(THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - With a history dating back more than 200 years, to the days when King Taksin the Great founded the new capital Thonburi after the fall of Ayutthaya to the Burmese, the multicultural Kudee Cheen community side is one of the oldest in the metropolitan area.
Strolling or cycling through this riverside area is akin to travelling back to the past, a reminder of the era when Thai, Chinese and Portuguese settled here and proudly blended their cultures through the construction of the Chinese shrine Kian Un Keng, the Buddhist Wat Kalayanamit and the Christian Santa Cruz Church.
Another way of exploring this unique community is through its food and the Sakunthong family home is an ideal place to enjoy a delicious meal influenced by diverse cultures in a homey setting without worrying about disturbing – or being disturbed – by neighbouring tables.
Situated in the narrow Soi Kudee Cheen 3, this intimate dining space is available by reservation only. Open on weekends, it accommodates three 10-seat tables at a time and bookings must be made at least two days in advance.
A minimum of five persons is acceptable.
Baan Sakunthong is on Kudee Cheen Soi 3, next to Santa Cruz Church on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River.
It is open only on weekends and reservations are required. Book in advance by calling (062) 605 5665.
Husband-and-wife team Pravee and Kanittha decided to turn their wooden home into a private dining space several years ago after leaving their office jobs. They serve only home-cooked meals based on family recipes and diners get to tuck into a set of four appetisers, four main dishes and complimentary drinks for a very reasonable 450 baht (S$18) per person. A surcharge of 100 baht is imposed if beef is requested as a substitute for pork in the main dishes.
Pravee's great-grandmother was half-Thai and half-Portuguese while his great-grandfather was Chinese. He learned how to cook from his grandmother as a child and is in charge of the main dishes. Kanittha prepares the traditional Thai appetisers based on the royal recipes she learned from her grandmother who used to work in Suan Sunandha Palace in the reign of King Rama V.
"We offer the comfort foods that most residences in this neighbourhood cook at home. The ingredients and taste may vary a bit according to each family's recipe. We don't use monosodium glutamate. The names of some dishes may sound strange because they’re borrowed from a Portuguese dish,” says Kanittha.
Moo San Mo is pork tenderloin fillets stuffed with pork fatty tissue for a juicy texture and seasoned with salt and pepper. The fillets are then fried until golden brown before being slowly simmered in a broth reduction of fennel, ground coriander seed and camphor seed. The meat is topped with stir-fried green peas, carrots and potato slices before being served.
The pork neck used for the next dish, Moo Tom Kem, is slowly simmered with black soy sauce, pepper, salt and brown sugar for three hours then left overnight. It's then simmered again for another three hours, and potato and tomato are added for the last 30 minutes. The dish has a perfect balance of salty and sweet tastes and the texture of the pork is sublime.
Next to arrive at the table is Tom Ma Fad, which looks like the Chinese-style mixed vegetable stew Chap Chai.
"Turnip, Chinese kale, cabbage, spring onion are first boiled in the broth with coriander seed, fennel and ground cumin powder. Pork belly and chicken wing are added later and seasoned with fish sauce, palm sugar and vinegar. It's slowly boiled for almost an hour. I've toned down the degree of sweetness from the original recipe," Kanittha explains.
Khanom Jeen Gaeng Gai Khua is a delightful dish of red curry with minced chicken, giblets and chicken blood tofu. It's served with rice flour noodles and the condiments of ground yellow chilli and chopped spring onion and coriander.
"Don't judge the dish by the way it looks; the curry is not spicy at all. Some historians believe that this dish is the Eastern version of white spaghetti sauce. In the past, spaghetti was hard to find so Chinese-style rice flour noodles were used as a substitute and Thai coconut cream for the white sauce," says Kanittha.
There are more than 10 traditional appetisers on offer. On my visit, the charming hosts served Chor Muang – flower shaped chicken dumpling coloured purple with the extract of the butterfly pea flower. Resembling a tiny flower, the dough is a mixture of rice flour, arrowroot, sticky rice flour and tapioca flour, which gives it a soft yet chewy texture. The chicken stuffing is palate pleasing with mild sweet and savoury tastes.
Another Thai-style dumpling with the same filling as Chor Muang is Jeeb Tua Nok. It looks adorable thanks to its bird-like shape and it's so delicious that you immediately want more.
Next up is Rum, which is made by stir-frying minced prawn, grated coconut and shrimp fat with ground coriander root, pepper, salt and sugar before being wrapped in egg net.
Pad Sappa Yaek is tiny crispy pastry cups filled with finely diced chicken breast, diced potato, finely chopped onions and bell peppers that are stir-fried with fennel, ground coriander seed and garlic and turmeric powder.
If you want to indulge only in the appetisers, the couple offers a set of 10 with complimentary drinks for 400 baht per person. You can also learn how to cook an appetiser and enjoy a set of four appetisers and a dish of Khanom Jeen Gaeng Gai Khua for 450 baht per person.