It’s important that one knows one’s place in society. To that end Thailand must have one of the more comprehensive system of titles. The following is vastly simplified.

At the top of society is HM The King and his wife, and then his children who bear the title Jao Faa (เจ้าฟ้า).

The grandchildren of a King can bear the title Phra Ong Jao (พระองค์เจ้า).

The next generation: Mom Jao (หม่อมเจ้า).

And then: Mom Raatchawong (หม่อมราชวงศ์).

And finally, at the 5th generation, Mom Luang (หม่อมหลวง).

The child of a Mom Luang is a commoner, but can append “Na Ayutthaya” (ณ อยุธยา) to his surname to indicate royal descent.

Thus, for example, one knows that a former Prime Minister, M.R. Kukrit Pramoj, (M.R. being Mom Raatchawong), was a fourth generation descendant of one of the Kings of Thailand (in his case, King Rama II).

Before the 1932 revolution there were a lot of other titles designating aristocracy, but all were abolished, except for two titles for women – Khunying (คุณหญิง) and Thaanphuuying (ท่านผู้หญิง) – both of which are non-hereditary. However, rather than honouring the woman’s achievements they usually honour her husband. Thus the Prime Minister’s wife will usually become a Khunying (provided her husband stay in office long enough!). The wives of the top members of the military are similarly honoured. Such an honour is apparently not available for the wives of the country’s greatest scientists, academics, sportsmen, writers et al.. It seems that only the wife of a military man has the necessary aristocratic credentials.

The Police and the Military have a host of other titles but, unlike in other countries, the titles are kept after leaving service, so the newspapers still refer to Police Lieutenant Colonel Thaksin Shinawatra, even though he quit the police force more than 22 years ago. This isn’t a particularly high rank, but the question of its being stripped on account of his alleged behaviour remains very controversial.

Every interchange in Thailand requires a conscious decision about the relative status of speaker and listener. It dictates the choice of every pronoun. Am I superior or inferior to the person to whom I’m speaking?

When Indonesia was seeking a language to unite its speakers of a myriad of mutually unintelligible languages it considered Javanese, which had the greatest number of native speakers. However, it rejected Javanese because it has a system of pronouns which denotes relative status. It chose a language which was more democratic, Malay, despite the lack of native speakers. Thus, just as the English language united the Indian subcontinent, so Bahasa Indonesia (as it became to be known) united the Indonesian archipeligo.

Much as we in the West reinforce sexual roles by selecting “he” or “she”, “his” or “her”, in Thailand the language reinforces social status and perhaps, just perhaps, is part of a barrier against social mobility and against social equality.


Apologies in advance to my Moslem and Jewish readers, but I have a weakness for belly pork. I love the succulent, fatty cuts. Admittedly, when I child I was rather off-put by noticing the nipple on a particular slice of pork belly, but (thankfully) I’ve grown out of that squeamishness.

One of my favourite dishes in one of my favourite London Chinese restaurants is slices of belly pork braised with slices of yam in a metal pot. The yam absorbs some of the porky fattiness, and the whole dish is suffused with a wonderful coriander taste.

The Chinese refer to belly pork as the “five layers of heaven”; the Thais, a little more prosaically, “three layer pork”, only counting the meat.

Anyway, I came across a recipe a few months ago for red cooked pork which I’ve been meaning to try. The technique for creating caramel is something I hadn’t come across before – rather than heating the sugar in a dry pan, or with a little water (which evaporates), the sugar is mixed with vegetable oil and then heated. This actually worked quite well – the sugar began to brown, then suddenly expanded massively in the oil (returning to white in the process) before (a few seconds later) turning to a toffee-ish caramel. However, without an hawk-like eye there’s a real danger of the caramel burning.

Here’s the recipe (slightly adapted) from :

  • 700 g pork belly (I used slices, but a slab would work just as well)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 rounded tablespoons sugar
  • 3 cloves of garlic peeled (not crushed)
  • 2 spring onions cut into 4 cm long pieces
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 60 ml Shaoxing wine (I didn’t have Shaoxing wine, so substituted Mirin)
  • 300 ml of the water from parboiling the pork, strained
  • coriander leaf and spring onions, chopped, for garnish.

Put the pork belly in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 20 minutes. Skim off any scum that forms on top of the water. Take the pork from the water and allow to cool. Then cut into nice cubes. (I removed the skin, but this is optional.)

Heat the sugar and vegetable oil in a pan over a medium heat until the sugar browns. Now add the pork belly and brown it for a few minutes in the oil/sugar mix.

Add the garlic, spring onion, star anise, dark soy, rice wine and 300 ml of the water from boiling the pork to the pot. Cover, and simmer over a low heat for 40 minutes, stirring regularly. Now uncover, increase the heat and boil for about 10 minutes to reduce the sauce to a nice, thick consistency.

The result is a beautiful mahogany colour – but where the redness comes from is a mystery to me.

Red cooked pork

(Sadly, I’m no food stylist.)

Serve with plain boiled rice, sprinkled with chopped coriander and spring onion.



Though Ayutthaya probably has hundreds of eating places I tend to frequent but a handful of them. However, I’m always on the lookout for new recommendations. One such recommendation was a restaurant by the name of “Shogun”, just across from one of my regular haunts. Apparently it’s held in high esteem by a large number of foreigners working in Ayutthaya (which, as it turns out, sadly reflects upon the palates of the aforementioned workers).

It’s a fairly simple place, with a few tacky pieces of Japanalia helping one realise that this is notionally a Japanese restaurant, though any restaurant in Japan serving such execrable sushi would have gone out of business long ago and the owner driven to seppuku. The rice was woefully overcooked and mushy, and the fish sliced to a parsimonious thinness. The eel in some of my pieces of sushi was still frozen. And whilst in some parts of the world frozen eel sushi might be appreciated as a delicacy, it’s definitely not when it’s on my plate.

The main course featured the restaurant’s other speciality: steaks. That said, I’m not sure that it would be fair to call the thin sliver of pork meat hiding under an over-salty black pepper sauce a “steak”. As is the custom in such fine dining establishments the dish was accompanied by a few cold french fries and a triangle of toast smeared with marge.

Steak at Shogun Steakhouse, Ayutthaya

Rarely have I had such a hard time keeping a straight face whilst dining; the experience was so pathetic as to be laughable.