagination.

Both of these examples reveal the larger process of culinary enculturation. The culinary projection from the Bangkok middle class represents the culinary mainstream in the Thai culinary landscape. From creating regional identity to furthering the Thai culinary discourse by personal experimentation, the Bangkok middle class became the new social force in constructing the Thai culinary ‘high’. The knowledge of this culinary ‘high’, nevertheless, remains in limited circulation.

Viewing these cremation cookbooks as culinary memoir, their function is paradoxical because, on one hand, they work as a ‘fixity’ of an established culinary tradition, yet on the other, they also provide a ‘high’ variation of, as well as imposition of values and experience on the recipes they produced, and thus represent a new form of ‘fluid’ representation of food. This representation from personal recipes cultivated an environment of culinary expansiveness through adaptability and experimentation.

Alternatively, the cremation volumes represent a continuation of royal modernity that spread through the middle class of Bangkok. This cultural picture reflected the uninterrupted importance of the royal court and its worldview that is transferred to the middle class consciousness as the harbinger of modern national life. More importantly, it reflects how, despite of the culinary distinction created, Bangkok remains the social space of culinary standard bearer, as well as the main cultural space that inspired the socialization of culinary discourse. In this way, the Bangkok middle class, like the royal court before it, represents the cultural mainstream of manufactured culinary trends for the country. The only difference is that the Bangkok middle class constructed a very expansive ‘gastronomic field’ that encapsulates both the ‘high’ and the ‘low’ in its pursuit of culinary hedonism. The cultural assimilation between the ‘high’ and the ‘low’ must be understood through the larger process of national assimilation, which was inspired by two socio-cultural forces throughout the twentieth century. These two forces, nationalism and royal revivalism, shall be considered next.

Standardization of the National Vernacular Culinary Culture

The standardization of the national culinary code was inspired by two historical contexts of the twentieth-century. The first instance came about through the cultural nationalism introduced by the post-absolutist authoritarian government of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkram (Phibun, 1897-1964), during his first tenure as ‘the leader’ (Phunam) from December 1938 to August 1944.

The end of absolute monarchy (June 24, 1932) in Siam signaled the shift in the perception of Thai nation-hood. In an attempted to generate a non-royal nationalism, the People’s Party (Khana Ratsadorn) implemented various policies aimed at shifting people’s allegiance from the monarch to a new sense of national entitlement and connection with the land. This is best exemplified by the first proclamation the People’s Party issued to the people of Bangkok where it stated: ‘People! Let it be known that our country belongs to the people and not to the king as deceived’ (sic).268) ‘Announcement of the People’s Party’ June 24, 1932, in Thai Politics: Extracts and Documents 1932-1957, ed. Thak Chaloemtiarana, Bangkok: Thammasat, 1978, p.5.

This People’s Party first concentrated on a political constitution and the ‘power of the masses’ (amnat mati mahachon), as articulated by Prince Wan Waithayakorn (Prince Wan, 1891-1976), in order to replace ‘royal authority’ (amnat mati pramahakasat).269)Prince Wan Waithayakon, ‘Ratthaniyom’, Chumnum Pra Nipon Kong Tan Wan (Selected Writings of Prince Wan), Bangkok: Padung Suksa, 1965, p.4.

When Phibun came to power in 1938, the focused of national authority was more attached to the fascistic themes of ‘the nation’ and ‘leader’. Among other things, Phibun’s regime attempted to construct a new national culture (wattanatam) through a series of cultural reforms, first being the introduction of the ‘Cultural Mandates’ (ratthaniyom), and secondly by targeting the Chinese as the Others in the process of ‘Thai-ification’ of the national economy. These two aspects of Phibun’s regime are relevant to the construction of the standardized culinary vernacular in Thailand.

On food consumption, the Cultural Mandate prescribed that ‘Thai should consume only food prepared from products which originate or are produced in Thailand’.270) ‘Cultural Mandate’ No.5, in Thai Politics, p.248.

