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Author Archive | Leela

Introducing THE EPESTLE

I had written and trashed a lot of drafts before I ended up with the introduction you’re reading now. At one point, I wanted to explain to you why I hadn’t updated the blog in nearly three years. But whatever I went through is trivial in light of the fact that we’re still very much in a devastating pandemic, and that, to date, over 250,000 people in the US—more than 10,000 in the state of Illinois where I live—have died from the Coronavirus.

I’ve figured out that the only way forward for me as a writer is to seek out the people who are curious about the same things that I am—to the degree that I am—and to write fearlessly with the goal of delighting them. I will still write for various publications, and I still want to publish more books. However, in order to not fall out of love with writing again, I need to make curiosity, freedom, and connection with like-minded people my priority.

So, here we are—my first newsletter, The Epestle. I’m sure you can tell already that it’s a portmanteau of epistle (a letter—a newsletter, in this case) and pestle, the thing you use together with a mortar to make various pastes for Thai cooking. At first, I felt a tinge of shame for my love for portmanteaus (portmanteaux?) in general and for choosing one as the title of my newsletter, but that feeling went away quickly. This list on Wikipedia (which is a portmanteau) shows that The Epestle is in good company.

This is a place where my writing is unshackled from the need to please everyone, where I zero in and double down on the things I know people who share my interest will like, where I become as unapologetically obsessive about those things as I want to be. These are the things I don’t need anyone’s permission, except my own, to publish.

There will be lots of food, with the emphasis on Thai food, of course. There will also be interviews, thoughts, cultural and linguistic tidbits, tales and stories, cooking and gardening tips, essays on an ingredient or a cooking method, etc. While there will occasionally be posts that are available for all subscribers, posts with recipes will be available only to paid subscribers.

I’ve missed hanging out with you. Won’t you please sign up now so you don’t miss the first issue? Thank you.

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Bury Me in Nam Phrik: Mike Sula’s Exploration of Thai Relishes (Plus Salted Soybean-Pork Rind Relish Recipe)

Around this time last year, I met with some of my friends who are part of Dill Magazine to talk about something I had wanted to see for a long time: a story on Thai relishes, nam phrik. These dishes form the most significant segment of Thai cuisine, but they’re the least understood and the least appreciated. I thought it was about time this changed.

Western food media doesn’t like to publish a story like this. It’s too niche. It doesn’t have a broad appeal. For them, it doesn’t make sense to dedicate their precious real estate on something most people don’t already know and love. Nam phrik, therefore, hasn’t received a lot of coverage in mainstream publications, and when it does, the coverage doesn’t go deep and is often rife with misinformation.

I took the idea to Dill, because of this. I wanted to see a story on nam phrik; I wanted it written with competence, understanding, and insight; and I knew the group behind Dill was capable of pulling this off. Even though they’re new and small and don’t have the resources of a large publication, they don’t shy away from specialized materials. I also know the Dill people don’t present niche stories in a “hey, look at the bizarre foods these other people eat!” manner either. In other words, I knew this story would be in good hands. Continue Reading →

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Food and Cooking in Thai TV Dramas, Love Destiny, 17th Century Siam, and Crispy Noodle-Wrapped Pork Dumplings

love destiny and crispy noodle-wrapped pork dumplings
For a country that takes such great pride in its cuisine, Thailand, surprisingly, hasn’t seemed very enthusiastic about spotlighting its food in its cinematic endeavors. If it’s true that art imitates life, then it’s quite perplexing how the magnitude of the love the Thai people have for their food and the enormity of the role food plays in their lives—all obvious to even the most casual observers—haven’t really manifested themselves on silver screen and television. And the few times when food and eating were incorporated into films and dramas, it was rarely done with any perceptible sense of intentionality.

I believe we can do better. Continue Reading →

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