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Sweet success

The annual temple fair in the seaside town of Bang Saen endures and we're all better off because of it

This week's Cornucopia takes you to an annual food and dessert festival that has been held for almost 30 years. It's a not-to-be-missed event for those who are familiar with it because foods and desserts that are rare these days will be available at incredibly cheap prices. It's an event that brings together volunteers that are sometimes more talented than professionals. Proceeds from the event go to charity. It's not a state affair for tourism purposes. Neither is it a promotional happening to make a shopping mall famous. And it takes place at a temple.

Kalamae fresh from a stirring pan.

Tan Lom Temple is located almost opposite the Nong Mon Market in Bang Saen in Chon Buri. The fair will kick off on Feb 13 and will last for only four days. The event's origins have something to do with former abbot Luang Por Poon who died many years back. Around 50 years ago, local people commissioned his statue, which is now placed in one of the temple's small pavilions. The statue is highly respected by people who pass by.

It's been more than 30 years that dessert vendors from Nong Mon Market offered their sweets to the statue with hopes for prosperity. Later they came up with a merit-making initiative in which they donated part of their daily income to the temple. Many vendors followed suit and they received benefits in return. After this news spread, more people joined. Then fishermen from Bang Saen sold fish porridge from fresh sea products, mussel farmers sold fried mussel pancakes and coconut growers brought coconut milk and coconut sugar so others could make desserts. Fruit and vegetable farmers offered their produce to the temple. And that's the beginning of the food and dessert fair.

One of the event's highlights are the authentic Thai desserts, made by stirring, steaming and baking.

Kalamae or sweet sticky candy is one of the stars. It's made from palm sugar, coconut milk and flour -- stirring all these ingredients together. Four people are required for the beginning of the stirring process at 10am until it's almost dry, then two more people are needed. These people have to take turns stirring and have to take a break every five minutes because their energy will be considerably depleted. The kalamae will finish at around 3pm and is sweet, aromatic and creamy. This kind of kalamae is most wanted.

Various kinds of Thai sweets are ready to be sold.

There are also other types of snacks made by stirring, like khanom pak kad (radish pancake). White radish is chopped and stirred with flour, sugar and coconut milk. Also popular is mung bean pudding, where mung bean is stirred with coconut milk and sugar. Some desserts are made by means of steaming such as coconut custard in pumpkin and khanom piak poon (black sweet pudding) while some are baked such as khanom mo gaeng (Thai custard with mung bean), Thai sweet sticky rice cake and khanom na nuan (glutinous rice pudding topped with coconut milk and smoked overnight).

These sweets taste so good because they use the best ingredients without worrying about profit and loss. Products will be ready at 3pm and the fair starts selling at 4pm. As for kalamae, it requires advance orders.

As for savoury foods, tents will be set up to welcome dine-in customers. There will be rice porridge with spotted mackerel topped with ground galangal, scallion and celery. There will also be fried mussel pancakes and kuay jab (rice noodle soup) with pork offal. Food also will be ready for sale at 4pm.

The fair certainly brings lots of people together and they are all volunteers. Things therefore require systematic, agreed-upon management and organisation.

Tan Lom Temple divides volunteers into two teams. The first group are dessert makers while the second team cook for the dessert makers. They have to cook three meals a day. The entire event means 12 meals, each comprising more than five dishes. When the food is done, it is served to the dessert makers. The most important component of this is a manager who plans all 12 meals and allocates responsibilities for volunteers. In the past, local grandmothers served as manager, who take turns each year.

The food and dessert fair at Tan Lom Temple is operated with a vision. People who make the food and desserts as well as those working in the kitchen dedicate their energy and experience as a way of making merit to the temple. Customers in turn get to buy high-quality produce and the money they pay is part of the merit-making too.

All this is hard to find in today's society, an event where people join hands -- especially in the kitchen. Admittedly we see less and less of such things these days. And that's why it is an event that should not be missed.

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