This autarkic sentiment constructed a sense of national ownership, connecting the people and their livelihood with the land and food sources of the country. While historian argues that Phibun’s Cultural Mandate was a replica of the Chakri’s Royal Mandate (Phraratchaniyom), which aimed at setting ‘proper’ and ‘civilized’ guidelines for everyday life activities,271)Reynolds, ‘National Identity and Cultural Nationalism’, in Seditious Histories, p.248.
a contemporary to Phibun’s regime argued otherwise.

Further, the cultural space of the nation is redefined by an encompassing Thai identity that replaced the ethnically diverse, plural society of Siam with a new singular ‘Thai-ness’ that assimilated cultural diversity through an ethnocentric attitude adapted by Phibun and his clique. It was the idea of the Thai race that was cultivated during this time that replaced the authority of the monarchy.

This replacement is significant because for the first time in Thai history the ‘proper conduct’ and cultural self were defined, not through the throne, but through a shared national culture, based on this ‘power of the masses’. This justification reflected the economic ‘Thai-fication’ introduced by Phibun that ideologically allocated the Chinese as the Thai nation’s Other in the process of consolidating his nationalist agenda. In other words, Phibun replaced the royal authority by attempting to construct a popular Thai identity, based solely on the institution of the Thai nation and the standardization of cultural practices.

One of the most prominent and lasting legacies of Phibun’s regime in the realm of Thai culinary discourse was the ‘Thai-ification’ of Chinese rice noodles (kuaitiao), Sombat estimates that the Chinese rice noodle, both in fried (phat) and blanched (luak) forms became a popular vernacular diet of Bangkok as a result of the Chinese mass influx during the reign of Rama V.272)Sombat, Kraya Niyai, p.101-102. While the kuaitiao phat thai or Thai fried noodle became an iconic Thai dish the world over, it is important to note that the blanched rice noodle served both dried and with soup remains one of the most popular ‘street food’ across Thailand today, even more popular than the phat thai.

The Thai expression for a popular form of blanched noodle is kuaitiao rua or ‘boat noodles’ was said to have originated during the great flood of Bangkok in 1942.273)Ibid., p.102-103.  This was three years after Phibun initiated the ‘Thai-ification’ of Bangkok hawker food by forcing all government ministries, and all the school and properties connected to these ministries, to only permit Thai hawkers on their premises.274)Skinner, Chinese Society in Thailand: an Analytical History, p.262. Sombat further points out that during the war years, Phibun forced all government officials – from schoolteachers to district officers – in every province to sell noodles, thus expanding the ‘Thai-ification’ of the rice noodle by formulating a national market for noodle consumption.275)Sombat, Kraya Niyai, p.104.

The example of the ‘Thai-ification’ of the rice noodle is one of many culinary ‘Thai- ifications’ of Phibun’s regime that involves the replacing of Chinese workers with Thai. In the broader picture this ‘Thai-ification’ did not really work. In the first year that Phibun came into power, he tried to ‘Thai-ify’ food related industries from Chinese ownership in the area of rice milling, salt production and sales, slaughter houses, as well as the fishing industry in terms of boat ownership.276)Ibid., p.262-263. While the aim of replacing Chinese with Thais nationals was to exert Thai control to the chains of production in the food industries and other businesses, in reality these programs had little effect in transforming the economic structure. Nevertheless, the kuaitiao dishes became a common vernacular food across the country.

The ‘Thai-ification’ of the rice noodle and various ingredients traditionally owned by Chinese business reflected the larger context of Phibun’s nation-building policy. This national project ‘sought to standardize social and cultural practices across the country as well as across class’.277)Peleggi, ‘Refashioning Civilization’, p.75. With the agricultural and food industries of Siam being originally dominated by the Chinese, the ‘Thai-ification’ process changed the food pattern throughout the country. As Thais assumed professions in the food industry vacated by the Chinese, the ingredients traditionally associated with the Chinese

foodway became ‘Thai’ and slowly other culinary forms in the Chinese foodway across the nation became ‘Thai’ in the process. As I have mentioned earlier in the discussion of culinary conjunctures, the ‘Thai-ification’ of the Phibun era localized the Chinese foodway by making it the standard national vernacular food during this period.

