December 12, 2014
Mae Klong Famous Products Festival (Pla thu Eating) ( เทศกาล กินปลาทู และ ของดี เมืองแม่กลอง )
When: Leading up to Christmas each year (16-25 December 2016)
Where: Held in front of City Hall Samut Songkhram & and Muang Samut Songkhram Municipality’s health garden
The ‘Mae Klong Famous Products Festival’ or to give it its full (if somewhat dull) title ‘Mackerel Eating and Mae Klong Famous Products Festival’ or ‘Mackerel and Mae Klong Famous Products Festival’, does not sound the most exciting of events, but this really is a fabulous festival in its own right, and in part pays homage to the ever so popular if miniature in statute Pla thu and is the perfect event for food lovers.
The festival is not all about this insignificant looking fish, though it does feature various mackerel dishes from famous local restaurants, along with the ever so popular, Thailand’s own mackerel fan club (wow what a treat). On the more interesting side (sorry if you’re a club member), it also includes an exhibition on the local way of life of Mae Klong residents, featuring a photo exhibition.
Added to this public show of respect to the fish, there are also musical performances, storytelling, cooking contests, the sale of obligatory OTOP products, added to this is a vast number of stalls selling local and national Thai food and souvenirs.
Here you will also find an array of other stalls selling a variety of locally grown fruits, such as lychees, oranges, grapes, guavas and big white pomelos, along with locally caught fresh fish and shell fish. All in all it really is a food lovers Paradise.
Pla thu (Thai: ปลาทู) is a very important fish in Thai cuisine, (a species of mackerel), you will find it sold through-out the Kingdom in its characteristic shape, with the head bent downwards. The fish is typically fried and eaten with nam phrik kapi, (a spicy dip made with shrimp paste see below), boiled and raw vegetables and leafy greens, as well as pieces of cha-om omelette, or it can be served with dried prawns, lime juice, fish sauce and the small pea eggplant, with rice.
Fresh Pla thu is also commonly used to make soups such as tom yam pla thu. The innards of this mackerel are also one of the main ingredients of Tai pla sauce, used in the preparation of the well-known and highly spicy Kaeng tai pla curry; it has a very intense taste and pungent aroma and usually only appreciated by local people and connoisseurs (or just crazy people).
The characteristic shape comes about in the traditional preserving process, it is here that the gills are removed and the head of the fish is bent towards the belly. This is all done to simply allow the fish to fit into small bamboo baskets, which are then used to hold the fish while they are boiled for a few minutes in large basins of sea-water (to which more salt is added), this then preserves the fish.
Pla thu will keep for a very long time in the refrigerator, it can be kept for approx. two weeks without refrigeration as long as it was boiled for a few minutes every two days. It is for the very reason in the time before electricity and refrigeration, this manner of preservation, meant the fish could reach the farthest of places through-out Thailand, including the far off and land locked provinces of the north.
A little on the province of Samut Songkhram
The tiny province of Samut Songkhram (literal translation means ‘Ocean War’) is the smallest of the Kingdoms provinces and ranks second to last on its population. Nestled 72 kms southwest of Bangkok, its main industries are fishing and to a smaller extent agriculture. It has been described by others, lovingly as a ‘Living Museum’.
Its fisherman are governed by the type of water found in and around the province, from the salty sea water to the brackish coastal waters and the fresh water streams and Klong’s that flow into the Mae Klong and eventually out into the ‘Bay of Bangkok’
Getting there by train is the best option from Bangkok as you can combine the trip with a visit to see the wonderful if somewhat bizarre ‘Umbrella Pull Down Market’ and or Bangkok’s most famous Floating Market that of Damnoen Saduak both of which fall within the province.
Other local things to try while in the Province
Palm Sugar & Palm Juice
In the morning, villagers climb the coconut palms to harvest the coconut nectar which has been collected in containers made from cut-bamboo sections that were hung overnight from the coconut palms. (The process is similar to tapping rubber trees). The sap is boiled in a large pan until it turns to a brown coloured syrup, which can then sold as it is, or it can be allowed to crystallize into various shapes and sizes and dried. In Thai cuisine, palm sugar is mainly used in sweets and desserts, but it is also found in Thai curries and sauces.
The young soft fruit from the palm is used to make a delightfully sweet cool drink sometimes called ‘Toddy Juice’. The fruit can also be eaten raw and are rich in vitamins A and C, they taste similar to lychees but milder and with no pit.
Palm Wine (kache, namtanmao)
The tapped sap from the tree can also be used to make fermented Palm Wine. Palm sap begins fermenting immediately after collection and within two hours, fermentation yields an aromatic sweet wine of up to 4% alcohol. If the wine is allowed to ferment longer, the wine becomes sour and acidic in taste. If left long enough the same then turns into the best vinegar.
Klong Kone Shrimp Paste
Shrimp paste or shrimp sauce, is a common ingredient used in Southeast Asia and Southern Chinese cuisine. It is made from fermented ground shrimp mixed with salt. Shrimp pastes vary in appearance from pale liquid sauces to solid chocolate-coloured blocks. Here in Samut Songkhram you will find many variations on the same theme, in the main the solid paste is brownish in colour with a distinctive if some-what pungent aroma and saltiness.
Through-out Thailand shrimp paste (kapi, กะปิ) is an essential ingredient in many types of nam phrik, spicy dips or sauces, and is found in almost all Thai curry pastes.
For more on the other festivals in December click here
“If you do have the good fortune to be in this part of Thailand during this time it is worth the effort to visit this festival as you do get a real feel of traditional Thai life and the chance to taste some wonderful Thai cuisine without the hassle of crowds of foreign tourists and if planned right you can combine the trip with a look at the unique if somewhat unconventional ‘Umbrella Pull Down Market’ or and Bangkok’s most famous Floating Market that of Damnoen Saduak. A great day out in this smallest of provinces”.
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Photos courtesy of the TAT and Wikipedia