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Phuket Gardening: Going back to your roots

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket Gardening: Going back to your roots | The Thaiger

PHUKET: Recently I went in search of spice seeds to photograph. I needed them for pictures that could accompany my scribblings about herbs and spices, and, in addition, to try out in the garden.

I found more than I had bargained for, including such exotic stuff as dried butterfly pea flowers (clitoria ternata), liquorice root, star anise and fenugreek. Not the everyday flavorings I am writing about today, but it reinforces the point I have made before: there is no end to the cornucopia of flavors we are lucky enough to savor in Thailand.

Today, however, I’m rooting for roots. The most powerfully pungent bulbs in Southeast Asia, as in most corners of the globe, belong to the lily (liliaceae) family and of all these – onions, shallots, chives and garlic – the latter (allium sativum) is the most commonly used.

A daily task, as any Thai ‘restaurateur’ will confirm, is to peel all those pesky ‘kratiem‘ bulbs. More than one type of garlic grows here. The small purple-skinned cloves are considered superior to the white ones on account of their greater intensity of flavor. Packed with oil, they will surely let your taste buds know if you are bold enough to chomp them up raw as so many Thais do.

More commonly, the cloves are macerated into a spicy paste along with other seasonings, or chopped and added to stir-fry dishes, soups and stews, or sliced and fried to a brown crisp with fish.

I went through an entire childhood without ever tasting garlic. Hard to imagine, especially in this day and age when garlic has become one of those ‘magical’ natural ingredients, supposedly capable of thinning the blood, of reducing ‘bad’ cholesterol and of lowering vascular pressure.

And if you do try putting some bulbs in the garden, they do have an inhibiting effect on many pests. They won’t come within a mile. That much I know from growing garlic in Andalucia.

I hope we can pass quickly over the onion (allium) ‘per se’. It is one of the oldest vegetables known to man, and while I love them as much as Chaucer’s Summoner, whose fourteenth century breath was permanently be-fouled by onions, they are so cheap here – eight baht a kilo at the last count for the white variety – and their appearance and flavor so well known, that they don’t need me to expatiate upon their merits.

The spring onion (allium fistulosum or ton tom) is a very important garnish in the Kingdom. It is not only found in those green platters of winged beans, Chinese kale and cashew leaves that grace the lunch tables of the cheapest Thai eateries, but is often added, along with garlic, to the clear soups that accompany the main course.

Although shallots (allium ascolonicum or hom daeng) grow wild in parts of Thailand, they are a less visible presence because they are not used for decorative effect. But they are common ingredients in hot pastes, and are sometimes preferred to onions on account of their sweeter and less harsh flavor. They also have a lower water content that allows for easier frying.

If you try growing them, remember that they don’t grow singly like onions, but in small bunches. They are best cultivated in rich soil from ‘sets’ of small bulbs, rather than from seed. Remember to pare away the earth from the tops of the bulbs once they are well established.

The last member of the allium clan to warrant a mention is the chive (allium tuberosum), normally referred to in the plural form. Bunches of the local variety, flat or Chinese chives, are readily available in local markets.

They grow in long-leaved clusters and, because of their strong aroma, are sometimes known as ‘garlic chives’. Often sold with the flowering tips (or culm) still attached, they are considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. Equally, ask any Thai about ‘dok kuichai’ and they will soon be singing its praises.

So what about spicy roots? Two, ginger and galangal, cannot be ignored, despite recent official attempts to curtail their use as pesticides, and while both have both been briefly defended in these columns before, they deserve a proper mention.

Ginger (zingiber officin-ale) is, of course, better known abroad, since the mature, beige-colored root travels well and is available from any European greengrocer. Known as ‘khing‘ in Thailand, where it grows wild – what doesn’t? – it is normally sold in markets as a freshly dug young root. In this form, it has thin, creamy skin and pink shoots which terminate in green stalks You can easily pop a couple in some moist soil to start your own crop.