The example of the rice noodle represents a first example of standardization of a Thai vernacular dish that transformed an ethnic foodway into a standardized national diet. It came as result of overt government effort in ‘Thai-ifying’ the Chinese foodway, from its production, its culinary form, through to its distribution pattern. Even the name of the fried noodle, phat thai signifies the ‘Thai-ification’ of Phibun’s regime. The agency in constructing the trend here is the state, which achieved its end by manipulation, or more precisely, its nationalization of the country’s market on both the demand and supply side. Never before has a concerted effort been made in the nationalization of Thai cuisine. At the ideological level, Phibun’s nationalization of the rice noodle reflected his post-absolutist ideology of culturally replacing the people’s attachment to the crown with a standardized national culture.

As a result, the rice noodle became a culinary vernacular that was not previously there. The noodle, in many ways, represents a ‘success’ story of Phibun’s regime in a sense that it cultivated a sense of a unified nation through culinary commonality. In today’s cultural landscape, the anti-Chinese sentiment behind the construction of the vernacular national foodway has been forgotten.

The Standardization of Middle Class Food and Royal Revivalism.

The second process of national standardization can be understood in terms of royal revivalism, which was initiated by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat (1908-1963), and peaked during the late 1970s and the 1980s. Political scientist Thak Chaloemtiarana argues that Sarit made the throne the source of legitimacy for his power and policies, as well as a contributor to social causes, which in the process, helped increase the popularity of both the king and the government.278)Thak Chaloemtiarana, Thailand: The Politics of Despotic Paternalism, Chiang Mai: Silkworm books, 2007, p.204-218. Over the time, the throne becames the source of personal prestige and social mobility for the rising middle class: for example, the old noble titles like Khunying and Thanphuying were bestowed upon those who ‘contributed to society’. In the realm of food, royal revivalism made the middle class adopt the food culture of the royal court. This was done through the publishing of cookbooks, magazine articles, and the portrayal of food in literature generally. Most of these agencies can be attributed to the context of post-Phibun royalism in general.

Thailand entered what Peleggi calls ‘Free World’ œcumene after the fall of the second Phibun regime (1947-1957).279)Peleggi, Thailand: the Worldly Kingdom, p.145. This resulted in the ‘Americanization’ of Thai culture in many ways. The royalist, who had been waiting for their chance to regain power, utilized the global fight against communism as one of the justification in championing the revival of monarchism.280)Peleggi, ‘Refashioning Civilization: Dress and Bodily Practice in Thai Nation-Building’, p.77. In subsequent years, the threat of Communism was increasingly invoked to justify protection of the monarchy. The throne became a ideological site for the promotion of nationalism, which restored the monarch place at the center of the nation. In the context of food, the revival occurred in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the culinary landscape, the legacy of Phibun remained in terms of the rice noodle and the ‘Thai-ificaiton’ of the vernacular. A new social battleground for identity construction was chosen as a site for effecting the monarchical revivalism. This battleground was the rising new generation of the Bangkok urban middle class of the late 1970s through to the 1990s. This new middle class that had emerged from the economic progress of the 1980s was the new urban rich, made up of professionals, technicians, executives, and managers in the commercial economy.281)Baker and Pasuk, A History of Thailand, p.207. The economic boom also created a cultural void in terms of detachment from the socio-cultural identity of the Thai nation. This void was perceived by the new middle class and its media. Here the throne provided a sense of belonging to a stable past, and thus became a site to which many of the new middle class aspired in their search of a new cultural meaning and sense of community. It was through education and popular magazines that this identity enculturation occurred.

