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Banana Blossom – An Interesting Thai Ingredient

Michael Babcock, Monday, July 15th, 2013

Banana blossoms are one of the many unusual ingredients found in Thai cooking. On the surface, this appears to be an unlikely ingredient – when eaten by itself, it has an unpleasant astringent bite. This taste, however, disappears when accompanied by a creamy coconut sauce and this is how the blossom is often served.

The Thai word for banana blossom is หัวปลี (hua plee).

Banana Blossom 1

Blossom on the plant

Banana Blossom 2

Blossoms at a market

The outer layers of the blossom are a rich purplish red color and are quite tough. The best parts for eating are the light ivory leaves in the center.

To prepare the blossom for use in cooking, the outer red layers are peeled off. Then the inner ivory colored layers are typically cut into wedges and then soaked immediately in water with a bit of salt or lime juice: this is to prevent the sap from turning the heart and leaves black.

Prepping Banana Blossom 1

Opening up a banana blossom

Prepping Banana Blossom 3

The ivory inner leaves

Directly above we see a banana blossom being prepared for use in a Thai dish. Once the dark red outer leaves have been stripped down to the inner ivory-colored ones, we can cut it into wedges.

Prepping Banana Blossom 4

Cutting into wedges

Soaking Banana Blossom

Soaking the inner leaves

If we didn’t soak the leaves in salt-or lime-water, they would turn black (and unappetizing!) from the sap.


Crab Dip

Blossoms with a crab dip

One typical way to serve banana blossoms is as an accompaniment to a dipping sauce, such as Salted Crab Coconut Cream Sauce – Loen Poo Kem. In addition to salted crabs and coconut creme, this sauce may include ground pork, chopped fresh shrimp, tamarind juice, palm sugar, and salt. This tasty, creamy sauce mellows out the flavor of banana blossoms. The way the sauce and the banana blossom combine to create a unique taste needs to be experienced: it can’t really be described. Besides the banana blossom, a variety of other vegetables choices are on the platter accompanying the sauce.

You can learn about salted crab as an ingredient and also try Kasma’s recipe for Loen Poo Kem in her blog: Salted Crab – Boo Kem (or Bpoo Kem)

Mee Kati Noodles

Blossom served with noodles

Banana Blossom Salad

Kasma‘s Banana Blossom Salad

Banana blossoms may also accompany the noodle dish Mee Kati – Rice Vermicelli Cooked in Spiced Coconut Cream Sauce. Again, the creamy coconut sauce coating the noodles tempers the astringency of the banana blossom to make a delicious taste in the mouth.

Banana blossoms are also made into salads in Thailand; Kasma teaches a Banana Blossom and Chicken Salad with Toasted Coconut. Peanuts and Roasted Chilli Sauce – Yum Hua Plee. Once again, coconut cream provides the medium to mellow out the astringency. This salad is delicious and a favorite among many of her students.

Isan Banana Blossom Salad

Isan Banana Blossom Salad

Banana blossoms can also be cooked as a vegetable in a spicy, rich curry sauce.

If you’ve tried cooking with banana blossom but haven’t had luck making it taste good, try the suggestions we’ve made above, or sign up for Kasma’s cooking classes where you’ll learn to make use of many exotic ingredients that are both nutritious and delightfully tasty when prepared right.

In the S.F. Bay Area, we are able to find fresh banana blossoms in many of the Southeast Asian markets and also at the Berkeley Bowl, particularly during the warmer months. If the fresh blossoms are unavailable, banana blossoms are also found already cut into wedges in cans or bottles where they are packed in brine; no need to soak these in salt- or lime-water after shredding. They won’t have a crisp texture and fresh taste, however, like the fresh blossoms to when they are shredded and eaten raw in a salad.


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A Buddha in Nakhon Si Thammarat

Michael Babcock, Monday, July 1st, 2013

On our trips to Thailand there are many temples that we visit year after year; one of these is Wat Mahatat in Nakhon Si Thammarat. Over the years I’ve come to especially love one Buddha statue there and have photographed it frequently.

