TRANSLATIONS AND ESSAYS IN HONOR OF THE LIFE AND WORK OF AJARN KANNIKAR ELBOW
I first attempted a translation of a shorter version of this tamnan while taking second year Thai with Ajarn Kannikar in 2008. I remember her flipping through the xeroxed copies I had brought back from Chiang Rai, laughing out loud, and telling me that I would need many more years before I could translate this strange and delightful story. As I finally completed a translation of the full text in the Summer of 2017, I experienced a deep sense of joy, fulfillment, entertainment, and connection to humanity as a global phenomenon. No portion of the text generated these feelings in me more than this one. Now, every time I re-read it, I again experience such profound pleasure and joy. I have Ajarn Kannikar to thank for these true waves of emotion and pleasure. While she never saw this portion of the extended text, her sense vivacity and passion for food, fun, laughter, and togetherness shine forth to me through these words.
Epicurean Episode in the Tamnan Phra That Doi khao Khwai Kaew
The renovation of the Phra That on top of Doi Khao Khwai was fueled by an abundance of food, nothing was left wanting or neglected. At the temple site, you could see coconuts, taro, and yams piled in overflowing mounds. There were bananas of all varieties, teep bananas, egg bananas, golden fragrant bananas, and namwa bananas—all which could eat as one pleased, and to one’s fill. You could choose either yellow, ripe, or overripe selections from any pile. In fact, there were so many bananas, that the rotten ones had to be discarded, which was a shame. There was also other food of all kinds: grilled foods, fried foods, roasted foods, and a whole bouquet of onions and garlics. Special foods came according to the season. In bamboo shoot season, people would go and gather bamboo shoots and bring them here. There were banana hearts, banana flowers, cilantro, and basil. All the food that was brought here was done without committing sin or creating karma because no animals were killed. There were yet more types of vegetables, such as ferns and leafy greens that grew in the forest, and people would bring them here to make food for all. But without a doubt the most delicious dish was the smashed eggplant with green-leaf curry. We had eggplant and fermented tea (miang). There was also curry paste and vegetable paste served with bitter melon and cha-am shoots, roasted mung bean cakes, and soy left to soak for two nights. Coconut milk was brought to the kitchen, and eggplant made a delectable snack, served with sour pickled collards. Another great dish was the boiled collards and mushroom curry served with fermented fish, but up in the mountains there are no fish, so we used fermented soy instead. We had lemongrass salad with eggplant, and some folks liked to make a sweet salad of roasted bamboo shoots. Each person and each group had whatever type of food they wanted, according to their own taste. Some people tried a dish, and would say “I can beat that.” Then they would just turn around to make their own fried vegetable curry the way that they liked it. Others joked around when they found that a certain dish didn’t please them. They would say, with the food in their mouths “Oh, my tongue won’t listen, it refuses to push this food down my throat.” Others delighted in all of the offerings, and ate until they were completely stuffed. When there were leftovers or food that wasn’t eaten it would be carried down to people in the surrounding villages. When the work was in full swing, there was one group of people that would stay back and make food for everyone. At that time we all had to eat the same thing, as there was not an abundance of choice, because we were all completely focused on the work of building. The monks here do not eat meat, they eat jae, which is a type of vegetarian diet. So those cooks who were skilled in that kind of cooking would all help to cook for them. The food was excellent, there were fried noodles, beans, and sesame. The cooks made it all and presented it beautifully for the monks. They made “Bananas ordained as nuns” [Bananas in coconut milk] as desert. Besides feeding the monks, they also brought this food to the people who had come to help build. It was really a delectable experience for all who supped, and the cooks were praised all around by all.