I shall illustrate the process of shaping royal revivalism among the urban middle class through two examples of popular literature that grew out of magazine serial articles published from the late 1970s through to the 1990s. The first is a serial children stories known as the Muea Khun Ta Khun Yai Yang Dek (When Grandma and Grandpa were kids) written by Tipawani Sannitwong Na Ayutthaya (1932-2006), which first appeared in the popular weekly women magazine, Satri San (1948-1996).282)Satri San magazine had a circulation of 60,000 copies printed per week according to its publisher, Satri San Kan Pim. The serial articles by Tipawani started in 1972, and were published in a set of four books in 1977, and since then it was re-published twenty-three times, last time in 2005.283)Tipawani Sannitwong Na Ayutthaya, Muea Khun Ta Khun Yai Yang Dek (When Grandma and Grandpa were kids) Book 1-4, Bangkok: Sopon Kan Pim, 2005.p.1-4. Muea Khun Ta Khun Yai Yang Dek also became part of the primary school’s ‘extra curricula’ reading list for all state-run schools.284)Ibid.

The stories in Muea Khun Ta Khun Yai Yang Dek are historically set between the reigns of Rama VI and Rama VII.285)The preface stated this time period, however in one of the story on ‘racing car’ which referred to the abdication of Rama VII and the first visit time King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII), which occurred in 1938 as well as the fall of Singapore in 1942. See Tipawani, Muea Khun Ta Khun Yai Yang Dek, book 3, p.63-67. The stories narrated by the grandparents to their grandchildren, tell of various sketches of everyday life in an urban Bangkok middle- class setting. The narrative refers to many culinary practices of the family from the nature of a traditional Thai kitchen, table manners, conduct of a proper Thai woman including culinary preparation and seasonal culinary patterns.286)Ibid., book 1, p.43-46; book 2, p.57-60; book 3, p.13-18; book 4, p.193-199. The Muea Khun Ta Khun Yai Yang Dek even has chapters, devoted to telling the story of the courtier’s (chao wang) life in the palace.287)Ibid., book 2, p.133-141.

Informing the child audience of the late 1970s and 1980s of the culinary practices and other domestic values is a way, I would argue, of constructing a standardized set of urban middle-class values in the rapidly changing socio-economic landscape of Bangkok. The stories serve as ‘sites of memory’ in instilling such values and constructing a shared middle-class tradition that is connected to the royal court. Similar to the Muea Khun Ta Khun Yai Yang Dek, another culinary narration, written in the form of magazine articles by a minor member of the royal family, Mom Luang Nueang Ninlarat (1910-1994), for the monthly magazine, Ploi Kam Petch (1992-present), deserves to be mentioned.288)Ploi Kam Petch magazine have a bimonthly circulation of 100,000 copies. Sri Sara publishing. Her articles were collected and published in a two-volume book entitled Chiwit Nai Wang or ‘Life in the Royal Court’.289)M.L. Nueang Ninlarat, Chiwit Nai Wang (Life in the Royal Court), Vol.1-2, Bangkok: Sri Sara, 1994, p.89, 204-223.

Nueang recounts each phase of her life by relating it to a dish she either tastes or learned to cook at Suan Sunantha Palace, from the time of her youth that she spent with the princesses in residence, Princess Malineenopadara (1885-1924) and Princess Nipanopadol (1886-1935), both of whom were daughters of King Chulalongkorn. Many of her stories were accounts of the 1930s towards the end of absolutism. She recounts how the royals fled the country after 1932 and how Suan Sunantha was practically abandoned. In terms of culinary nostalgia, Nueang provides recipes and stories behind dishes that were typical to not only the royal court, but Bangkok during that time. The culinary practices of the court during the early twentieth century, in terms of its Thai conjunctures, were not that different from the culinary code of Bangkok such as the nam phrik pla thu and satay.290)Pinida Sagnanseriwanich, ‘A-han Chao Wang: Bueanglang To Sawei’ (Court food: behind the royal dining table), Sinlapa Wattanatum, 19:10 (1998), p.81. But as Nueang demonstrates, the cultural distinction was the ‘proper’ code of conduct in the culinary practices to which royal court subscribed.

