Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How the tamarind tree saved Little Anna's life

When I moved to the United States I was surprised to discover that no one I met had ever heard of the tamarind tree, or tamarind fruit. I was shocked because tamarind trees are everywhere in Thailand, and play an important role in our culture and cuisine. In fact, it was a tamarind tree that saved little Anna's life.

Phetchabun province is located in the very middle of Thailand. Its official provincial tree is the tamarind but I'm surprised tamarinds are not the official tree of all Thailand. My family home in Chanthaburi has a tamarind tree in the front yard, as do many Thai homes. As you can see from the picture above, fully grown tamarind trees put the mighty English oak to shame.

OK, OK, you are thinking, get to the part about how the tree saved little Anna's life! I remember everything very clearly. It was the dry season and six-year-old Anna was running around in her yard playing when she saw a dog approaching her. The dog didn't look right. It was walking stiff legged and it seemed to be very angry. Little Anna was scared and began running. The dog ran after her, stiff legs sticking out all over the place.

I still remember how scared I was, and how relieved I was to reach the tamarind tree in a neighbor's yard. I climbed up it as fast as I could. Catching my breath I watched as the dog circled the tree. After a while my neighbors saw the dog and chased it away. My mom told me the dog was rabid and that I was lucky I didn't get bitten.

For that reason alone I really like tamarind trees. But even if a tamarind tree had not saved little Anna's life, I would still like them because they are an important part of my favorite Thai foods. Pad Thai would not be Pad Thai (#53) without tamarind. Likewise our Chili-Tamarind Stir Fry (#45) or Chili-Tamarind Fried Rice (#59).

I have told you many times that Thai food tries to be sweet and spicy and sour and salty all at the same time. Tamarind provides much of the sour. There is, however, another kind of tamarind that is sweet, and it is used in candy.
This has been your Thai food lesson for today.