Popular as a marinade with Chinese chefs or as an accompaniment to fried fish, the tender young roots can be grated or crushed to release the intense flavor before cooking.

Ginger has a reputation in Asia as a medicinal herb, useful for counteracting indigestion and even nausea. It also makes a delectable hot drink which I often buy – in a plastic bag of course – at the local market. Good for hangovers.

Galangal (alipinia gala-nga) comes from the same family and the rhizome looks quite similar, if less knobbly.

But the flavor is distinctively different and, sliced into thin chunks, the tough fibrous root graces many Thai and Malay soups and stews. The sour, slightly citrus flavor of tom yam soup owes everything to its infusion of galangal.

Like ginger, it is an attractive addition to the kitchen garden. Plant a rhizome and it will sprout sword-like leaves and, whisper it softly, some Thais believe galangal has aphrodisiacal powers.

Phuket Gardening is Phuket Gazette columnist Patrick Campbell’s feature of all things flora.

If you have a garden that you would like featured on this page, please email Patrick by clicking here.

Keep checking our online Phuket Lifestyle pages for regular gardening features and tips.

— Patrick Campbell

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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Business

500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies

Greeley Pulitzer

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500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies | The Thaiger

Roughly 36% of Thailand’s corporate equity is held by just 500 people, highlighting wealth inequality in the Kingdom, according to a study released by the Bank of Thailand’s research institute.

Each of these 500 amass some 3.1 billion baht (102 million USD) per year in company profits, according to the report from the Puey Ungphakorn Institute for Economic Research. In contrast, average yearly household income in Thailand is around 10,000 USD.

A report out this week from the Economic and Business Research Centre for Reform at Thailand’s Rangsit University also pointed to divisive and polarised politics being another root cause of the economic divide.

Thailand’s private sector is dominated by tycoons running sprawling conglomerates. According to the World Bank, the gap between the mega-wealthy and the rest of the Thai population of 69 million is among the many economic challenges for Thailand. According to Bloomberg, the perception of a divide, exacerbated by an economic slowdown, is a major political fault line.

“Magnates arise in Thailand from institutional factors that privilege certain businesses,” said the executive director of PIER, author of the study.

The institute said Thailand needs to promote competitiveness to reduce profits from monopoly power and bolster entrepreneurship to create a more equitable distribution of corporate wealth.

The research is based on analysis of 2017 Commerce Ministry data on the 2.1 million shareholders in Thai firms, and was funded by the University of California San Diego.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Thai Life

Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers

The Thaiger

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Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | The Thaiger

PHOTOS: Daily News

The answers are in the banana leaves.

Thai people LOVE playing the lottery (and gambling generally). In fact they’re BANANAS about the twice-monthly lottery (it was drawn again today). Daily News has reported about two unusual banana trees growing in front of a shop in Klong 4 Pathum Thani, just north of Bangkok. The trees did not have blossom and on one plant two bananas were pointing skywards. On another there was a whole bunch pointing up into the sky.

There was a steady stream of the faithful lighting incense, praying and rubbing powder on the trees to get lottery numbers. One group thought ‘542’ was the magic numbers and a path to riches (we’re not sure how they came to this conclusion). 53 year old Surachai says the trees had been growing for a few months and that he’d never seen anything like it before.

An unnamed agricultural expert suggested that there was probably something wrong with the banana plants. Trees and malformed animals are a favourite source of inspiration to select numbers for the lottery, as are numbers of houses and vehicles involved in events where people experience “miracle” escapes from danger, or even bizarre accidents.

SOURCE: Daily News

Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | News by The Thaiger Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | News by The Thaiger

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Entertainment

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival

The Thaiger

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The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | The Thaiger

On the streets, in parks and garages, seven Cuban youngsters spent seven months practising K-pop moves to secure a spot on their dream stage: an appearance in South Korea to imitate their idols. 13 final teams from 80 countries are competing in the 2019 event.