Using the Suan Sunantha palace and its school for courtier ladies, Nipakarn school, as the backdrop of her accounts, Nueang expresses the court’s culinary power in representing the ‘proper’ culinary practices, both in terms of preparation in the kitchen and food presentation. Her stories provided the audiences of 1980s Thailand a glimpse of the ordinary life at court, and the ‘proper’ practices echoing the phu di standard that was imposed to the courtiers during the era that promoted siwilai. At the same time, Nueang’s narrative portrayed a realistic picture of court life. Unlike the narrative of Ploi, the fictional character in Kukrit Pramoj’s 1981 literary classic, Si Pandin (Four Reigns), Nueang’s story present a childhood account where mischievous and playfulness existed side by side with the cultivation of phu di refinement and courtly propriety.291)Kukrit, Si Pandin (Four Reigns), Bangkok: Nammee Books, 2005.

The two narratives from the aforementioned magazine articles both functioned as sites of memory that increased the court’s prestige. In the culinary realm, both examples provide a constructed historical connection between the Bangkok middle class of the late Twentieth century and the royal court through manufacturing a standardized ‘Thai identity’ (ekkalak Thai). This standardization occurs in the realm of collective memory. Perpetuated by the middle class media, the construction of sites of memory of the culinary and domestic life of the absolutist past painted over the populist nationalism of Phibun’s era.

The standardization of the middle-class’s culinary memory also created a new culinary form of standardized national culinary repertoire that centered on the old court’s menu and fashion. It was during this time, I would argue, that a national middle-class public eating culture emerged. Culinary narratives, such as the one by Nueang, have inspired a new standardized public eating culture that is distinguishable from the hawkers of the vernacular urban life. Suburban ‘garden restaurants’ (suan a- han) and restaurants (phattakan) proliferated across Bangkok during the decades of economic progress as public eating out became both fashionable and convenient.292)Gisèle Yasmeen, Bangkok’s Foodscape: Public Eating, Gender Relations, and Urban Change, Bangkok: White Lotus, 2006, p.83-89.

Such proliferation, based on personal observation, also occurred outside of Bangkok and spread across the country.

Conclusion: Thai Food from the Rise of the Bangkok Dynasty to its Revival

In David Thompson’s 2004 cookbook, Thai Food, the Australian gourmet relates the genealogy of Thai culinary knowledge that was passed down to him. Thai cooking was introduced to him by a lady called Sombat Janphetchara, who was taught how to cook by Jib Bunnag, the granddaughter of Lady Plian. He even went on to describe how Lady Plian’s family descended from Rama II.293)Thompson, Thai Food, p.132-133. In doing so, Thompson illustrates how his cookbook is part of the Thai culinary tradition, with cooking methods inherited from the authors of KHKKW and MKHP. This genealogy of knowledge reflects the scope that the transmission of Thai food tradition has taken place over the course of two centuries. Tracing the development of Thai culinary knowledge, from the early nineteenth-century Bangkok court to contemporary time, this thesis offers a sketch of how the shaping of Thai gastronomy corresponded to larger social and cultural changes in Thai society. From a sociological point of view, these changes can be classify as the various ways Bangkok has interacted with the outside world.

The first phase, discussed in the second chapter, came about through Bangkok court’s state consolidation after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. In this context, Rama II’s menu in the KHKKW represents the accumulation of different culinary codes, gained through centuries of seaborne trades. Utilizing the anthropological approach that differentiate the ‘high’ and the ‘low’ culinary codes, as well as applying Braudelian temporality of conjuncture to the analysis of KHKKW, Rama II’s menu can be looked at as an ‘high’ food repertoire. Using similar approach on other records also offers a sketch of dishes belonging to the culinary ‘low’.

