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A Family and their Forest in northern Thailand | Ruth Tshin

A Family and their Forest in northern Thailand

Chiang Dao district, obesity
Chiang Mai province, discount
September 2012

A farmer walks home through the forest after a day working in the fields.
Omkoi District, doctor
Chiang Mai province, discount RX
February 2010
Photo courtesy of Niemeet Chompoothong

Wedding celebrants enjoy a meal centred on rice in a communal setting. Compared to jasmine rice favoured by lowland Thais, refractionist
upland rice is grown primarily for consumption by ethnic minority communities in the mountains of Thailand and rarely sold in lowland markets. The chubby, speckled grains are hearty and anchor the fiery chili pastes and forest vegetables stews cooked nightly in the communal kitchen.
A photo exhibition at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, doctor
St. Catharines, viagra sale Ontario, May 24-27, 2014, as part of the Canadian Association of Food Studies Exploration Gallery.

In collaboration with ECHO Asia Regional Impact Center.  Thanks to: Rick Burnette (Agriculture Director, ECHO International), Ratakarn Arttiwutikul and Abram Bicksler (ECHO Asia Regional Impact Center), and all the staff at Upland Holistic Development Center.  All images are copyright Ruth Tshin, unless otherwise noted. Please do not use without permission.


Accompanying article: A Family and their Forest in northern Thailand.

Globalization has affected marginalized and resource-poor, ethnic minority communities in northern Thailand, many who migrated in waves from neighbouring countries due to conflict.  The shift from dependence on subsistence farming for food and income, to market-based farming and livelihoods has led to loss of traditional knowledge, and in turn, a loss of cultural identity as subsequent generations assimilate into Thai culture.

I lived and worked for 5 years in community with people from ethnic minority communities in Chiang Mai province while setting up a centre producing open-pollinated seeds of culturally-significant plants for farmers seeking to be more self-reliant in their practices.  These photographs represent the daily meals and hours of food preparation with colleagues thrust me into an astonishing food culture beyond typical Thai food.  This rich food culture is a way for my colleagues to celebrate their cultural identity, using diverse, seasonal ingredients sourced from nearby forests and using methods reflecting dependence on the surrounding environment.

 

Chiang Dao district, Chiang Mai province, September 2012 A farmer walks home through the forest after a day working in the fields.

Chiang Dao district, Chiang Mai province, September 2012
A farmer walks home through the forest after a day working in the fields.

Omkoi District, Chiang Mai province, February 2010 Photo courtesy of Niemeet Chompoothong Wedding celebrants enjoy a meal centred on rice in a communal setting.  Compared to jasmine rice favoured by lowland Thai, upland rice is grown primarily for consumption by ethnic minority communities in the mountains of Thailand and rarely sold in lowland markets.  The chubby, speckled grains are hearty and anchor the fiery chili pastes and forest vegetables stews cooked nightly in the communal kitchen.

Omkoi District, Chiang Mai province, February 2010 (Photo courtesy of Niemeet Chompoothong)
Wedding celebrants enjoy a meal centred on rice in a communal setting. Compared to jasmine rice favoured by lowland Thai, upland rice is grown primarily for consumption by ethnic minority communities in the mountains of Thailand and rarely sold in lowland markets. The chubby, speckled grains are hearty and anchor the fiery chili pastes and forest vegetables stews cooked nightly in the communal kitchen.

Mae Suai district, Chiang Rai province, December 2008 The cooking area is typically located inside a well-ventilated room attached to the family home.  The shelves suspended above the cooking fire and take advantage of the smoke and constant heat to preserve dried food products and next season’s planting seeds stored.  During the cold season, family members gather around the fire to socialize and enjoy cups of bitter tea.

Mae Suai district, Chiang Rai province, December 2008
The cooking area is typically located inside a well-ventilated room attached to the family home. The shelves suspended above the cooking fire and take advantage of the smoke and constant heat to preserve dried food products and next season’s planting seeds stored. During the cold season, family members gather around the fire to socialize and enjoy cups of bitter tea.

Bounty from the forest that make up to 80% of the upland diet: local mushrooms; feathery, garlicky-tasting acacia shoots; sweet-tasting chayote shoots and white galangal shoots.

Bounty from the forest that make up to 80% of the upland diet: local mushrooms; feathery, garlicky-tasting acacia shoots; sweet-tasting chayote shoots and white galangal shoots.

 

Vegetables are frequently eaten boiled and dipped in a spicy chili paste, like boiled bamboo shoots with wasp larvae harvested from the forest.  The diet of many upland communities is based on rice or other starchy staples and vegetables. Although a pig may be prepared for community celebrations, meals may not feature meat or other protein.  If eaten, protein can be sourced from the forest (small game, insects), rice paddies (fish, crabs) or small livestock (chicken, pigs) raised in backyards.

