Friday, September 19, 2008

Reaching for the stars

When we visited family in Florida, the carambola tree in the yard was covered with fruit. They glowed like little lanterns.

Carambolas are native to Indonesia, India, and Sri Lanka, and are popular in Asian countries. When you cut them cross-wise, the slices are shaped like stars. The Thai name is "Ma Fueng," which refers to gears - that's another perspective on the shape.

Photo of cut fruit from
Because of this, they are marketed with the name "Starfruit." The flesh is crisp, and the flavor is mildly sweet. They can be pretty in salads, or floating in a bowl or pitcher of punch.

In Thai cuisine, it's important to balance flavors - the sweet with the salt, the hot with the cool, and food should be beautiful as well as tasty. Starfruit, with its pretty shape, is very popular in Thai cuisine. One treat is to dip the slices into a mixture of salt, sugar, and chile.

Another important principle of Thai cuisine is that food should be beautiful to the eye.

Kae Sa Luk is the name for the Thai art of carving fruits and vegetables into decorative shapes. This art originated in 1346, when a royal consort fashioned ordinary vegetables and fruits into flowers, animals, birds, rosettes and wondrous shapes to decorate a lamp or krathong set afloat on a lake on the night of the full moon. When the king saw her work, he decreed that henceforth such carving would be practiced by the royal ladies of the court.

In 1934, the Thai government established a school for carving, and the art spread to people of all classes. Certain carvers are known for their techniques and expertise. Special knives and tools were developed to achieve certain effects. Here in the US, books, videos, and classes by master carvers teach this ancient art.

Doesn't it make perfect sense that the Thai people love fruit that is shaped like stars? Wouldn't you like to reach for the stars?

1 comment:

barbara said...

Your photos are beautiful. I love your lovely, sensitive writing about starfruit--and pink peppercorns.