At the grandly titled and government-funded Changwon K-pop World Festival contestants from around the globe perform imitation dances or sing cover versions of the genre’s biggest hits, with thousands of fans cheering them on.

In terms of global heft, South Korea is overshadowed by its much larger neighbours China and Japan, but the event is a way for Seoul to derive soft power from one of the country’s biggest cultural exports. In terms of pop-power, South Korea’s K-Pop is now a recognised world-wide music phenomenon with bands like BTS and Blackpink figuring amongst the other big-hitters on the Billboard charts and outselling their western counterparts with millions of albums and downloads.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Finalists for this year

Cuba’s Communist government is one of North Korea’s few remaining allies: when President Miguel Diaz-Canel, successor to the Castro brothers Fidel and Raul, visited Pyongyang last November he was only the third foreign head of state to do so since leader Kim Jong Un inherited power in 2011.

But rather than geopolitics, Havana performer Karel Rodriguez Diaz – whose mannerisms and sleek hairstyle could easily be mistaken for those of a K-pop star – is more motivated by high-tempo beats and superslick dance moves.

“We never had a place with a mirror or a choreographer who could teach us the steps” but they kept on practising, he said.

His team-mate Elio Gonzalez added: “We are so excited to represent not just Cuba but also the whole of Latin America.”

Some 6,400 teams from more than 80 countries entered the competition, according to organisers, with 13 groups from places as diverse as Kuwait and Madagascar winning through to the final in Changwon, where they appeared on stage waving their national flags.

“This is like watching the Olympics, a K-pop Olympics,” said the event’s host Lia, a member of K-pop group ITZY.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

The Korean Wave

K-pop – along with K-drama soap operas – has been one of South Korea’s most successful cultural exports to date. A key part of the “Korean Wave” which has swept Asia and beyond in the last 20 years, the K-pop industry is now estimated to be worth $5 billion, with boyband BTS its latest high-profile exponent, becoming the world’s most successful band in the past 12 months, selling out stadium concerts within minutes, around the world.

The South Korean government has financed a variety of K-pop themed events in what CedarBough Saeji, a visiting professor at Indiana University Bloomington in the US, said was a form of long-term “soft power diplomacy”.

“When you are covering you get to ‘become’ those idols for the three and a half minutes of the song,” she said, adding that performers will go so far as matching their clothing, accessories and hairstyle to their heroes and heroines.

“The cover dancers of today will be diplomats, news reporters, and business leaders in forty years,” she went on.

“And hopefully they’ll still have a soft spot in their heart for Korea. Korea can’t win the world through hard power – armies, economic bullying – but with soft power even a small country like Korea has a chance.”

The music also provides an artistic alternative for overseas fans, especially those in developing countries, Saeji added.

“The West, especially the United States, has been so dominant culturally for so long, and having a different cultural pole to look to provides hope that one’s own country can experience similar success in the future.”

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Be who you want

Beneath its glitz and glamour, the K-pop industry is also known for its cutthroat competition, a lack of privacy, online bullying and relentless public pressure to maintain a wholesome image at all times and at any cost.

Sulli, a popular K-pop star and former child actress who had long been the target of abusive online comments was found dead on Monday, with her death sending shockwaves through fans around the world.

“I think a day where (people) would be ashamed of the K-show business will surely come,” a South Korean online user wrote in the wake of the star’s death.

“I think an industry that makes money by (making people) sing, dance, undergo plastic surgeries and go on a diet to please the gaze of others since they are teenagers should really go bankcrupt.”

But for Kenny Pham, a finalist from the US at last week’s contest, K-pop’s diversity – with some tunes having dark themes, while others were “cute” or sensual – is what gives him a sense of liberation.

“I like how expressive you could be,” the 19 year old told AFP last week.

“I feel like it’s a place where you could show the passion you have for music, dance or fashion. No one is bashing you for what your likes are.”

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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