The King's Cook


Ajarn Srisamorn Kongphan is a cook, professor, nutritionist for the Thai Royal Family, and author of 22 bestsellers on Thai cuisine.

Some time ago I sat in a newly opened Thai restaurant. There I asked the owner, a somewhat older and very distinguished Thai, if he could tell me who the best cook of Thailand would be, as I was planning to travel to Thailand. I also wanted to learn more about Thai food culture. Actually I thought it might just be really nice to eat at the restaurant where Thailand's best cook was. A simple good restaurant tip would have been enough for me, but in the meantime, I was soon to find out that A. Thais have a different sense of humor, B. they can hardly say no, and C. will try, no matter how, to help you. The restaurant owner was apparently flattered with my question, he turned around and went to a small desk in the dining room. He wrote something on a piece of paper in a font (Thai) that I of course couldn't read, gave it to me and said: "You have to scan this paper first then write the following email" - he typed with his ballpoint pen on the only characters recognisable to me on the paper- attach the scan to the email and send it . "That's all. Let´s see what happens” he said.


"Let´s see what happens…” Six months later and for several reasons and coincidences still inexplicable to me, I entered the "Thai on 4" restaurant in Bangkok a little speechless. In front of me sat Ajarn Srisamorn Kongphan, head of the restaurant, professor, nutritionist for the Thai Royal Family and author of 22 bestsellers about Thai cuisine. She also had her own TV show and is probably one of the most renowned experts on Thai cuisine.


Ajarn Srisamorn Kongphan is a cook, professor, nutritionist for the Thai Royal Family, and author of 22 bestsellers on Thai cuisine.

We sat together at one table. I couldn't speak Thai, she couldn't speak English. Her assistant translated for us, or she tried. When asked what her own recipe developments were, the words "health" and "harmony" often appeared. Terms that are ubiquitous in Asian cuisine. However, it also gave me many new insights. For example, I asked her if there is actually a specific Royal Thai Cuisine. As I understood it, she said that basically, apart from the visual presentation (Thai carving is just one example), a certain ceremony, and the quality of the products used as far as recipes are concerned, there were no big differences to traditional Thai food except for a dish that was created especially for the kings at that time when there were no refrigerators: Thapthim krop (Crispy rubies).


Thapthim krop

"Royal" could be understood as the following in this dish: The snow (or ice) was dragged from Mount Puncak Jaya (4,884 m) in distant Indonesia with elephants through tropical areas to Bangkok, which was also tropical. No one else in Thailand could afford such an extravagance other than the king. She said something to the assistant and promptly the dish was in a bowl in front of me, designed according to her instructions: Crispy Rubies: Water chestnuts in syrup on coconut milk and ice.

"Is this also the favourite dish of the present king? I asked

She smiled and I understood that as a no.

"Which dish is it then?" I wanted to know.

She smiled "That's a secret". she said.


How much "beauty" can food stand?

In Thailand ornamentation is not yet a crime.

Thai Carving… sorry? What sounds to Europeans like it could be the particularly exotic driving style of Thai skiers, is almost as popular for Thailand as a folk sport. Above all, however, "Kah sa Luk", as the locals call their artistic fruit and vegetable carving, is a highly respected craft with a long tradition going back several hundred years.

The art of carving reached its peak in the 19th century under King Rama II. (1808 - 1824), who even wrote his own treatises on the aesthetics of Thai carving. The thoughts and teachings he formulated, such as that the appearance of food is just as important as taste, have taken deep roots in Thai society.

In contrast to Chinese carving, however, all motifs in Thai carving are borrowed from nature and the individual parts are always made from one piece. In the Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asian cultures, however, the motifs of carving mostly originate from mythology and are often stuck or glued together.

What would Adolf Loos say?

(*) Adolf Loos: Austrian and Czech architect. His essay Ornament and Crime advocated smooth and clear surfaces in contrast to the lavish decorations of the fin de siècle, as well as the more modern aesthetic principles of the Vienna Secession