Thai Cuisine With Suwanee Lennon


culturallyours podcast thai cuisine with Suwanee Lennon

CulturallyOurs Podcast Cover Karthika Gupta Oct 2018
Season 06
Thai Cuisine With Suwanee Lennon
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Show Details

In this episode Karthika chats with Suwanee Lennon, a Thai American, a military wife, a mom, a photographer and as if that was not enough, she is also an aspiring food blogger. Her mission is to teach you how to make Thai food the real authentic way. And she does that via her narrative, her life experiences, her beautiful imagery, and her live cooking shows on her Instagram account.

Show Notes

Karthika talks to Suwanee Lennon, a Thai American, a military wife, a mom, a photographer and as if that was not enough, she is also an aspiring food blogger. Her mission is to teach you how to make Thai food the real authentic way. She also spoke about her childhood in Thailand and then here in the US when she was adopted by her American mom and lived in a multi-cultural household. Her food journey is certainly very diverse, and she tries to instill that in her kids as well.

The Transcript

Karthika: Welcome Suwanee. Thank you so much for joining me on CulturallyOurs. I am so excited to have you on the podcast, my friend, and I cannot wait to chat with you. Get to know you a little bit better and get to know your food journey a little bit better.

Suwanee: Hi Karthika, how are you? It is so good to be here.

Karthika: Oh, It’s going to be an amazing conversation. I just know it. So before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about sort of who you are, where you’re from, just to help set the stage for this conversation?

Suwanee: Yes, I am Suwanee. I am Thai American. I grew up in Thailand for 13 years, came to the states to Wisconsin, Minnesota. And I’ve been here since I am also a food blogger focusing on Thai food, Asian food, and a little bit of international dishes here and there.  just to represent some of the countries and cultures that you lived in, I’m also a mom of two military wife living in the Pacific Northwest.

Karthika: You live in a beautiful part of the country. I must say

Suwanee: I know it and I appreciate it so much.

Karthika: So talk to me a little bit about your food journey. You’ve been around a few different countries and cultures and especially being a military wife, you’ve traveled a fair bit. So how does food sort of fit into your life and your lifestyle?  do you love to cook or is it just something you do because you have to survive?

Suwanee: Okay. So food has always been a big part of me because of Thailand. It’s a food culture. So I grew up in the rural part of Thailand. So food was scars, but yet we made delicious meals from what we had. So food was always a big part of our culture.  we ate from the land,  just use what we had and just kind of lived that way. And when I came to the us, I was adopted by an American family. So I just, my taste bud, compared to my, my Thai cuisine compared to my American family, it just wasn’t comparable in terms of flavors and tastes well. I really had to learn how to cook on my own at a young age. And I just did a lot of trials and errors,  during the, those early years and then also in college. And I had a lot of international friends in college that would learn how to cook from, and with an, I traveled a lot after I got married to my husband, we lived in Portugal. We lived, we were just recently in Germany this summer we’ve been to Thailand almost every year, except after we had kids and just been to different cultures and countries and just food has always been a big part of our life, no matter where we went. And it was just always something that would bring,  friends and family together for me.

Karthika: Definitely. Especially when you travel, I think food, and especially when you traveled to places like Thailand and , very culturally rich places, I’m not saying there are places that are not culturally diverse. I think every place is culturally rich, but some places more so than the others. And so food becomes this natural extension of immersing yourself in that culture because everybody’s got to eat and everybody’s got to kind of, it’s like a means of survival, but also flavors textures. You really get a feel for the place. Right?

Suwanee: Correct. Yes. And food also bring people together no matter what, like you said, everyone has to eat. And so in a lot of these,  cultures and countries where people are more community oriented, when there’s people come together and there’s connection and conversations and stories and catching up, and it’s just something that is so rich and beautiful. I gravitate towards that and that’s why my cuisine is so much about not just my Thai culture, but other cultures I eventually want to explore as well.

Karthika: Yeah, for sure. Now you, you alluded to this a little bit when you talked about sort of your food journey, but how is your cooking style? , do you use cookbooks? Do you, are you one of those super creative people who just like comes up with recipes on the fly? Cause let me tell you, I’m not always in all people who can, oh, I just I create recipes. I’m like what?

Suwanee: Yeah. It’s also funny. I remember that conversation when we first met that you exist.  yeah. So I guess I’m one of those crazy people. They just like to come up with recipes. With my Thai cooking, I want to honor the traditional recipes, but as an American living, a Thai American living in America, I also have to adapt to some of the ingredients are available here. So I’ve learned to be creative and use what we have and I guess it goes back to my childhood. We just kind of use what we have and kind of adapt and substitute and go from there.  I read cookbooks as guidelines just to see what people are doing, but when I cook, I can’t even stand looking at recipes. I does. It doesn’t make sense. This should add more of this, more of that, especially chili and garlic. It’s like, there’s always a need for more.