Vegetables are frequently eaten boiled and dipped in a spicy chili paste, like boiled bamboo shoots with wasp larvae harvested from the forest. The diet of many upland communities is based on rice or other starchy staples and vegetables. Although a pig may be prepared for community celebrations, meals may not feature meat or other protein. If eaten, protein can be sourced from the forest (small game, insects), rice paddies (fish, crabs) or small livestock (chicken, pigs) raised in backyards.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013 Loh, a Karen woman, and her son on the land her family has farmed for several generations.  In the background, her husband Singkham is harvesting a forest plant for supper.  Out of Thailand’s population of 67 million, more than 1 million are people from ethnic minority groups and primarily located in northern mountain communities.  Officially recognized groups include Karen (population 500 000), Hmong (160 000), Lahu (103 000) and Akha (46 000).  Source: Department of Social Development and Public Welfare, Ministry of Human Development and Security, Thailand (2002)

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013
Loh, a Karen woman, and her son on the land her family has farmed for several generations. In the background, her husband Singkham is harvesting a forest plant for supper. Out of Thailand’s population of 67 million, more than 1 million are people from ethnic minority groups and primarily located in northern mountain communities. Officially recognized groups include Karen (population 500 000), Hmong (160 000), Lahu (103 000) and Akha (46 000).
Source: Department of Social Development and Public Welfare, Ministry of Human Development and Security, Thailand (2002)

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013 A Karen boy chases a chicken next to forest products being auctioned off during New Year’s Day celebrations. In the foreground are a pumpkin, stalks of sugarcane and golden-green snowflake tree flowers harvested by the community.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013
A Karen boy chases a chicken next to forest products being auctioned off during New Year’s Day celebrations. In the foreground are a pumpkin, stalks of sugarcane and golden-green snowflake tree flowers harvested by the community.

Preparing a stew made with vegetables harvested year-round in the surrounding forests.  Stewing, grilling and boiling or steaming are common methods for preparing vegetables throughout mountain communities in Southeast Asia, reflecting simple culinary techniques developed in the absence of expensive inputs like cooking oil, soy or fish sauces more readily available in lowland communities.   A simple stew highlights the astonishing flavours of whatever vegetables are seasonally available and incorporated: sweetness from fishtail palm heart; sour from tamarind leaves or local tomatoes; bitter from rattan shoots or snowflake tree flowers.  Seasoning staples include chili peppers, salt, wild herbs, and fermented soy beans to add a savoury dimension.

Preparing a stew made with vegetables harvested year-round in the surrounding forests. Stewing, grilling and boiling or steaming are common methods for preparing vegetables throughout mountain communities in Southeast Asia, reflecting simple culinary techniques developed in the absence of expensive inputs like cooking oil, soy or fish sauces more readily available in lowland communities. A simple stew highlights the astonishing flavours of whatever vegetables are seasonally available and incorporated: sweetness from fishtail palm heart; sour from tamarind leaves or local tomatoes; bitter from rattan shoots or snowflake tree flowers. Seasoning staples include chili peppers, salt, wild herbs, and fermented soy beans to add a savoury dimension.

The hearty vegetable stew made with slivers of white banana stem hearts, green flowers of the snowflake tree, and local sour tomatoes.  Thai cookbooks reflect the food culture of dominant and food secure lowland groups, rather than the minority and food-insecure groups in the mountains. Source: Food Culture in Southeast Asia, Penny van Esterik (2008)

The hearty vegetable stew made with slivers of white banana stem hearts, green flowers of the snowflake tree, and local sour tomatoes. Thai cookbooks reflect the food culture of dominant and food secure lowland groups, rather than the minority and food-insecure groups in the mountains.
Source: Food Culture in Southeast Asia, Penny van Esterik (2008)

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013 Loh’s mother prepares sits on the bamboo floor preparing vegetables for the evening’s meal.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013
Loh’s mother prepares sits on the bamboo floor preparing vegetables for the evening’s meal.

A bowl of pounded, bitter rattan shoot chili paste rests on a rattan tray, ready to be eaten with dipping vegetables and rice.  Bitterness is a prized flavour as it signifies medicinal and healing qualities of the vegetable.

A bowl of pounded, bitter rattan shoot chili paste rests on a rattan tray, ready to be eaten with dipping vegetables and rice. Bitterness is a prized flavour as it signifies medicinal and healing qualities of the vegetable.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, March 2013 Two young girls dressed in the distinctive white shifts signifying unmarried status in the Karen culture, walk home after the wedding of a cousin.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, March 2013
Two young girls dressed in the distinctive white shifts signifying unmarried status in the Karen culture, walk home after the wedding of a cousin.


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Chiang Mai province, buy September 2012 A farmer walks home through the forest after a day working in the fields.” width=”768″ height=”1024″ /> Chiang Dao district, pills
Chiang Mai province, September 2012
A farmer walks home through the forest after a day working in the fields.

Omkoi District, Chiang Mai province, February 2010 Photo courtesy of Niemeet Chompoothong Wedding celebrants enjoy a meal centred on rice in a communal setting.  Compared to jasmine rice favoured by lowland Thai, upland rice is grown primarily for consumption by ethnic minority communities in the mountains of Thailand and rarely sold in lowland markets.  The chubby, speckled grains are hearty and anchor the fiery chili pastes and forest vegetables stews cooked nightly in the communal kitchen.

Omkoi District, Chiang Mai province, February 2010 (Photo courtesy of Niemeet Chompoothong)
Wedding celebrants enjoy a meal centred on rice in a communal setting. Compared to jasmine rice favoured by lowland Thai, upland rice is grown primarily for consumption by ethnic minority communities in the mountains of Thailand and rarely sold in lowland markets. The chubby, speckled grains are hearty and anchor the fiery chili pastes and forest vegetables stews cooked nightly in the communal kitchen. 

