Every now and then I stumble across a little unexpected gem. This is what happened to me at the weekend while I was in Amphawa about two hours southwest of Bangkok. Samut Songkhram province is famous for the coconut palm sugar industry. I have used this in my cooking as its a healthy way to sweeten the dishes. But, until now I never knew how it was made.
While we were out exploring on Sunday, we came across this shirtless man who was working at a hot vat in a coconut palm plantation. He introduced himself as Lung Lee. As we were curious to know what he was doing he volunteered to show us how he harvested the coconut palms to make sugar.
As you can see in the first picture, he first said a prayer to the spirits of the tree before he quickly climbed barefoot to the top. All he was carrying was a long knife and a bamboo tube. What he does is make a cut in the blossoms of a coconut tree and then attached a bamboo tube to catch the sap. The string that you can see is there to gently pull the flower buds down which makes it easier to catch the sap.
Lung Lee said he goes up each tree twice a day to collect the sap. When he came back down with a tube half full of the sap he offered us a glass. It wasn’t as syrupy as I thought it would be but was definitely sweet. He says he sells bottles of this drink for 100 Baht. What he does next is pour the sap into a large vat and then light a fire under it. It then takes about 2 hours or so for all the liquid to vaporize leaving behind a thick syrup.
This is then collected and poured into plastic bags according to its weight. This is then left to dry and harden. It is then sold in local markets. I had already bought some at the market the day before and so I was happy to see firsthand how it was made. What is interesting to note is that farmers have to choose between harvesting coconuts and making palm sugar. Trees cannot produce both. Lung Lee told us that the short trees are used for sugar palm as he can easily climb them twice a day. The taller trees are for growing coconuts.