Karthika: Yep. Absolutely. Like for me, cookbooks are a visual treat. Just like I guess being a photographer and just all of that stuff. I don’t even I would read, but if, for me a cookbook, if it tells a story is so much more interesting than if it’s just a pretty picture and say as ingredients and method, because that tells me nothing, right. That tells me nothing of the narrative that tells me nothing of the history of why.  and I know you’ve been doing a whole bunch of like Instagram lives and you’re cooking and you’re sharing so much of the narrative, which I think is very important to help people who are not of that culture connect with that culture.

Suwanee: Yes, absolutely agree. Like you said, everyone has a story and we all want to hear each person’s story. And when the story’s being told you feel connected and close to that person, that culture and there’s meaning in that. And so beautiful.  yeah, the only thing I say when I have to follow recipes or cookbooks, when I bake like serious baking, which I don’t do any serious baking at all, baking intimidates me quite a bit. I would try to read my recipe the minutes and do it. I’m like, no, I’m just going to not bake this.

Karthika: Yeah. See that’s me with like cooking too. Yeah. I get intimidated very easily if it’s, especially if it’s complicated and it’s, most of the time it’s not complicated, it’s just a series of steps and you’ve got to follow those steps, but I am so not focused. I just want to be done and out. Right. I want to spend the least amount of time in my kitchen. You throw a complicated recipe at me. I’m like, oh my God, I have everything, but I just don’t want to do this. So take out is a very good option for us.  now tell me a little bit about sort of your favorite dishes to make,  and to eat if they are not the same.

Suwanee: Pretty much it goes back to my childhood again, what I was used to as a child, a lot of the street food specific to the region where I grew up in the Northeast of Thailand Nissan. So a lot of street food, very strong flavors with spices, salt, not too much sugar, a lot of lime juice. So things like papaya salad, grilled chicken, let’s see grill beef, lap, which is a salad again, warm salad. And so a lot of those dishes or street food in Thailand street dishes right in Thailand. So I love those dishes. Those are my go-to and I can eat them basically every day.

Karthika: Yes. Papaya salad. I know you kind of shared a recipe for papaya salad.  I’m definitely going to link that to the show notes here as well, but that just again looks and I’m sure it tastes delicious. Yeah. Yeah. For sure. Anything papaya is. Yeah. I love papaya. So right now, is there a dish that you are maybe dying to master or you want to learn how to make, I know you said baking is not your forte.

Suwanee: Yeah. Good baker. I want to be a good baker. So that’s my answer is baking. Oh, actually also,  Portuguese cooking.  we lived on a little island in the east. It’s a [inaudible] island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean for one year and we had Portuguese neighbors exposed to the culture, the cuisine. So I really want to learn how to cook the food well, just because we were, so it was such a great experience for us that I would love to just learn more. Yes.

Karthika: So what are you doing to kind of achieve that goal? Have you researched, are you trying out different Portuguese dishes?

Suwanee: I’ve just been so busy with building up my blog, being a mom and I haven’t been doing much, but I do have a couple of handwritten recipes from my Portuguese friends, couple of cookbooks. And like you, I need to sit down and just really concentrate and focus on,  does mastering those dishes.

Karthika: Now let’s maybe shift gears a little bit and talk about,  comfort food. I know comfort food means different things to different people, especially like people like you and me, who’ve lived in a different culture and now you live in a completely different culture. It’s such, it’s such a grounding feeling to kind of go back to those comfort foods. So tell me, tell me if you have dishes or, or maybe it’s, maybe it’s even a process or maybe it’s a drink or something that is comforting for you that you find yourself gravitating towards when you need that little lift me up or pick me up or whatever you want to call it.

Suwanee: To me, it’s not a Thai dish. Surprisingly it’s Pho which is Vietnamese. I can eat it all summer long, even if it’s 120 degrees love. My adopted brother was  Vietnamese, and so we just we’re introduced to,   earlier on when I first came to the states and it’s just been something that I loved eating so much of.

Karthika: So it’s associated with a family memory, correct?

Suwanee: Yes.