Mae Suai district, Chiang Rai province, December 2008 The cooking area is typically located inside a well-ventilated room attached to the family home.  The shelves suspended above the cooking fire and take advantage of the smoke and constant heat to preserve dried food products and next season’s planting seeds stored.  During the cold season, family members gather around the fire to socialize and enjoy cups of bitter tea.

Mae Suai district, Chiang Rai province, December 2008
The cooking area is typically located inside a well-ventilated room attached to the family home. The shelves suspended above the cooking fire and take advantage of the smoke and constant heat to preserve dried food products and next season’s planting seeds stored. During the cold season, family members gather around the fire to socialize and enjoy cups of bitter tea.

 
All images are copyright Ruth Tshin, ambulance
unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission.

Chiang Dao district, <a href=

malady Chiang Mai province, September 2012 A farmer walks home through the forest after a day working in the fields.” width=”768″ height=”1024″ /> Chiang Dao district, Chiang Mai province, September 2012
A farmer walks home through the forest after a day working in the fields.

Omkoi District, Chiang Mai province, February 2010 Photo courtesy of Niemeet Chompoothong Wedding celebrants enjoy a meal centred on rice in a communal setting.  Compared to jasmine rice favoured by lowland Thai, upland rice is grown primarily for consumption by ethnic minority communities in the mountains of Thailand and rarely sold in lowland markets.  The chubby, speckled grains are hearty and anchor the fiery chili pastes and forest vegetables stews cooked nightly in the communal kitchen.

Omkoi District, Chiang Mai province, February 2010 (Photo courtesy of Niemeet Chompoothong)
Wedding celebrants enjoy a meal centred on rice in a communal setting. Compared to jasmine rice favoured by lowland Thai, upland rice is grown primarily for consumption by ethnic minority communities in the mountains of Thailand and rarely sold in lowland markets. The chubby, speckled grains are hearty and anchor the fiery chili pastes and forest vegetables stews cooked nightly in the communal kitchen.

Mae Suai district, Chiang Rai province, December 2008 The cooking area is typically located inside a well-ventilated room attached to the family home.  The shelves suspended above the cooking fire and take advantage of the smoke and constant heat to preserve dried food products and next season’s planting seeds stored.  During the cold season, family members gather around the fire to socialize and enjoy cups of bitter tea.

Mae Suai district, Chiang Rai province, December 2008
The cooking area is typically located inside a well-ventilated room attached to the family home. The shelves suspended above the cooking fire and take advantage of the smoke and constant heat to preserve dried food products and next season’s planting seeds stored. During the cold season, family members gather around the fire to socialize and enjoy cups of bitter tea.

Bounty from the forest that make up to 80% of the upland diet: local mushrooms; feathery, garlicky-tasting acacia shoots; sweet-tasting chayote shoots and white galangal shoots.

Bounty from the forest that make up to 80% of the upland diet: local mushrooms; feathery, garlicky-tasting acacia shoots; sweet-tasting chayote shoots and white galangal shoots.

 

All images are copyright Ruth Tshin, information pills
unless otherwise noted. Please do not use without permission.

epilepsy
Chiang Mai province, visit
September 2012 A farmer walks home through the forest after a day working in the fields.” width=”768″ height=”1024″ /> Chiang Dao district, Chiang Mai province, September 2012
A farmer walks home through the forest after a day working in the fields.
Omkoi District, Chiang Mai province, February 2010 Photo courtesy of Niemeet Chompoothong Wedding celebrants enjoy a meal centred on rice in a communal setting.  Compared to jasmine rice favoured by lowland Thai, upland rice is grown primarily for consumption by ethnic minority communities in the mountains of Thailand and rarely sold in lowland markets.  The chubby, speckled grains are hearty and anchor the fiery chili pastes and forest vegetables stews cooked nightly in the communal kitchen.

Omkoi District, Chiang Mai province, February 2010 (Photo courtesy of Niemeet Chompoothong)
Wedding celebrants enjoy a meal centred on rice in a communal setting. Compared to jasmine rice favoured by lowland Thai, upland rice is grown primarily for consumption by ethnic minority communities in the mountains of Thailand and rarely sold in lowland markets. The chubby, speckled grains are hearty and anchor the fiery chili pastes and forest vegetables stews cooked nightly in the communal kitchen.

Mae Suai district, Chiang Rai province, December 2008 The cooking area is typically located inside a well-ventilated room attached to the family home.  The shelves suspended above the cooking fire and take advantage of the smoke and constant heat to preserve dried food products and next season’s planting seeds stored.  During the cold season, family members gather around the fire to socialize and enjoy cups of bitter tea.

Mae Suai district, Chiang Rai province, December 2008
The cooking area is typically located inside a well-ventilated room attached to the family home. The shelves suspended above the cooking fire and take advantage of the smoke and constant heat to preserve dried food products and next season’s planting seeds stored. During the cold season, family members gather around the fire to socialize and enjoy cups of bitter tea.

Bounty from the forest that make up to 80% of the upland diet: local mushrooms; feathery, garlicky-tasting acacia shoots; sweet-tasting chayote shoots and white galangal shoots.

