Songkran and Connecting to My Thai Roots

Growing up, we didn’t really celebrate traditional Thai holidays. Like many first-gen kids in the US, I loved all the food my mom made but when it came to holidays, I was admittedly more focused on fitting in and learning American traditions. But as I got older and started exploring my heritage more and more, I really enjoyed learning about these traditional Thai festivals. And, ironically, I learned that my Yai and mother actually were making dishes that had ties to certain Thai festivals and rituals.

The Thai New Year, or the Songkran Festival from April 13 - 15, is a great example of that - we wouldn’t celebrate it like they do in Thailand - splashing water on each other (it’s also usually on the hottest day of the year in Thailand) as a symbol of purification and cleansing to bring renewal and good energy into the new year. But my mom and Yai would make some traditional Thai meals that have its roots tied to Songkran. 

Traditionally, these meals are prepared and brought to temples and offered to Buddhist monks. We of course didn’t do that growing up in the US, but thinking about the cooks of the household (typically women) like my mom and Yai doing that in Thailand gave me another extra appreciation for them. Forever impressed by their dedication and generosity! And, fortunately, those Songkran-typical meals were carried on to my household growing up - lucky me! 

My favorite was Larb - the dish of prosperity - which is a Thai salad usually made with chicken or pork, shallots, cilantro, garlic, toasted jasmine rice powder, chilis, and fish sauce. This is typically served over rice with lettuce, cucumbers, and a mint garnish. In the spring, we prefer to eat them as lettuce wraps!

Fun fact: Most of these dishes are prepared during Songkran because their pronunciation is similar to positive “New Years-y” words like “good luck” or “support”. Laab is pronounced similar to “good luck” in Thai. 

For dessert, they’d make Khao Chaeem - jasmine flavored cold rice. This is not a very common dish in the US, but I will be asking my mom to make it this year (and hopefully will have a recipe to share)!

Founder Leland's family gathered on stairs around Yai (grandma)Image courtesy of Watnawamin Boston Facebook

This year, to celebrate Sarah and I along with my mom will be going to a Thai temple that is near Boston and I am really looking forward to the experience and learning more about my heritage. My journey with Yai’s has really brought me back to my roots and it has been truly rewarding to learn more about heritage. It has also opened up so many more culinary and taste experiences for Sarah and I that we are excited to share with our loyal fans. 

Hoping your 2023 has already been off to a great start and wishing you prosperity and renewal!

- Leland

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