Blog : food culture



/ Chaiyaphum, Thailand /

/ Story: Trairat Songpao / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Photographs: Soopakorn Srisakul /

It was a journey through time as we paid a visit to ethnic Nyah Kur communities in Chaiyaphum Province, located in the heart of northeastern Thailand, also known as Isan.

Nyah Kur

The Nyah Kur are nonurban groups inhabiting several parts of the country. Their language is a branch of the larger Austroasiatic family indigenous to mainland Southeast Asia and eastern South Asia.

By way of introduction, the Nyah Kur is related to the Mons of Dvaravati, a kingdom that flourished from the 6th to the late 11th century in what is now Thailand. Studies show the modern Nyah Kur language shares extensive similarities in the vocabulary and sounds with Mon, the language of the ancient kingdom.

Narita Lert-utsahakul, liaison of the Nyah Kur Community Learning Center, told this writer:

“It will be nice for everyone to learn through hands-on experience the history of the community, its ethnic music, and the rural way of life.

“This way, they will get to appreciate the traditional music of the people native to the region. It’s a type of tourism activity that focuses on the conservation and restoration of cultural heritage assets.”

That was pretty much a great starting point for our journey to the Isan countryside. The trip took us to a community of descendants of the ancient Mon people located at Tambon Ban Rai in Chaiyaphum’s Thep Sathit District.

As we were witnessing history, we were also watching the present way of life unfold in real time, not to mention good food and the beautiful natural surroundings.

Ways of life

We arrived at Wang Ai Pho Village, Tambon Ban Rai to learn about the homes of the Nyah Kur people.  A remarkable lasting legacy of the past, they were built the old-fashioned way — with one exception.

As time passed, the homes once made of bamboo transformed in the appearance and character to ones built of wood for durability. What remained largely unchanged was house-on-stilts design with a three-level floor plan, each level serving a specific purpose.

The beams that supported the floors above them sat atop pile heads shaped like slingshot catapults. An unfamiliar sight for us city dwellers, it’s an age-old wisdom that’s been passed down from one generation to the next.

Nyah Kur

Nyah Kur

The Nyah Kur people originally settled in the Phang Hoei mountains located at Tambon Ban Rai in Thep Sathit District. Nowadays, ethnic Nyah Kur communities can be found in three provinces.

They made their permanent homes in two districts of Chaiyaphum Province namely, Ban Khwao and Thep Sathit. Their other communities are located in Petchabun Province, and in Pak Thong Chai District of Nakhon Ratchasima, aka Korat.

Nyah Kur

Nyah Kur

Altogether the Nyah Kur people now number more than six thousand. Their written language is adapted from visual symbols of Thai alphabetic writing. The Nyah Kur refer to themselves in the Thai language as “Khon Dong” or “Chao Bon”, literally translated as “People of the Mountains”.

Interestingly, “Nyah” is their native word for people, and “Kur” the mountains. Likewise, “Chao” also means people, whereas “Bon” refers to somewhere up there.


The simple ways of life of the Nyah Kur people are often manifested in smooth performances that combine singing and dancing.

Their musical instruments are made from objects readily available in nature, such as tree leaves. You got that right! They make music by blowing on leaves, a technique requiring practice to make perfect. And nobody does it better than the Nyah Kur, plus they can perform in a band alongside other instruments, too.

Nyah Kur

Nyah Kur

Nyah Kur

Since ancient times the Nyah Kur have perfected leaf blowing as a means of communication as they foraged for food in the forest. They made short musical sections to signal it was time to call it a day and go home.

And we got to try this technique ourselves on this trip. Sometimes we succeeded in doing it, but more than half the time, we failed.

The Nyah Kur could make music blowing on leaves, while we had fun imitating the songs of birds in the tree. Not bad, ha!

Nyah Kur

Nyah Kur

Nyah Kur

The Nyah Kur society is about caring and sharing. Traditionally women are skilled at performing rituals in their everyday lives.

They use objects with supposed magical powers to make predictions, among them a betel nut wrapped in white cloth, which they suspend from somewhere and spin. Meantime, it’s the men who go out into the woods hunting and foraging for food.

Before going on a long journey, they would seek blessings from supernatural beings. And upon their return, it’s customary to offer veneration to good spirits as a way to boost morale.

Nyah Kur

Nyah Kur



For what it is worth, the Nyah Kur people are highly thought of for their ability to use natural resources wisely.

They know the forest like the back of their hands. They can tell by experience which plant is edible and which is not. Traditionally they were born hunters. Now they make a living doing agricultural work but still occasionally hunt and forage for food.

Before the advent of agriculture, the Nyah Kur had lived life strictly following every rule. They didn’t just go out into the woods cutting down trees and clearing forest land for farming. Instead, they relied on village elders for good spiritual blessings before making a move.