Bounty from the forest that make up to 80% of the upland diet: local mushrooms; feathery, garlicky-tasting acacia shoots; sweet-tasting chayote shoots and white galangal shoots.

 

Vegetables are frequently eaten boiled and dipped in a spicy chili paste, like boiled bamboo shoots with wasp larvae harvested from the forest.  The diet of many upland communities is based on rice or other starchy staples and vegetables. Although a pig may be prepared for community celebrations, meals may not feature meat or other protein.  If eaten, protein can be sourced from the forest (small game, insects), rice paddies (fish, crabs) or small livestock (chicken, pigs) raised in backyards.

Vegetables are frequently eaten boiled and dipped in a spicy chili paste, like boiled bamboo shoots with wasp larvae harvested from the forest. The diet of many upland communities is based on rice or other starchy staples and vegetables. Although a pig may be prepared for community celebrations, meals may not feature meat or other protein. If eaten, protein can be sourced from the forest (small game, insects), rice paddies (fish, crabs) or small livestock (chicken, pigs) raised in backyards.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013 Loh, a Karen woman, and her son on the land her family has farmed for several generations.  In the background, her husband Singkham is harvesting a forest plant for supper.  Out of Thailand’s population of 67 million, more than 1 million are people from ethnic minority groups and primarily located in northern mountain communities.  Officially recognized groups include Karen (population 500 000), Hmong (160 000), Lahu (103 000) and Akha (46 000).  Source: Department of Social Development and Public Welfare, Ministry of Human Development and Security, Thailand (2002)

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013
Loh, a Karen woman, and her son on the land her family has farmed for several generations. In the background, her husband Singkham is harvesting a forest plant for supper. Out of Thailand’s population of 67 million, more than 1 million are people from ethnic minority groups and primarily located in northern mountain communities. Officially recognized groups include Karen (population 500 000), Hmong (160 000), Lahu (103 000) and Akha (46 000).
Source: Department of Social Development and Public Welfare, Ministry of Human Development and Security, Thailand (2002)

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013 A Karen boy chases a chicken next to forest products being auctioned off during New Year’s Day celebrations. In the foreground are a pumpkin, stalks of sugarcane and golden-green snowflake tree flowers harvested by the community.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013
A Karen boy chases a chicken next to forest products being auctioned off during New Year’s Day celebrations. In the foreground are a pumpkin, stalks of sugarcane and golden-green snowflake tree flowers harvested by the community.

Preparing a stew made with vegetables harvested year-round in the surrounding forests.  Stewing, grilling and boiling or steaming are common methods for preparing vegetables throughout mountain communities in Southeast Asia, reflecting simple culinary techniques developed in the absence of expensive inputs like cooking oil, soy or fish sauces more readily available in lowland communities.   A simple stew highlights the astonishing flavours of whatever vegetables are seasonally available and incorporated: sweetness from fishtail palm heart; sour from tamarind leaves or local tomatoes; bitter from rattan shoots or snowflake tree flowers.  Seasoning staples include chili peppers, salt, wild herbs, and fermented soy beans to add a savoury dimension.

Preparing a stew made with vegetables harvested year-round in the surrounding forests. Stewing, grilling and boiling or steaming are common methods for preparing vegetables throughout mountain communities in Southeast Asia, reflecting simple culinary techniques developed in the absence of expensive inputs like cooking oil, soy or fish sauces more readily available in lowland communities. A simple stew highlights the astonishing flavours of whatever vegetables are seasonally available and incorporated: sweetness from fishtail palm heart; sour from tamarind leaves or local tomatoes; bitter from rattan shoots or snowflake tree flowers. Seasoning staples include chili peppers, salt, wild herbs, and fermented soy beans to add a savoury dimension.

The hearty vegetable stew made with slivers of white banana stem hearts, green flowers of the snowflake tree, and local sour tomatoes.  Thai cookbooks reflect the food culture of dominant and food secure lowland groups, rather than the minority and food-insecure groups in the mountains. Source: Food Culture in Southeast Asia, Penny van Esterik (2008)

The hearty vegetable stew made with slivers of white banana stem hearts, green flowers of the snowflake tree, and local sour tomatoes. Thai cookbooks reflect the food culture of dominant and food secure lowland groups, rather than the minority and food-insecure groups in the mountains.
Source: Food Culture in Southeast Asia, Penny van Esterik (2008)

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013 Loh’s mother prepares sits on the bamboo floor preparing vegetables for the evening’s meal.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013
Loh’s mother prepares sits on the bamboo floor preparing vegetables for the evening’s meal.

A bowl of pounded, bitter rattan shoot chili paste rests on a rattan tray, ready to be eaten with dipping vegetables and rice.  Bitterness is a prized flavour as it signifies medicinal and healing qualities of the vegetable.

A bowl of pounded, bitter rattan shoot chili paste rests on a rattan tray, ready to be eaten with dipping vegetables and rice. Bitterness is a prized flavour as it signifies medicinal and healing qualities of the vegetable.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, March 2013 Two young girls dressed in the distinctive white shifts signifying unmarried status in the Karen culture, walk home after the wedding of a cousin.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, March 2013
Two young girls dressed in the distinctive white shifts signifying unmarried status in the Karen culture, walk home after the wedding of a cousin.