Karthika: Okay. Excellent. Now this might be a very silly question, but considering that you’re Thai American, you’re married to an American, you live in America, you’ve traveled all over the world, but how diverse would you say is your kitchen and your dining table to is it, do you guys like have a variety of things, every meal or is it just special occasions? Give me a sense of what, what your dinner table looks like. Hey,

Suwanee: So it’s a mix of both. My husband and I both love Thai Asian and world food. Our kids are still young. My daughter her palate is more developed than my son. So we do a little bit of both, but , there in American culture, so they love the American pizza and French fries and burgers so we try to get a balance of both and trying to encourage them to be more adventurous too. But,  with our, with my husband and I, we, we try, we’ll try everything. And also I have a lot of international friends here in town and we would always try to bring food of different cultures and dishes from our homelands. So we just come together and experiment and try and just eat together, tell stories. So is this something that I love doing to sort of replicate the, the communal feeling that I remember having in, in Thailand and also in a lot of Asian cultures were just more community oriented and that’s just how I see it.

Karthika: No, very true. I think it’s just something that’s very normal in that part of the world I’m from India. So for me literally having our, I remember growing up when our front door would, the evenings would literally would be open. And I lived in, I lived like in a community with a lot of different buildings and my building had like five, six floors. So my neighbors did the same thing. And I remember my neighbor on TV call everybody auntie and uncle. She would make something to eat. She was from the north, from the south. She would make something to eat for dinner and she would send her kids with a little bit of what she’s made,  to our house. And my mom would do the same thing. So it was just, it was just an open door policy,  especially. And it’s, it kind of brings out that whole community feeling again. Right? Yeah. And here it’s, I think I probably moved into my house two years after that is when I met my neighbors. Nobody’s outside everybody just you get into the house, you’re, you’re if you have an attached garage, then you’re just getting to pull into the garage, the garage door closes and that’s it. You don’t see anybody

Suwanee: That’s correct. Yeah. And I love that open feeling too. So when I was in Thailand in 2019 and our whole family went and I brought a friend along to help document,   the journey because it was, it’s been seven years, I think at that point when we went back and so I wanted some,  photograph, and she said that every family meal at my, at my house, it was like, Thanksgiving, it wasn’t as big or as much, but it was just a little bit of everything. And we just brought it all out and we sat on the floor and we’re just out in the open and it was hot and everyone would be walking by doing their own thing. And every person that walked by, we would invite them to come eat with us, come join us. And some did, and some didn’t. So it was just an expectation to like, you don’t just close off your meals or you home, you invite others along and it’s up to them to come in or to decline the invitation. Yeah.

Karthika: Yeah. And I feel like, especially with Indian culture too,  food, like when we eating out with friends or family, we always order for the table. We never order, okay, this is what I’m going to have, which took me a while to get used to that concept, because that’s so much sort of an Americanized thing where you order your own dish and then the waiter comes and puts it. Right. Just puts it right in front of you. And there’s no share. , I’m not saying you have to like dig into the other person’s plate, but , it’s like a sample. Yeah, exactly. And it’s normal. Whereas here, when I have to do it, I’m like always like maybe I shouldn’t.

Suwanee: Yeah. That’s a huge difference between I think the east and the west the family style of ordering. And so it just more fun that way you get to experience, experiment with different flavors and just experience different tastes. And it’s just more fun. All right. So

Karthika: Let’s get back to eating and eating habits. We’ve touched on this a little bit.  and I think I know the answer to this, but I’m going to ask you anyway, are you very adventurous and you’re eating like other things, you try everything or are there some things that you just absolutely will not touch?

Suwanee: I am pretty adventurous to a point where it’s almost too adventurous. I don’t want to share, I don’t want to share with Americans what I eat a Western Westerners, what I eat because,  they it’s just not part of this part of the world. And so,  I don’t know. I love,  just trying new things and how we grew up in Thailand. We were poor. So we didn’t waste a thing with our food, the bones, the skin, the fat, nothing was wasted. So we turn all of those parts into tasty food. And a lot of those things now in America, I see become delicacies in, especially with the fancy places and restaurants and cooking shows. And it just fascinating to see, whereas a few years ago, people would just turn up their noses on these things.

Karthika: Okay. Now I’m super curious. Give me an example

Suwanee: Maybe it may not be as strange, but like I love chicken feet, brace chicken feet when it seasoned right in curries or,  and pork feet

Karthika:  Fair enough. But you are pretty advanced and you will try it. Okay. Now this is, this can be,  anywhere in the world because you’ve traveled, right. Typically you’re going to try to narrow it down to where you are, but you’ve such, it have such a diverse experience with food. So in all your stints abroad and all your travels abroad, what are some of your sort of favorite restaurants and why?

