I’m crouching on the ground in our outdoors kitchen, the one that Netty has been teaching me Thai cooking technique all week. In front of me, a bowl and miniature club, something out of the stone ages and probably the most important utensil in any Thai kitchen.
The mortar and pestile has been used by cooks since 1500 BCE and because of the simplicity of its design, has hardly changed at all. It’s used to grind fresh herbs into a sort-of paste, but in Thailand, it can also be a bragging right.
As the folklore is told to me by numerous Thai women, the Paleolithic utensil has always been a way of drawing a man’s attention. When women would bang away with with the pestle, men nearby would be lured in by the pounding. Surely, something must be cooking! And of course, as in most cultures, what better way to a man’s heart than through food?
The idea is pretty comical considering how ridiculous I looked squatting there, looking like I was about to take a pee. I balanced myself on my toes, hovering above the stone bowl and 5 pound club, trying not to tip over. I hack away at the ingredients while peppercorns come flying out of the bowl. It’s a glimpse right into the stone ages, although I’m sure they weren’t making curry dishes.
Mostly what goes in the mortar is chili peppers, garlic, tai sheesh (a funky smelling fish paste), peppercorn and other spices purchased within days at the local market. The taste is truly more bold this way, and much more fun than dashing prepackages McCormick’s into a recipe.
So far, I haven’t had any boys checking to see who the new cook is in town. Then again, I haven’t been able to break all the ingredients up into a fluid paste! If anything else, it’s a great upper arm workout and way to bring the most flavor you can to a dish.