Khao chae--aromatic soaked rice--is served only during the hot summer months in Thailand. Its exquisite taste and laborious preparation beckoned the author, Su-Mei Yu, back to her birthplace. Skilled elderly cooks recruited by friends abruptly changed their minds about sharing their methods. These refusals led to an understanding of their superstitious beliefs.
With those who believe otherwise, the author not only learned how to make several versions of khao chae, but their shared memories taught her the dish's history and its influence on the people who make and eat it. Its ancient tradition binds together the people of a displaced nation, the Mon, among whom khao chae originated. Their ancient New Year custom, adopted by the Thais, became a summer food tradition in the Royal court of King Chulalongkhorn (1868-1910), one of the most celebrated times for Thai culinary art. The court turned the cooking of khao chae into a competitive feat. Although more than a century has passed, and despite climatic change and westernization of Thai culture, the remembrances of magical feasts of khao chae floated back as the summer heat stirred the minds of elderly folks.