In one sense, the food repertoire in the KHKKW reflected the ethnically diverse foodways of Siam’s royal capital, characterized in such fashion since the seventeenth- century Ayutthaya due to its role as an important entrepôt in regional trades. The adaptation of dishes from the capital’s diverse foodways by the court represents a story of social development through an accumulation of centuries of culinary interactions between the court and its urban populace. This story of social development could be call, to used Braudel’s apt terminology, ‘unconscious history’294)Braudel, On History, p.39. : a history of unconscious elements in social development that belongs to the time of conjuncture.

The turning point of the court’s worldview about their position in the world came in the middle of the nineteenth-century, exemplified by the Bowring treaty of 1855. As discussed in the third chapter, this shift in worldview resulted in the Bangkok court’s re-fashioning themselves to be part of modern European world order, a process of siwilai. Through this process, the modern Thai cookbook came to life, with Lady Plian’s MKHP being the first of its kind. The birth of the cookbook reflects the shift in Thai court’s imagination of their culinary Self, based on what they perceived as the diets of Others. By borrowing the repertoire of dishes in Rama II’s KHKKW, Lady Plian’s culinary template represents the continuation of the Bangkok’s court culinary tradition. Or to put it in another way, the MKHP made modern the court’s food culture.

In the twentieth-century, the ‘proper’ court’s tradition was not the only representative of Thai food culture. As illustrated in chapter four, the dynamic of social and cultural changes in post-absolutist Thailand creates multiple layers of Thai food culture, based on different groups of consumer’s of Thai culinary knowledge. In this new phase, the Bangkok middle-class maintained and perpetuated the ‘proper’ court’s code among themselves through the circulation of memorial cookbooks. I call the Bangkok’s middle-class culinary code as the culinary mainstream. A new layer of a national vernacular foodway was created through the nationalism of Marshal Phibun in the 1940s. Dishes like the phat thai is an example of Phibun’s legacy.

Standard Thai menu emerged as the middle class adopted the royal court’s culinary legacy during the period where royal revivalism was the prevailing national ideology. This standardization occurs through the proliferation of food literature in the various print media. The standardization of the court’s repertoire can also be understood in terms of the middle class desires to preserve Thai identity (ekkalak thai) in the light of the globalized cultural landscape of the second half of the twentieth-century. All of this happened while a public eating culture in Thailand emerges with middle class restaurants across the country.

The sketch of Thai food culture in this thesis reveals the important of culinary text in the dissemination of culinary knowledge from a sociological perspective. Through texts, the process of constructing and disseminating culinary knowledge of Thai gastronomy is revealed. Further studies can be conducted through comparing the process of construction and dissemination in of culinary knowledge in neighboring cultural centers within Southeast Asian regions. Comparing Thai food culture with neighboring gastronomic fields can perhaps lead to a better understanding how a certain culinary trends came about. I would speculate that by moving beyond national boundaries, a new picture of culinary ‘high’ and ‘low’ would be revealed. Perhaps the methodology utilized in this thesis can be apply to look at a larger perspective of food culture in terms of region, like Southeast Asia, or different cultural sphere like Indic or Sinic œcumene. Another dimension of Thai food culture untouched by this thesis is the realm of food tourism and Thai food abroad. This topic deserves its own lengthy study that involves looking at the notion of authenticity of food in the modern globalized cultural landscape.

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Unpublished Materials

  • Kamontip Changkamon, ‘Food: Eating Etiquette Standardization and Class Identity’, Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, Silapakorn University, 2002.
  • Kitiarsa, Pattana, ‘Farang as Siamese Occidentalism’, Asia Research Institute Working Paper Series, No. 49, National University of Singapore, 2005.
  • Tanyarat Samattiya, The Importance of Indo-Pacific Chub Mackerel on Thai Society and Economy 1854 – 1953, Master’s thesis, Department of History, Thammasat University, 2002.

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