Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sampling In Satun - Kedah's Past Food History?

Satun is a town located in southern Thailand, about half an hour's drive from the border town of Wang Kelian, Perlis. One can be mistaken that Satun is a small sleepy town with nothing much to offer, but I found out that Satun has a lot to offer after my first ever visit there.

There was a time when Satun was part of Kedah. The name Satun is a Thai version of its original Malay name, Setul (santol, or wild mangosteen tree). Until 1813 Satun was then known as Mukim Setul. After that date it was administered by a governor sent from Nakhon Si Thammarat. In 1897 Satun became part of Monthon Saiburi (now Kedah), which in 1909 was divided between British Empire and Siam as part of Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909. While most of Kedah was ceded to Britain, Satun was awarded to Siam because it had a relatively large Thai population. Satun was then incorporated into Monthon Phuket. The monthon system was ended in 1933, and Satun province became a first-level subdivision of Thailand. That's the British colonialists for you.

The province of Satun is located on the Malay Peninsula, on the shore of the Andaman Sea. It is separated from Songkhla Province by the Nakhon Si Thammarat mountain range, and from Malaysia by the Sankalakhiri mountains.

Almost 88% of Satun's populations are Malays. Because of the strict Thai education policy, many of the younger urban Malays cannot speak Malay. Lately, however, with the influx of Malaysian tourists that gives the country a potential economic boost and in keeping good relation with Malay/Muslim of Thailand, the government has introduced an elective class for Bahasa Melayu in their schools. Unlike the Malays of Yala, Nakhorn and Pattani, the Malays of Satun speaks more with a Northern Malaysian dialect, that's not surprising as Satun used to be part of Kedah.

In the past, the Malays of Satun used to enter Malaysia to look for employment, as laborers, servants and many more. However, today, the Malays of Satun are more keen in running small businesses. There are many eateries and foodstalls in Satun that are owned or run by the Malays. There is still a small population who still enters Malaysia looking for work, most of them in Langkawi.

The border town of Wang Kelian was the major start in our trip. With the consent of both governments, tourists are able to visit and shop within a 1km radius of Wang Kelian, and already I was attracted to the food which is sold there, along with other merchandise. There are a lot of Muslim stalls there, so, nothing much to worry.

At first glance, one can mistake Satun for a sleepy town with nothing much to offer. Cheap goods, great food, with a nice, quiet and peaceful setting, Satun will be a perfect choice for anybody who wants to relax and get away from the usual hustle-bustle of their daily lives.

I am not much of a Thai food lover, especially when it comes to load and load of cili padi, but to my surprise, Satun's region offers a more palatable delight to my stomach, of course, there are some exceptions.

Spending 3 days is just too short to sample every bit of what Satun has to offer. But in the short visit, I realized why many people who had visited Satun before, remarked that the Malay food of Satun is a reminiscence of what the Malays of Kedah used to have before the early 1970s. After sampling the food, I must say that the cooking is identical to the Malays of Kedah, but differs in many ways. They are usually simpler and finer. I visited my Grand-uncle's restaurant, a laksa stall, the weekly night market and several eating places, and I will write about the food there in up-coming articles.

Unlike the many integrated restaurants in Kedah, Penang and Perlis, where we have one coffee shop which is owned by a Chinese who makes drinks, a Mamak selling Roti Canai and a Malay selling nasi lemak or nasi campur, the Malays of Satun owns an eatery serving single or only 2 items, such as a shop that serves roti canai and drinks, or just nasi lemak and drinks. Interestingly, the shop houses in Satun town has the same architecture as the old shop houses you find in Kedah, Penang and Perlis.

I formed a simple theory that the Malays of Satun keep their food more traditionally after its separation from the state of Kedah. The only place that I found Malays selling foodstuff which is not Malay-oriented is the weekly night market. This is the reason why I am writing about food in Satun instead of the usual food of Kedah.

I will be writing more on the Malay/Muslim food of Satun soon, and maybe from there we can see whether my theory is on a right track, or tumble down the drain. After all those simple, but rich food, I need to detox.

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