“Food culture of resource-poor communities in northern Thailand”

Photo exhibition at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, capsule
St. Catharines, cheapest
Ontario, cialis May 24-27, 2014 at the Canadian Association for Food Studies Exploration Gallery.

All images are copyright Ruth Tshin, unless otherwise noted. Please do not use without permission.

Chiang Dao district, Chiang Mai province, September 2012 A farmer walks home through the forest after a day working in the fields.

Chiang Dao district, Chiang Mai province, September 2012
A farmer walks home through the forest after a day working in the fields.

Omkoi District, Chiang Mai province, February 2010 Photo courtesy of Niemeet Chompoothong Wedding celebrants enjoy a meal centred on rice in a communal setting.  Compared to jasmine rice favoured by lowland Thai, upland rice is grown primarily for consumption by ethnic minority communities in the mountains of Thailand and rarely sold in lowland markets.  The chubby, speckled grains are hearty and anchor the fiery chili pastes and forest vegetables stews cooked nightly in the communal kitchen.

Omkoi District, Chiang Mai province, February 2010 (Photo courtesy of Niemeet Chompoothong)
Wedding celebrants enjoy a meal centred on rice in a communal setting. Compared to jasmine rice favoured by lowland Thai, upland rice is grown primarily for consumption by ethnic minority communities in the mountains of Thailand and rarely sold in lowland markets. The chubby, speckled grains are hearty and anchor the fiery chili pastes and forest vegetables stews cooked nightly in the communal kitchen.

Mae Suai district, Chiang Rai province, December 2008 The cooking area is typically located inside a well-ventilated room attached to the family home.  The shelves suspended above the cooking fire and take advantage of the smoke and constant heat to preserve dried food products and next season’s planting seeds stored.  During the cold season, family members gather around the fire to socialize and enjoy cups of bitter tea.

Mae Suai district, Chiang Rai province, December 2008
The cooking area is typically located inside a well-ventilated room attached to the family home. The shelves suspended above the cooking fire and take advantage of the smoke and constant heat to preserve dried food products and next season’s planting seeds stored. During the cold season, family members gather around the fire to socialize and enjoy cups of bitter tea.

Bounty from the forest that make up to 80% of the upland diet: local mushrooms; feathery, garlicky-tasting acacia shoots; sweet-tasting chayote shoots and white galangal shoots.

Bounty from the forest that make up to 80% of the upland diet: local mushrooms; feathery, garlicky-tasting acacia shoots; sweet-tasting chayote shoots and white galangal shoots.

 

Vegetables are frequently eaten boiled and dipped in a spicy chili paste, like boiled bamboo shoots with wasp larvae harvested from the forest.  The diet of many upland communities is based on rice or other starchy staples and vegetables. Although a pig may be prepared for community celebrations, meals may not feature meat or other protein.  If eaten, protein can be sourced from the forest (small game, insects), rice paddies (fish, crabs) or small livestock (chicken, pigs) raised in backyards.

Vegetables are frequently eaten boiled and dipped in a spicy chili paste, like boiled bamboo shoots with wasp larvae harvested from the forest. The diet of many upland communities is based on rice or other starchy staples and vegetables. Although a pig may be prepared for community celebrations, meals may not feature meat or other protein. If eaten, protein can be sourced from the forest (small game, insects), rice paddies (fish, crabs) or small livestock (chicken, pigs) raised in backyards.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013 Loh, a Karen woman, and her son on the land her family has farmed for several generations.  In the background, her husband Singkham is harvesting a forest plant for supper.  Out of Thailand’s population of 67 million, more than 1 million are people from ethnic minority groups and primarily located in northern mountain communities.  Officially recognized groups include Karen (population 500 000), Hmong (160 000), Lahu (103 000) and Akha (46 000).  Source: Department of Social Development and Public Welfare, Ministry of Human Development and Security, Thailand (2002)

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013
Loh, a Karen woman, and her son on the land her family has farmed for several generations. In the background, her husband Singkham is harvesting a forest plant for supper. Out of Thailand’s population of 67 million, more than 1 million are people from ethnic minority groups and primarily located in northern mountain communities. Officially recognized groups include Karen (population 500 000), Hmong (160 000), Lahu (103 000) and Akha (46 000).
Source: Department of Social Development and Public Welfare, Ministry of Human Development and Security, Thailand (2002)

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013 A Karen boy chases a chicken next to forest products being auctioned off during New Year’s Day celebrations. In the foreground are a pumpkin, stalks of sugarcane and golden-green snowflake tree flowers harvested by the community.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013
A Karen boy chases a chicken next to forest products being auctioned off during New Year’s Day celebrations. In the foreground are a pumpkin, stalks of sugarcane and golden-green snowflake tree flowers harvested by the community.

Preparing a stew made with vegetables harvested year-round in the surrounding forests.  Stewing, grilling and boiling or steaming are common methods for preparing vegetables throughout mountain communities in Southeast Asia, reflecting simple culinary techniques developed in the absence of expensive inputs like cooking oil, soy or fish sauces more readily available in lowland communities.   A simple stew highlights the astonishing flavours of whatever vegetables are seasonally available and incorporated: sweetness from fishtail palm heart; sour from tamarind leaves or local tomatoes; bitter from rattan shoots or snowflake tree flowers.  Seasoning staples include chili peppers, salt, wild herbs, and fermented soy beans to add a savoury dimension.

