Q) Are your favourite Thai desserts and sweets, colourfully sold on many a street corner in Thailand really Thai?
A) Strangely enough, many Portuguese tourists would instantly recognise the flavours and textures of many Thai desserts……. as they too have the same desserts in their native Portugal.
So how have these seemingly un-twinned countries on different corners of the globe managed to have the same desserts?
Looking back at Thailand’s history much of this can be explained by Portuguese traders and missionaries who visited Thailand in the 16th century. In fact, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to visit Thailand. A walk through the streets of Phuket old town where tourists flock to admire the beautiful Sino-Portugese architecture is a big clue to just how important the Portuguese influence is. Here I will focus on how the Portuguese have shaped Thai desserts, for influences on the rest of Thai cuisine you will have to stay posted !
The most important person in the history of Thai dessert was Marie Guimar, a woman of mixed race descent, born in Ayutthaya 1664. Her father was Portuguese (from Portuguese Goa) and her mother was Japanese (who migrated to Thailand due to the repression of Christianity in Japan).
An Unfortunate tale……
In 1682 Marie Guimar married Constantine Phaulkon, a Greek sailor who quickly became highly influential at the Siamese court as he gained the trust and respect of King Narai. They enjoyed a life of affluence, and Phaulkon’s position caused great envy amongst the natives. After King Narai fell seriously ill and during the Siamese Revolution in 1688, Phaulkon was arrested and put to death whilst Marie was sent to prison. After many miserable years spent imprisoned, good luck came her way during the reign of King Thaisa (1709-1733) who saw how valuable her attributes as a lady and cooking skills were.
So he put her in charge of the royal household kitchen with as many as 2,000 women working under her. Through this position she taught the women in the palace the art of cooking, including many desserts from her native Portugal.
She introduced the methods of baking and the use of egg yolks and flour, techniques that were unknown in Thailand at that time. In the Ayutthaya era Thais only used eggs for savoury dishes, so the concept of using them to make sweets was revolutionary for that time. To this day, most of the desserts taught by Marie Guimar still remain in everyday Thai cuisine, and explains why many Thai desserts are based on egg yolk and sugar. The most famous being Thong Yod, Thong Yip and Foy Thong which are variants of a family of Portuguese desserts known as ‘ovos moles’. So maybe next time you bite into your favourite Thai sweet…… you’ll spare a thought for its origin and say thanks to Marie Guimar