The full name of the temple is Wat Phra Mahatat Woramahawihaan, sometimes abbreviated to Wat Phra Boromathat. It is found a couple kilometers from the town center on Thanon Ratchadamnoen, the long street that runs the length of the town, and is easily reached by songthaew.

Statue 2004

The statue in 2004

This first picture shows the statue as I saw it in 2004. It shows a beautiful, stone statue that has weathered over the years. The cheeks have been gold-leafed by worshippers and the statue is dressed in a plain orange robe such as a simple monk in Thailand would wear.

(Click images to see larger version.)

The statue is one of many found in the Thap Kaset Congregation Hall, also knows as “The Gallery at the Foot of the Buddha’s Relics.” It’s a wihaan (or viharn) or meeting room found to the left of the main chedi – there’s a blue sign with an arrow pointing to it. Once you enter there’s a quadrangle with two levels of Buddha statues. It’s a quiet, peaceful place.

There’s something about this particular Buddha statue that attracted me from the beginning. According to my understanding, and verified by The symbolism,iconography and meanings behind the Buddha Image, this position of the statue represents:

Statue 2006

The statue in 2006

Absence of fear – either one or both arms are shown bent at the elbow and the wrist, with the palm facing outwards and the fingers pointing upwards. It shows the Buddha either displaying fearlessness in the face of adversity, or encouraging others to do so. The right hand raised is also referred to as “calming animals” and both hands raised are also called “forbidding the relatives”.

The next picture (to the right) from 2006 shows the statue substantially unchanged except that it’s now wearing a fancier robe – obvious when you click on the image to bring up a larger version of the picture.

I loved the simple rock statue, the weathered face with the gold leaf; it gave a peacefulness and the sense of aging to the statue, a hint that with the passing years, one can attain wisdom. It seemed to be an echo of the Buddhist teaching that everything arises and passes. As the statue slowly aged, it seemed to echo the fact that “everything that has the nature to arise has the nature to cease.”

Statue 2007

The statue in 2007

I like this picture to the left from 2007 because it shows the Buddha statue without the orange robes: you can see how the body has been gold-leafed by worshippers over the years. You can see how the gold leaf on the face has weathered.

So it came as a bit of a surprise, and not a pleasant one, when in 2011 I arrived to find that the statue had been painted over in gold and black. Instead of an beautiful, aging statue the image now appeared to me to be new and garish, almost like a person who can’t accept that they are growing older and is doing everything in their power to stay young.

Staute 2001

The statue in 2011

The change in the Buddha ended up being a useful teaching for me. This periodic painting of beautiful old statues is not new for me in Thailand. It first happened at a temple in Chaiya many years ago. I should not have been surprised. Things age quickly in Thailand and there are often efforts to make things look new again.

On reflection, it turns out to exemplify the fact that “everything that has the nature to arise has the nature to cease.” In this case, my beautiful “old” statue ceased: it arose as a painted “new” statue.

The Buddhist text called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (Setting in Motion the Wheel of Dhamma) purports to be the first teaching of the Buddha after attaining enlightenment. From the Sutta:

As this exposition was proceeding, the spotless, immaculate vision of the Dhamma appeared to the Venerable Kondanna and he knew: “Everything that has the nature to arise has the nature to cease.”

Staute 2013

The statue in 2013

These are the last two lines of the teaching:

Then the Blessed One made the utterance, “Truly, Kondanna has understood, Kondanna has understood!”

Thus it was that the Venerable Kondanna got the name Annakondanna: Kondanna Who Understands.”

It appears as if Kondanna became enlightened by realizing the truth that “Everything that has the nature to arise has the nature to cease” – not just as an intellectual concept but as an absolute knowing that informed the way he approached the world.

If we look carefully, at this picture from 2013, two years later (click on the picture to see a larger version), we can see small indications that the gold paint is already starting to age. It will be interesting to continue my yearly visits and to see how the statue continues to change, continues to age, continues to exhibit the nature of all conditioned things: arising, abiding for awhile, and then ceasing.


I previously blogged on this temple:


Written by Michael Babcock, April 2013