Most Thai people have a sweet tooth and almost all dishes contain some sugar, curry included. If you ask a Thai person the amount of sugar he or she would like in a cup of tea or coffee, don’t be too surprised if the answer is ‘Three spoonfuls, please!’
In the evening many people go to markets which are open until late at night so that people can buy cooked food to take away. Rows of sweet stalls stretch as far as the eye can see. Young and attractive female traders (Mai Kha) wearing beautiful clothes and exotic cosmetics are among many others busy serving customers. In front of them are colourful tray filled with a great variety of nuts. Quite a number of male customers are around to chat them up. Sometimes fighting breaks out if the Mai Kha are very pretty.
A long time ago a folk drama called ‘Likay’ was very popular with the majority of the Thai population. Many Thai women were infatuated an actor called ‘Pho Wek’, a Likay hero who was a real hearthrob. There was a story about one of his lady fans who went to a sweet stall and said to the trader, ‘Two parcels of Pho Wek, please’. (Pho mean ‘father’ or an affectionate term for a man or boy).
Several varieties of sugar are used in Thai dishes: cane sugar, coconut sugar and palm sugar.
Sugar cane is sold fresh. It is peeeled and cut into short portions and then made into garland or just put on sticks. The sugar which is made from the cane is white. The cane juice is very tasty when served with ice.
Coconut sugar is brown and is normally stored in a big square tin. It is also called ‘Nam Taan Peeb’. ‘Nam Taan’ means sugar and ‘Pub’ means a square bucket, usually used for containing water. An old man who can make a lot of noise when he kicks a ‘Peeb’ is considered to be still full of life.
Palm sugar is brown and is made into solid, round shapes about 1/2 inche thick. The juice is served cool or with ice. The fruits are eaten raw or cooked with sugar. At one time, palm juice traders were seen quite often in the lane in front of our house in Bangkok.
Sugar palm trees are very tall and beautiful. They grow in most parts of Thailand. In the evening some of the farmers sit under the palm trees and drink their homemade palm sugar wine and get drunk. Later they ride their buffaloes home so they don’t have to worry about a ‘drink and drive’.