Preparing a stew made with vegetables harvested year-round in the surrounding forests. Stewing, grilling and boiling or steaming are common methods for preparing vegetables throughout mountain communities in Southeast Asia, reflecting simple culinary techniques developed in the absence of expensive inputs like cooking oil, soy or fish sauces more readily available in lowland communities. A simple stew highlights the astonishing flavours of whatever vegetables are seasonally available and incorporated: sweetness from fishtail palm heart; sour from tamarind leaves or local tomatoes; bitter from rattan shoots or snowflake tree flowers. Seasoning staples include chili peppers, salt, wild herbs, and fermented soy beans to add a savoury dimension.

The hearty vegetable stew made with slivers of white banana stem hearts, green flowers of the snowflake tree, and local sour tomatoes.  Thai cookbooks reflect the food culture of dominant and food secure lowland groups, rather than the minority and food-insecure groups in the mountains. Source: Food Culture in Southeast Asia, Penny van Esterik (2008)

The hearty vegetable stew made with slivers of white banana stem hearts, green flowers of the snowflake tree, and local sour tomatoes. Thai cookbooks reflect the food culture of dominant and food secure lowland groups, rather than the minority and food-insecure groups in the mountains.
Source: Food Culture in Southeast Asia, Penny van Esterik (2008)

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013 Loh’s mother prepares sits on the bamboo floor preparing vegetables for the evening’s meal.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013
Loh’s mother prepares sits on the bamboo floor preparing vegetables for the evening’s meal.

A bowl of pounded, bitter rattan shoot chili paste rests on a rattan tray, ready to be eaten with dipping vegetables and rice.  Bitterness is a prized flavour as it signifies medicinal and healing qualities of the vegetable.

A bowl of pounded, bitter rattan shoot chili paste rests on a rattan tray, ready to be eaten with dipping vegetables and rice. Bitterness is a prized flavour as it signifies medicinal and healing qualities of the vegetable.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, March 2013 Two young girls dressed in the distinctive white shifts signifying unmarried status in the Karen culture, walk home after the wedding of a cousin.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, March 2013
Two young girls dressed in the distinctive white shifts signifying unmarried status in the Karen culture, walk home after the wedding of a cousin.

“Food culture of resource-poor communities in northern Thailand”

Photo exhibition at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, see
search St. Catharines, Ontario, May 24-27, 2014 at the Canadian Association for Food Studies Exploration Gallery.

All images are copyright Ruth Tshin, unless otherwise noted. Please do not use without permission.

Chiang Dao district, Chiang Mai province, September 2012 A farmer walks home through the forest after a day working in the fields.

Chiang Dao district, Chiang Mai province, September 2012
A farmer walks home through the forest after a day working in the fields.

Omkoi District, Chiang Mai province, February 2010 Photo courtesy of Niemeet Chompoothong Wedding celebrants enjoy a meal centred on rice in a communal setting.  Compared to jasmine rice favoured by lowland Thai, upland rice is grown primarily for consumption by ethnic minority communities in the mountains of Thailand and rarely sold in lowland markets.  The chubby, speckled grains are hearty and anchor the fiery chili pastes and forest vegetables stews cooked nightly in the communal kitchen.

Omkoi District, Chiang Mai province, February 2010 (Photo courtesy of Niemeet Chompoothong)
Wedding celebrants enjoy a meal centred on rice in a communal setting. Compared to jasmine rice favoured by lowland Thai, upland rice is grown primarily for consumption by ethnic minority communities in the mountains of Thailand and rarely sold in lowland markets. The chubby, speckled grains are hearty and anchor the fiery chili pastes and forest vegetables stews cooked nightly in the communal kitchen.

Mae Suai district, Chiang Rai province, December 2008 The cooking area is typically located inside a well-ventilated room attached to the family home.  The shelves suspended above the cooking fire and take advantage of the smoke and constant heat to preserve dried food products and next season’s planting seeds stored.  During the cold season, family members gather around the fire to socialize and enjoy cups of bitter tea.

Mae Suai district, Chiang Rai province, December 2008
The cooking area is typically located inside a well-ventilated room attached to the family home. The shelves suspended above the cooking fire and take advantage of the smoke and constant heat to preserve dried food products and next season’s planting seeds stored. During the cold season, family members gather around the fire to socialize and enjoy cups of bitter tea.

Bounty from the forest that make up to 80% of the upland diet: local mushrooms; feathery, garlicky-tasting acacia shoots; sweet-tasting chayote shoots and white galangal shoots.

Bounty from the forest that make up to 80% of the upland diet: local mushrooms; feathery, garlicky-tasting acacia shoots; sweet-tasting chayote shoots and white galangal shoots.

 

Vegetables are frequently eaten boiled and dipped in a spicy chili paste, like boiled bamboo shoots with wasp larvae harvested from the forest.  The diet of many upland communities is based on rice or other starchy staples and vegetables. Although a pig may be prepared for community celebrations, meals may not feature meat or other protein.  If eaten, protein can be sourced from the forest (small game, insects), rice paddies (fish, crabs) or small livestock (chicken, pigs) raised in backyards.