After that, they would go to bed as usual. If they had a bad dream, it’s regarded as a portent of evil, and the intended project must be scrapped. Otherwise, it was good to go. Their philosophy is simply this. Every forest has a guardian angel. If you want something, ask.

It’s their symbiotic associations with nature that have helped the Nyah Kur people to survive in the wilderness. To them, the forest provides food security plus the nutrition and water they need going forward.

Take for example, a favorite recipe known as “Miang,” or bite-sized appetizers wrapped in leaves. They are stuffed full of herbs and other good ingredients such as raw banana, eggplants, lemongrass, and elephant ear plants (Colocasia esculenta) that are grown for their edible corms.

To prepare, start by cutting the ingredients into small pieces, add salt and a little bit of hot chilli pepper and wrap with elephant ear leaves. And you’re good to go

The Nyah Kur rely on Miang for a healthy, balanced diet. Plus, it’s in keeping with the long-established tradition that values sharing and caring. It’s a forum for community members to meet as they sit in a circle to share a good meal.

Nyah Kur

The Nyah Kur group whom we met today coincidentally happened to be the first to discover of a famous Siam Tulip field located deep inside the Pa Hin Ngam National Park.

We spent two days and one night on this journey into the forest. The message is clear. It’s amazing how immersing yourself in nature benefits your health. If you have a chance, stop by a Nyah Kur village for a visit. Whether you’re planning to spend a night or two, or making a day trip to the Pa Hin Ngam National Park, trust us.

There is a lot to see. It’s a naturally beautiful place to sleep in a tent if you love stargazing and night sky watching. It’s the only national park open for year-round visits unconditionally. Serious!

The original article in Thai originated in บ้านและสวน Explorer’s Club
Ipoh: A Journey Back In Time

Ipoh: A Journey Back In Time

/ Ipoh, Malaysia /

/ Story: Samutcha Viraporn / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Photographs: Sitthisak Namkham

Foods, retail shops, and buildings that evoke wistful affection for the past are three things that have drawn us to Ipoh. It’s nice to be back to find those gorgeous old hotels and cafes’ doing very well indeed.

A lone Ipoh tree, its namesake, thrives in the front yard of the town’s train station. In times past, sap from the Ipoh was the main ingredient in making poison-tipped arrows that kill.
Old meets new. Creative wall painting ideas add life to the distressed interior of an old-town cafe popular among visitors.
A mixed variety of buns comes crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Ipoh is situated just 200 kilometers by car from the capital Kuala Lumpur. And it’s not just those visitors. Malaysians from across the nation are drawn here in droves.

The old town sits on the west bank of the Kinta River. Here colonial architecture abounds, the most important landmark of which is Jalan Panglima Bukit Gantang Wahab.

The white Neo-Classic piece of architecture on Club Road is dubbed Ipoh’s Taj Mahal. In front of it stands a lone Ipoh tree, the town’s namesake.

In times past, sap from the tree was used as the main ingredient in making poison-tipped arrows that kill. Cross the street, and we come before the majestic Town Hall and nearby Postal Service Building. Beautifully kept Neo-Classic details in shades of white indicate they were products of the colonial period.


The train station is a beautiful piece of architecture. Pardon the appearances. The Majestic Hotel located inside is closed for renovation.
A well-kept postal service building is a graceful sight across from the train station.


The Church of St John The Divine.
The St Michael’s Institution

The city’s main drag leads further north to the historic Church of St John The Divine. At one time, it was regarded as the largest house of worship in Malaysia when it was completed in 1912.

The structure was crafted of building materials known for the best qualities in years gone by. The exterior walls showcased bare brickwork made of coconut-shell fibers mixed with sugar and egg white to create strong binding agents.

There is a school, known as the St Michael’s Institution, standing right next to it, as well as a mosque, called Padang.

A journey down memory lane. Well-preserved row houses line the peaceful thoroughfare of old-town Ipoh.



Small old-styled shops dot both sides ofPanglima Lane, or Concubine Lane,famed for its cobblestone look.
Walls covered in satirical graffiti abound in public places across town.
One of Malaysia’s oldest restaurants, the FMS, stands graciously on the corner.
Vine-covered shop facades speak to an unhurried lifestyle in this nostalgic part of town.


Left: Tenaca Nasional, Malaysia’s main energy provider, also has an office here in this magnificently kept building. Right: Distressed walls along a shopping arcadeevoke nostalgic feelings on a journey down memory lane.
Retailers showcase interesting arrays of handicraft goods on the covered passageway of Sekeping Hong Heng, an Ipoh neighborhood.

Heading south, we come to a commercial district on Jalan Sultan Yussufand Jalan Dato Maharajalela Roads. The area known for old-world charms is home to beautiful restaurants, including those dubbed the oldest of Malaysia.

