Thai Culinary Crossroads

“Som Rom” (สมรม) is Southern Thai dialect and has a meaning of “gathering”, “integrating”, “unifying”, “combining” – it is literally used when something is coming together.

This Southern Thai term is exactly what is being reflected in “Somrom Space”.

It is a culinary space for food enthusiasts in which all that huge variety of influences on Thai cusine is coming together. Crossroads of traditional Thai culinary culture that are meeting at a little Southern Thai home in an untouched corner of Koh Samui.

“Somrom” is reflecting on Thai eating culture and its roots that have evolved over centuries. These are roots that have been nourished by the enormous variety of origins of Thai people. In the dishes that we are cooking, the backgrounds that we are discussing we are meeting Thai Muslim (Persian, Indian, Malay, Thai-Cham), Thai-Chinese (Teochiew, Hakka, Hokkien, Yunnanese etc), Thai-Mon, Thai-Yuan, Thai-Khom, Thai-Kao, Thai-Khamen, Thai-Gariang, Thai-Yaai (Shan) and many more ethnicities that are part of Thai culinary culture.

All these cultural and historical influences always used to be dynamic – and they are until today’s day. Local cuisines have met, they have influenced each other and very often they have evolved to become what we are calling “Thai food” today. Having this perspective and the meaning of “Somrom” in mind, my conclusion has become that Thai food does not belong to anyone. It is a beautiful product of a colourful cultural conglomerate that we refer to as “Thai people”.

The term “Somrom” can also be found in a dish that is representing Southern Thai food. “Gaeng Som Rom” is a curry that local people are preparing for the traditional festival of “Wan Sarht Duean Sib” (วันสารทเดือนสิบ) around the end of September, beginning of October. For this festival local people were preparing different types of dishes, such as “Gaeng Gathi”, “Gaeng Khua”, “Gaeng Som”, “Gaeng Jued”, “Khai Phalo”, “Plaa Thord” etc.

During the day, at the end of the festivities the cooks (even the monks) in charge had to figure out how they could recreate a dish from the left-overs so it would be enough quantity for everyone and the food would last longer.

It was not just about mixing any type of left-overs, the cooks were always having an idea in mind how to combine certain textures and flavours that obviously had changed due to the cooking process in the previous dishes.

“Wan Sarht Duean Sib” is an important festival for Southern Thai people (especially in Nakhon Sri Thammarat province) at which local people are making merit for the spirits that haven’t been reincarnated yet, that are still wandering around because of the bad karma which they had created during their lives. We call those spirits “Pret”.

According to local people’s beliefs, this heavy karma might be paid off, if the young generation is making merit and donates rice, food, fruit etc. In a ceremony called “Bup Pha Pet Pli” people are offering those goods to the monks and through them this merit will be transferred to the “Pret”.

Using the word “Som Rom” in a sense of ‘combining’ items, inevitably leads to a beautiful idea in Thai eating culture: the ‘sumrub’. A tradition or so to say a habit of Thai eating culture that is still present in the modern day is the idea of serving a set menu of dishes and sharing it between friends and family. A ‘sumrub’ is a structured idea of a meal in which a variety of dishes with different characteristics is being combined to create a thrilling, often unexpected balance between the dishes. “Som Rom” – people coming together, to enjoy Thai dishes being served together.

In traditional Thai cuisine, as a cook we soon become aware of the multiple layers of flavours that are to be found in a dish. But there is another perspective of ‘layers’ or dimensions that can be found in every Thai dish – a perspective that leads to a deeper understanding of a dish.

Any dish that we are cooking is coming with a cultural and historical layer that makes us understand where the dish has arised from and why it has become the dish that it is. This is to be followed by the layers of religious backgrounds and beliefs that can be found in the meaning of traditional Thai dishes. Another layer of a huge impact on Thai dishes is the dimension of topography and climate: Which region of Thailand is the dish coming from? What were the natural circumstances of a certain area that have influenced the character of a dish?

When having a closer look at traditional Thai dishes then all these layers together are leading to a deeper understanding of Thailand’s culinary culture. All layers combined – “Som Rom”

The expression “Som Rom” can also be seen in the way Thai people were developing their garden around their homes. A traditional Thai home back in the old days always used to be surrounded by a garden in which edible plants of all kinds are growing all together in one place. 

Such a “Suan Som Rom” (the word ‘suan’ meaning ‘garden’) comes with the characteristics that vegetables, herbs, fruit trees etc are not necessarily growing in a human-made order. It is a natural approach of developing a garden in which plants over time are raised at a spot in which they are following the given natural circumstances. Seeing the long-term perspective plants will become more resistant to any kind of threats.

“Som Rom Space” has become a lifetime project to me. A journey that is connecting the dots of my personal backgrounds, my values in life, my dedication to Thai food and the curiosity that is continuously sparkling deep inside – the curiosity to approach a well-balanced way of life in all its layers.

Supansa Klaewklong (Ying)

As a child of a Samuian family in the 5th generation Ying was raised on Koh Samui and on the closeby mainland of Nakhon Sri Thammarat province. From her childhood on she was part of Southern Thai local communities. Influenced by her grandfather who was a communal cook she very soon got in touch with traditional ways of Southern Thai cooking and local life.

After years of education in Bangkok she returned home to Koh Samui in her mid-twenties to eventually re-discover her connection to Southern Thai food. It was her father’s passion about local style cooking that she absorbed and put into practice. In 2013 she started a Thai cooking project at her family’s home in Koh Samui with the support of her parents. Over the years the project evolved into a mission of passing on local wisdom and simple lifestyles around Southern Thai cuisine. 

At Som Rom Space she is providing educational programs in the tranquil and untouched Southwest of Koh Samui. Built around the essence of traditional Thai cooking she has created a culinary space where she is conducting masterclasses and workshops for enthusiasts who wish to understand the core of ancient Thai culinary culture.