My closest friend in the village was called Yut. At least that was his nickname and I don’t know any other name for him. He was about seven years older than me and I adored him. You can see him in the picture below to the right with a bright smile. That’s me peeking out in the middle.
Among other things he was a kite maker. One day he took me to a bamboo grove at the edge of the village.
“See this,” he said pointing to the bamboo.
“It is Sisuk bamboo. The kind we use to make kites with. It must be at least ten years old before we can cut it. We have to wait until about five months after the monsoon season has ended before we can cut it. Which means it is ready now.”
“So can you make a kite today?”
I was keen to get out in the rice-fields.
“No, little frog (that was my nickname in the village). We have to split it and let it dry out for ten months. Only then will it be ready.”
“But that is too long.”
“Bamboo is a good teacher from nature. It has a lot of traits that we can admire. It is versatile, hard when needed, adapts to many environments, parts are edible and it is flexible. It is used to make homes, floors, furniture, shields, hats, ladders, musical instruments and of course kites. It can teach us some things about dealing with life and survival. And it can teach us to wait. Patience. I promise you it will be ready for ‘Loi Kratong.'”
When we left the village and journeyed to England and I was confronted with the task of adapting to a very different world those words stayed with me and helped me cope. Even now when I see a kite I think of him. One day I will return to the village and I hope to meet him again and thank him for the gifts he gave me.
Yut had learnt the art of kite-making from his grandfather whom he lived with over the road from us. That afternoon we went back to his house and for the first time I ate ‘Miang Kam’ prepared as a special treat by his grandmother. I have never forgotten it.
The name can be interpreted as meaning “eating many things in one bite” – from miang (เมี่ยง), meaning “food wrapped in leaves”, and kham (คำ), “a bite”.
Miang kham often consists of chaphlu (ช้าพลู) leaves sometimes referred to in English as ‘wild betel’.
1 or 2 bunches of bai cha plu (wild pepper leaves), or substitute large leaves from 1-2 bunches of spinach; or 1 head of leafy lettuce, tear leaves into 3- to 4-inch round or square pieces
1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
1/4 cup small dried shrimp
1/2 cup roasted unsweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup diced ginger (about the size of a pea)
1/3 cup diced shallots or onion the same size as the ginger
1 lime, cut into small peanut-size wedges, each with both peel and juice sacs
4 heads pickled garlic, stem removed and bulb cut into peanut-size pieces
6 serrano peppers, cut into thin half circles; or use Thai chillies ( prik kee noo), cut into thin rounds
1/3 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 cup finely ground dried shrimp
1/2 cup roasted shredded coconut
1/4 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
1/4 cup palm or coconut sugar
2 Tbs. fish sauce (nahm bplah), or to taste
1/2 cup water
To roast coconut, place unsweetened fresh or dried shredded coconut in a dry cast iron pan over medium heat. Stir frequently until the coconut shreds are evenly a golden brown and very fragrant. Pickled garlic is available in jars from Southeast Asian markets.
Arrange the spinach or lettuce leaves and filling ingredients on a large serving platter, piling each separately and aesthetically for a pleasing presentation.
To make the sauce, grind the dried shrimp, roasted coconut and peanuts separately and as finely as possible in a clean coffee grinder. (For the dried shrimp, measure out 1/4 cup after the shrimp is ground.) Place in a small saucepan together with the palm sugar, fish sauce and water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, stirring frequently to make sure all the ingredients are well blended and the sauce as smooth as possible. Cook about 10-15 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of light batter. Transfer to a sauce bowl and allow to cool to room temperature before using. The sauce will thicken more as it cools.
To eat, take a spinach or lettuce leaf, fill it with a little bit of everything, top with a dab of sauce, roll or wrap up, stuff the entire leaf packet into your mouth and chew everything all at once. You will never forget the experience!