There are a few Japanese-owned photo studios that have been here since the 1930s. Rumors had it that they were here to gather intelligence during those thrilling days of yesteryear. Convincingly enough, the Imperial Japanese Army came ashore in 1941.


The Old Town White Coffee, a cafe’ chain ubiquitous across Malaysia, has its origin right here in old Ipoh.
Downtown restaurants are packed when the day is done. There is nothing like mouthwatering collections of recipes, for which Ipoh is famous. Take-outs are available, too.
It makes my day to drop into a local delicatessen offering Chinese-style flaky buns rich in creamy fillings, Xiang Bin.

It’s impossible not to mention the good foods that have attracted visitors to Malaysia, and Ipoh for that matter. White Coffee, the famous cafe chain, was born here.

The same applied to pomelo, dubbed the king of citrus fruits, and Chinese-style flaky buns with creamy filling. Find them at any local delicatessen. Whilst here, look for the greatest taste of the country – Hunan chicken with rice served with bean sprouts the authentic Malaysian way. It’s heaven on earth.



A memorial in honor of war victims stands in front of the train station.




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Durian: The Irresistible King of Fruit

Durian: The Irresistible King of Fruit


/ Story: Samutcha Viraporn / Photograph: Sitthisak Namkham, Samutcha Viraporn /

LivingASEAN proudly presents different durian cultures unique to the ASEAN region. Perhaps it’s something you have never heard of, including five interesting ways of making eating the spiky fruit more fun than you would ever imagine.

A wall is covered with durian graffiti in Kuala Lumpur.


The majority of durians are grown in Thailand and Malaysia with other varieties available in Indonesia. Some are also grown in the Philippines, southern Vietnam and other Southeast Asia countries.


Out of more than 200 varieties of durians in Thailand, the three most sought-after are Mon Thong, Chanee, and Kan Yao.

Mon Thong (meaning “golden pillow”) comes with a sweet taste and a firm texture. Chanee is smaller in size but less sweet, softer and creamier. And Kan Yao has mild, not-so-sharp sweetness.




The quality that most Thais look for in the fruit is its firmness. Durian aficionados can tell a good fruit apart from plain ones simply by knocking on the spiky skin and judging the sounds. Hollow sounds tend to indicate the fruit is too soft. In contrary, solid sounds indicate the fruit is a firm one.

Due to their pungent odor, the spiky fruits are not allowed in many places including aboard the BTS Skytrain and the MRT.


Malaysians prefer their durians to be soft and buttery. In Malaysia, the fruit is eaten within the day they are ripe and drop from the trees to the ground. It is said that the best ones are the ones that fall down in the morning.

Malaysia seems to have it all from Musang King durian puree to Musang King durian mochi to durian flavored popsicle sticks.
Malaysia seems to have it all from Musang King durian puree to Musang King durian mochi to durian flavored popsicle sticks.


Durian flavored cheesecakes come in the guise of a simple cupcake appearance.
Durian flavored cheesecakes come in the guise of a simple cupcake appearance.


There are many products made from the fruit in different, perhaps quirky, ways that are available in Malaysia. They include durian-flavored ice creams, candies, cakes, pastes, freeze-dried snacks, and a wide variety of parfaits.


The keyword for getting a nice durian experience here is “Kampung”. In Malaysia and Indonesia, the word means “village.” So, when you visit a fruit stall, make sure to look for the “Kampung” sign. It means that the fruits are products of indigenous durian trees grown in the villages, and not from any genetically modified tree.




Often you will come across durians that are either too ripe or too raw. So, one useful thing to know is not to buy a fruit that had been cut open. It is a normal practice that a “Takung Duren” (durian seller) will always select the fruit, cut it open and pass on an amount of its creamy flesh for you to taste. After that it’s your turn to decide whether to take the fruit or ask for a new one.

Well, choose wisely. We hope you all have a chance to meet your fruit soul mate!

A little note to the fruit lovers: In an unfortunate case, you may encounter an unscrupulous vendor trying to sell you a rotten or spoiled durian for high prices. No need to overreact like a buyer did in this hyperlink: Just keep calm and buy from other stall instead.


Creative Ways to Eat Durian


Crispy freeze-dried durian makes a perfect snack. It's light and also full of nutrients. /// Malaysia
Crispy freeze-dried durian makes a perfect snack. It’s light and also full of nutrients.


This Hello-Kitty durian ice cream is a combination of cute and cool. /// Malaysia
This Hello-Kitty ice cream is a combination of cute and cool.



Dubbed “durian pancake” or “durian crepe,” this bite-size sweet pack has loads of fresh cream wrapped inside a thin layer of durian crepe like a little golden treasure box.