Vegetables are frequently eaten boiled and dipped in a spicy chili paste, like boiled bamboo shoots with wasp larvae harvested from the forest. The diet of many upland communities is based on rice or other starchy staples and vegetables. Although a pig may be prepared for community celebrations, meals may not feature meat or other protein. If eaten, protein can be sourced from the forest (small game, insects), rice paddies (fish, crabs) or small livestock (chicken, pigs) raised in backyards.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013 Loh, a Karen woman, and her son on the land her family has farmed for several generations.  In the background, her husband Singkham is harvesting a forest plant for supper.  Out of Thailand’s population of 67 million, more than 1 million are people from ethnic minority groups and primarily located in northern mountain communities.  Officially recognized groups include Karen (population 500 000), Hmong (160 000), Lahu (103 000) and Akha (46 000).  Source: Department of Social Development and Public Welfare, Ministry of Human Development and Security, Thailand (2002)

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013
Loh, a Karen woman, and her son on the land her family has farmed for several generations. In the background, her husband Singkham is harvesting a forest plant for supper. Out of Thailand’s population of 67 million, more than 1 million are people from ethnic minority groups and primarily located in northern mountain communities. Officially recognized groups include Karen (population 500 000), Hmong (160 000), Lahu (103 000) and Akha (46 000).
Source: Department of Social Development and Public Welfare, Ministry of Human Development and Security, Thailand (2002)

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013 A Karen boy chases a chicken next to forest products being auctioned off during New Year’s Day celebrations. In the foreground are a pumpkin, stalks of sugarcane and golden-green snowflake tree flowers harvested by the community.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013
A Karen boy chases a chicken next to forest products being auctioned off during New Year’s Day celebrations. In the foreground are a pumpkin, stalks of sugarcane and golden-green snowflake tree flowers harvested by the community.

Preparing a stew made with vegetables harvested year-round in the surrounding forests.  Stewing, grilling and boiling or steaming are common methods for preparing vegetables throughout mountain communities in Southeast Asia, reflecting simple culinary techniques developed in the absence of expensive inputs like cooking oil, soy or fish sauces more readily available in lowland communities.   A simple stew highlights the astonishing flavours of whatever vegetables are seasonally available and incorporated: sweetness from fishtail palm heart; sour from tamarind leaves or local tomatoes; bitter from rattan shoots or snowflake tree flowers.  Seasoning staples include chili peppers, salt, wild herbs, and fermented soy beans to add a savoury dimension.

Preparing a stew made with vegetables harvested year-round in the surrounding forests. Stewing, grilling and boiling or steaming are common methods for preparing vegetables throughout mountain communities in Southeast Asia, reflecting simple culinary techniques developed in the absence of expensive inputs like cooking oil, soy or fish sauces more readily available in lowland communities. A simple stew highlights the astonishing flavours of whatever vegetables are seasonally available and incorporated: sweetness from fishtail palm heart; sour from tamarind leaves or local tomatoes; bitter from rattan shoots or snowflake tree flowers. Seasoning staples include chili peppers, salt, wild herbs, and fermented soy beans to add a savoury dimension.

The hearty vegetable stew made with slivers of white banana stem hearts, green flowers of the snowflake tree, and local sour tomatoes.  Thai cookbooks reflect the food culture of dominant and food secure lowland groups, rather than the minority and food-insecure groups in the mountains. Source: Food Culture in Southeast Asia, Penny van Esterik (2008)

The hearty vegetable stew made with slivers of white banana stem hearts, green flowers of the snowflake tree, and local sour tomatoes. Thai cookbooks reflect the food culture of dominant and food secure lowland groups, rather than the minority and food-insecure groups in the mountains.
Source: Food Culture in Southeast Asia, Penny van Esterik (2008)

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013 Loh’s mother prepares sits on the bamboo floor preparing vegetables for the evening’s meal.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, January 2013
Loh’s mother prepares sits on the bamboo floor preparing vegetables for the evening’s meal.

A bowl of pounded, bitter rattan shoot chili paste rests on a rattan tray, ready to be eaten with dipping vegetables and rice.  Bitterness is a prized flavour as it signifies medicinal and healing qualities of the vegetable.

A bowl of pounded, bitter rattan shoot chili paste rests on a rattan tray, ready to be eaten with dipping vegetables and rice. Bitterness is a prized flavour as it signifies medicinal and healing qualities of the vegetable.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, March 2013 Two young girls dressed in the distinctive white shifts signifying unmarried status in the Karen culture, walk home after the wedding of a cousin.

Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, March 2013
Two young girls dressed in the distinctive white shifts signifying unmarried status in the Karen culture, walk home after the wedding of a cousin.


The sun has begun to sink and the air to cool as Singkham walked home after a day tending to his terraced rice fields in the watershed forests of Mae Chaem district, for sale
Chiang Mai province. Water from a source perched high in the surrounding mountains had been harnessed to feed the fields his family has cultivated for generations. The grain heads were starting to droop, approved
heavy with jasmine rice that will be milled and sold for a profit in the lowlands. A nearby field has been planted with upland rice, the variety that Singkham’s people, the Karen, prefer eating. His fingers teasing the ricestalks as he walked, Singkham felt assured that there would be enough rice harvested to feed the family for the duration of the cold season.

