My Grandfather


Stir-fried Hokkien noodles at Pong Lee

My grandfather passed away a couple of days ago, but I don’t want to make this a sad post about loss. Instead, I want to talk about all the stuff that I remember about him. Most of it has to do with food. Not because that is the only way I can relate to people (although that may be part of it), but because that was the way he related to people, too.

My grandfather, Sawake Phromburi, was a policeman. He served in Northern Thailand for many years, and then he moved to Bangkok, where my mom and her siblings were raised. But even though he worked in law enforcement, he appeared to save his best thinking and planning for his food. He would spend days planning menus for family gatherings, making sure the durian was in the perfect condition for serving on that certain day, that the sea pomfret was fresh, that everyone’s favorites were represented on the dinner table. There was never a paucity of anything, no matter how he might have loathed it. I remember I went through a durian guan (preserved durian) phase, and then, as a weight-conscious teen who could never quite get her body under control, a period of eating only yum (Thai-style spicy salads). Not to mention the times I openly despised Thai food, happy only when a plate of spaghetti was set in front of me. He made sure I got that, too, although I doubt he understood it. While he wasn’t the most demonstrative or touchy-feely of guys (his lengthy diatribes and “lectures” terrified all of my mom’s friends), he felt comfortable showing his love through making sure we were all happy with what we ate, that there was a lot of it, and that it was the best that he could find. From him, I inherit my deep love of coconut milk-rich curries, distaste for noodles at dinnertime, rugby ball physique, and apparent fondness for home entertaining. 

He didn’t go out often, but when he did, he had his favorites: one, the Chinese-Thai standby Pong Lee (10/1 Ratchawithi Soi 9), and for special occasions, Methavalai Sorndaeng (78/2 Ratchadamnoen Klang Road), which enjoyed its heyday while Elvis was still popular, and still features singers that may have been popular during that time, too. When I get back to Bangkok, I’m going to stop off there, and have a yum or two (or, let’s face it, three) in memory of him.



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10 responses to “My Grandfather

  1. Lisa Clifton

    Hi Chow I hope you’re well.
    I had the Rama App on my iphone and somehow lost it when I switched to another one. I have tried to re-install the app, but I can’t locate it on iTunes using the search criteria you gave. Is the App still available?
    Thanks, Lisa

    • Hi Lisa,

      I’m afraid the app is no longer available. I’m sorry for the delay in replying. You can email me if you like and I can give you pointers on how to find the street food featured in the app.

  2. Anney

    Sorry for your loss dear Chow – lovely to read some of your memories of your grandfather …. I have very fond memories of my grandmother’s food – my sister and I loved to stay at her house, the food was always delicious and made with lots of love. She was a great baker and i credit her with my being able to produce passable scones (called ‘biscuits’ in the USA …. which we call ‘cookies’ …. on and on we could go!) XX A

    • Thanks Anney. I love biscuits. I hope one day you can pass me the recipe!

      • Anney

        SO simple! Turn the oven on to heat to it’s highest temperature. Use 2 cups of white self raising flour (or 2 cups of plain white flour and 4 teaspoons of baking powder – well sifted) …. rub in a piece of cold butter about the size of a walnut until it disappears …. then mix in enough cold full fat milk to wet the dough. My Nan said to avoid touching the dough with your hands as much as possible – so use a flat blade knife for mixing if possible, then turn out the dough onto a flat surface and cut circles (you can use a cutter or even a drinking glass) and bake in the oven when it is fully hot (not fan forced) for 10 minutes – perfect every time!

        Variations we often do are to add whole seeded dates, or cheese and onion using grated cheese and onion and leaving out the butter….. YUM!

  3. Chissa Duangnet

    His spaghetti was so bad. But his curries and pastes were earthly, like home. And his homemade northern sausages made my husband fall in love with our family! I remember he used to feed Sutree and me hot dogs that he bought from the marketplace especially for us…until he found out that we were feeding them to the cats. He was so hurt. From him, I inherited the need to have every meal be the best, most detailed meal possible. Each meal we eat must be planned like it is the last meal on Earth. So much pressure! Will miss him.

  4. ale

    Questo post è davvero molto commovente, da ogni riga si può capire l’affetto che hai per la persona che non c’è più e che sicuramente vi ha amati moltissimo, Perchè l’amore si dimostra anche dalle piccole cose di tutti i giorni come scegliere la frutta migliore od organizzare un buon pranzo. Vado ogni anno a Bangkok da più di trenta anni , la prossima volta andrò a cercare questo ristorante e mangerò in onore di questa persona che non ho conosciuto.

  5. I’m honored to have stuffed myself silly at his table. My love to you and your family.

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