It was almost midnight in the town of Trang, in southern Thailand, and I was looking into an oven the size of a tuk-tuk. Flames and smoke erupted from the top, and the men carefully lowered two grown and slaughtered pigs into the abyss of fire. An hour later they would be out, smoldering, crimson, crispy and fragrant. When cold enough to handle, the pigs were portioned, chopped, and displayed for sale at the Trang Central Morning Market at around 4:00 a.m.
I was looking in an oven the size of a tuk-tuk
There aren’t many places in the world where people are willing to take on the logistics of roasting whole adult pigs every day. But there aren’t many places in the world that are as serious about breakfast as Trang, either. Even in a country totally obsessed with food like Thailand, the city’s enthusiasm for the first meal of the day can seem almost pathological.
In Trang, you can start your day in huge dim sum rooms; decades-old restaurants selling steaming bowls of noodles and rice porridge; cafes and stalls with platters of curries, stir-fries and soups; street vendors selling crispy, fried dough sticks; and most famous, stalls selling local-style roast pork by the kilogram. It’s fun, indulgent, delicious, and overwhelming. But why the breakfast and why Trang?
“Restaurants in Trang welcome different types of workers here,” Trang-based restaurateur and home cooking historian Khanaporn Janjirdsak explained when I asked her why Trang was so crazy about breakfast. “The rubber shooters wake up at 2:00 am, restaurant managers go to buy ingredients at 5:00 am; people here eat all the time!
People here eat all the time!
Rubber is an important crop in the countryside surrounding Trang, Khanaporn told me, and the fact that rubber sap had to be harvested in the morning had led to a robust – and very early breakfast culture. In some cases, she said, the rubber shooters may have already eaten two meals before the sun came up.
Immigration is another factor that has shaped the breakfast scene in the city. Since the 15th century, commerce, commerce, and the prospect of work have attracted Chinese immigrants to various points along Thailand’s Andaman Sea coast. Trang has become home to a disproportionate number of them, and as a result, it is perhaps the most Chinese place in Thailand: a virtual melting pot of Chinese culture, with Hakka, Hokkien and Teochew among the regional Chinese languages spoken there. Yet it was the Cantonese who had the biggest impact on Trang’s breakfast.
“It used to be that people would just come and drink tea,” said Yaowanee Thirakleela, Cantonese fourth-generation owner of Jip Khao, Trang’s oldest and most revered dim sum venue. We were seated in his restaurant, which at 7:00 am was already packed with families, schoolchildren, retirees and people on their way to the office. “There wasn’t much to eat with the tea; a few steamed dumplings, maybe some fried dough sticks.
Yet over the decades, Thirakleela told me, Trang teahouses began to offer more food products, eventually making the transition to full-fledged restaurants. Today, the city is synonymous with expansive dim sum halls that offer dozens of steamed and fried options, as well as noodle and rice dishes. But Jip Khao is one of the few who has kept a relatively small menu of dim sum products, all made on site and steamed in a traditional style in a large tray rather than tiny bamboo baskets.
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Put aside all notions of delicate, jewel-like seafood-based ravioli; The Trang-style dim sum is simple and hearty, the almost exclusively pork-based toppings give a seemingly Thai-influenced boost with generous additions of garlic and white pepper. And remnants of Chinese tea culture can still be seen in the standard beverage station of Jip Khao and his counterparts, where most cups of sweet coffee and tea are poured through a sock-like fabric filter. . Thirakleela is proud that her restaurant may be the only one in town that still serves old-fashioned Chinese tea – cup-shaped teapots and fragrant chrysanthemum petals.
“In my father’s day they drank a lot of tea,” she told me. “They could eat fatty foods and live a long time!”
The fatty food Thirakleela was talking about was, without a doubt, Trang’s famous roast pork. Although the dish has its origins in Chinese festivals and celebrations, it has become synonymous with Trang, and these days it is sold in the stalls of the municipal morning market and in dim sum halls, an indulgence of base for locals and a must-have item for visitors. . The pigs, boneless, deeply marked and rubbed with a sweet and fragrant five-spice marinade, come out of ovens like the one I witnessed that night with an almost crispy skin, firm lean meat, similar to a candy and a layer. fat which, when done right, is about to melt.
“You don’t need a dip for the Trang-style roast pork,” Janjirdsak said, when I asked him to describe his town’s signature dish. “It’s already seasoned – the taste is already perfect.”
I get up every day at 3 a.m. to prepare the dough
Instead, diners at popular Trang dim sum venues like Trang Moo Yang and Phong O Cha 1 pair of tiny plates of roast pork with steamed buns and minced meat move with a giant cleaver . On the street side and at Trang’s central morning market, a vibrant trade takes place in take-out boxes of roast pork, with customers stopping on motorbikes, shouting an order of a kilo or two, and walking away without even have disembarked.
Trang’s affinity for fried dough sticks – yet another Chinese breakfast staple is second after dim sum and roast pork.
“I wake up at 3:00 am every day to make the dough,” said Somyot Athakijmongkol, the second-generation owner of Kun Chiang Bang Rak, a small restaurant that only serves breakfast and serves what are arguably the best sticks. . in the city. “I start frying the dough at 6:00 am. And we usually sell at 9:00 am. “
Athakijmongkol spoke to me as he shaped, turned, pinched and divided a mound of pale, almost ethereal dough. After the mass had been turned into a row of sticks about the size of a lighter, he took two and glued them together, which he slipped into a large wok of hot oil, turning over crosses with long chopsticks until glassy and golden.
The people of Trang eat nine times a day!
“Ours are longer, crispier – they stay crisp for a long time,” he told me, when I asked what made his product superior, “and they’re soft on the inside.”
Such is the ubiquity of fried dough sticks in Trang that on the table in any dim sum room is a dispenser with squares of thick, coarse gray paper. Locals know how to use them to dab excess oil onto sticks of dough and, I’m told, to jot down numbers while discussing business rather than dim sum.
But Trang’s breakfast scene isn’t limited to Chinese food. Like much of southern Thailand, the city has a large Muslim population, and at a series of open-air halal restaurants near Trang Station, vendors sell flaky, crispy, and fried flatbreads known as of roast, by combining them with curries flavored with dried spices that are more Indian than Thai. Nearby, the ethnic Thai, which ironically has probably had the least impact on Trang’s breakfast scene, operate curry stalls, establishments that offer dozens of platters of pre-made curries, of stir-fries, soups and other dishes. Although usually lunch is served elsewhere in Thailand, in Trang, these dishes are considered breakfast.
It was at Ko Lay, a Thai curry stand on Thanon Kan Tang Street which usually sells out as early as 9:00 am, that I came into conversation with the owner, Thanatip Boonyarat.
“The people of Trang have a reputation for being serious eaters,” she told me. “People elsewhere [in Thailand] eat three maybe four times a day, but the people of Trang eat nine times a day!
It was, admittedly, my second breakfast that day. Obviously, I was starting to understand the local approach to eating.
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