 

Map source: “Contemporary Northern Thailand,” Merchants and Migrants: Ethnicity and Trade among Yunnanese chinese in Southeast Asia, Ann Maxwell Hill, Yale Southeast Asia Studies Monograph #47 (1998).

Map source: “Contemporary Northern Thailand,” Merchants and Migrants: Ethnicity and Trade among Yunnanese chinese in Southeast Asia, Ann Maxwell Hill, Yale Southeast Asia Studies Monograph #47 (1998).

Following the narrow footpath that traced the perimeter of rice fields, Singkham picked his way out from the valley and through thick stands of forest that covered the hills. Tracts of towering betel nut palms shaded the coffee plants planted by Singkham, his father and the community forest committee 15 years ago as insurance against rice harvest failure when they noticed the seasons of rains shortening and the hot, dry lingering. In the alternating rhythm of torrential monsoon and dusty dryness, the palms and coffee flourished amongst the wild bananas, thorny rattan vines and snowflake trees harvested for food, unlike the market vegetables grown for cash by the lowland Thai villages that were greedily dependent on costly irrigation systems. The betel nuts and coffee cherries sold to a local middleman had provided money for the new wooden planks to refurbish the family home and the television set around which uncles, aunts and cousins gathered to watch nightly Thai soap operas. Singkham and his wife Loh were content with what they had: enough rice to eat, sufficient vegetables from the forest and their backyard garden, and money earned each season for school uniforms and black shoes for their son.

Singkham remembered how his son Ket squirmed when he pulled on the itchy polyester school shirt purchased with the proceeds of the fifth betel nut harvest. Embroidered with the name of the government school that opened halfway down the mountain in the late 1970s, the uniform was a constant reminder of the gradual seeping of Thai language into the village after decades of limited interaction with the lowland culture. In the evenings after dinner, over cups of bitter salted tea in the smoky kitchen, the elders recounted the days when their grandchildren did not mix the choppy trade language of the northern provinces with the breathy aspirations of their mother tongue and had not forgotten how to read the Karen script. Not all the children from the 50 households were able to attend school out of the necessity to remain in the fields with their parents. A few young adults who successfully found jobs in lowland towns returned once a year on shiny motorcycles during Thai New Year sporting sophisticated haircuts and bearing gifts of clothing and cookware for their families.

Singkham grabbed the machete out of the woven basket on his back and disappeared into a thicket. Silver flashed as he cut through the stem of a young wild banana plant. He discarded the outer layers of the wide cylinder to extract the butter yellow core, fragrant with floral notes. A few yards over, he deftly sliced through the tangle of prickly white rattan vines with thorns that caught onto skin and clothing. Singkham uncovered the light-green, young shoot as long as he was tall and separated it from its base. The prized inner white flesh, sharply bitter and crispy-chewy, was encased in the tough woody skin that would be removed at home. He found a snowflake tree with webbed leaves and knobby bark, with medicinal-tasting shoots and flowers nestled in the crook where the leaves were attached to the tree.

Unlike the younger generation, Singkham and his wife Loh reveled in the abundance of their land and the knowledge of the forest passed down from their elders. Frogs and fish in the shallow rice paddies were captured and roasted, stored on the shelf suspended above the cooking fire in the same way as Loh’s grandmother had done. Bamboo worm larvae were dug out from the hollow core of yellow-green striped culms sprouting along the path to the village; boiled or fried, these were Loh’s cold season snack. Pennywort grew in the muddy banks of the rice field; pumpkin vine tips curled along the base of upland rice stalks; and crisp ferns grew in the shady banks of streams. When the rains stopped, there were shoots and young leaves of ivy gourd vines and acacia, tamarind, cassia trees to eat. During the rains while the rice grew, taro roots were dug out for starchy sustenance. Wild herbs were taken from the forest and transplanted into the home garden, where tangy mustard greens were planted. When the cool season arrived, men ventured into the deep forest for several nights to hunt small game like monkeys and birds.

The footpath out of the valley gradually descended and widened, joining the main road winding into Singkham’s village. Elevated wooden homes dotted the roadside, with smoke spiralling out from the open air kitchens perched aboveground and the sound of mortars and pestles pounding chilies and evening chatter filled the air. Singkham pulled off his rubber boots and sat down on the bamboo floor to start peeling the rattan shoot. His wife Loh, with baby Kaen tied to her back, had started the fire in the cooking pit and had already charred garlic, chili peppers, and the fermented soybean paste her mother made last week. Banana stem hearts and snowflake tree shoots and flowers would be stewed slowly over the fire and seasoned with the salty sundried fish captured from the rice paddies. Loh did not like to waste money buying costly oil or soy sauce. The rattan shoots would be pounded with garlic, shallots and charred soybean paste into a fiery chili paste, and eaten with a large mound of speckled upland rice. The scent of charcoal was woven into all the foods and highlighted the bitter, sweet and savoury notes of the forest vegetables.

The air had cooled and the sun had set. An aunt and her three children joined Singkham, Loh and Ket on the bamboo floor, and they settled down to enjoy their supper from the forest and the fruits of their labours.

 

 

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