Suwanee: Okay. This is going to make you laugh, which is very opposite, the very extreme of each other. So I’ll go with the latest one. First, we were in Germany this summer, but we went to Paris. We flew into Paris. First. My husband came in and met the kids and I there. So the first meal we had was a Tai Thai meal in a Thai restaurant in Paris, of course. Okay. Small little joint in a little corner. And we, it was an amazing, amazing meal. We ordered so many things. It was spicy. Again, I think that food was representation of my region, where I grew up. So it’s more flavorful and tasty and just spices added to it. So that one was in Paris and the other restaurant, a tiny little restaurant in Kansas. I know, I know,  it was owned by Laotian families and their food. Again was incredible. I still think about the papaya salads. They jerky with the tomato dip. Oh my gosh. My mouth is drooling as I’m talking about. It’s so good. The American Americanized Thai food that you see in a lot of American restaurants where it was just sugar filled, this restaurant was so I felt like it was so authentic that minimal sugar was used and the flavors were just so amazing and not filled with fillers to make food tastes better.

Karthika: Okay. I’m going to digress a little bit because you talked about this a couple of times, and I want to kind of talk about this just because I think it’s important, at least for me, when I’m, if I’m learning about Thai food, you said Thai food here in America, they add a lot of sugar.  why is that? And is that not typically how Thai food in Thailand is?

Suwanee: I think certain regions have more sugar than others in the central Thailand, Bangkok.  there’s more sugar added. I feel like, but in the north, in the Northeast, there’s less sugar added, but I think nowadays there’s a lot of Western influence. So more sugars added to different dishes. And in America, I think just to adapt to the American taste sugars added, like for example to Patite, but see you to all the stir fry dishes, just to spike up the sweetness in the dish and for the taste buds to insurance bills, ? So

Karthika: That is very true. So now if you could cook one dish, one dish for every day for the rest of your life, would you do it and what would it be? I know Sylvia flat out said, no.

Suwanee: I’m the same. I would have to say no, it’s just impossible. I can give you five. Pho, Papaya salad, sticky rice. I would do grilled beef or grilled chicken. I think that’s five right there.

Karthika: Awesome. Okay. This is more of a fun question. If you could invite some people you admire the most, and this doesn’t have to be famous people, it can be people who matter to you past or present,  for a dinner party at home. Who are they?  what’s your sort of relationship and what would you serve?

Suwanee: Okay, well, this can get a little bit personal, so feel free to cut this out. First of all, let’s just do the fun part. I would love to invite Anthony Bourdane.

Karthika: Oh, for sure.

Suwanee: Imagine with his stories and his knowledge. So fascinating. I don’t know. I would cook probably all these weird things that I don’t want to tell you what I eat. Love it.

Karthika: Yeah. I’m for sure. I think he would be one guest who would be like, bring it on

Suwanee: That’s right. And then the other special people in my life,  I would say my brother,  he passed away a few years ago. He’s Vietnamese and I would have loved to,  just, he was young. I would have just loved to know him now as an adult and his experience in the refugee camp in Thailand, his Vietnamese culture. I would love to just feast him with all his favorite food in addition.

Karthika: I think that’s, that’s super special. I know if I could, if I was a better cook, I would definitely want to get my parents back on the table.  , just because I think as we progress through life, we grow, we get, we mature and it’s just like, again, these people know us, so kind of having them be with us in these different stages of life is super special. So yeah. Now tell me Suwanee. You mentioned your food blog.  You now cook on IGTV. You do IG lives just helping people learn about Thai food and stuff. What are your future plans for your blog and your cooking? Where do you want to take it? If you’re comfortable sharing that with

Suwanee: Absolutely. I’m a beginner.  I’ve been a beginner for three years at this whole thing. So I love to cook on my own. Doing a food blog is a bit more of a challenge because I have to measure everything. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m a freestyle person just like to do everything and whatever I have around the house is how I do it. So to do my food blog is to measure everything out to test recipes, make sure that my readers can follow it exactly to the tastes, to the liking, to, to have it where I want the dish to taste to them. I don’t know what I’m trying to say there.  so yes, with my food blog, I’m just going to continue to provide more recipes and provide value to my audience and teach them about the things that I know about Thai food, other dishes, other ingredients or cuisine that I’ve learned along the way. And just share that and hopefully share some of my stories alongside those dishes as I go along and help people become comfortable in the kitchen, cooking some tasty foods.

Karthika: That’s an amazing goal. And I think what makes a food blog beyond just pretty pictures and recipes is the personality of the person behind it. And you have such an interesting story from your time in Thailand to your time here being a military wife. And I see a lot of that in what you share.  so for me, it’s interesting because it’s like, I get to know Suwanee beyond what she’s showing me in terms of images and food. It’s, it’s like if If I were to cook a recipe that you share with me, I feel like I’m more connected to you that that’s, and that’s why I encourage you to share those stories because it just like, like we’ve talked about stories, help us connect with each other. That’s the whole premise of this this whole show and this whole platform.  otherwise it’s just words that have no meaning and no connection.

Suwanee: And I love that’s your focus for your show. And I see so many  cultures are presented by you. And I love that. I love that. You’re able to see these different things, these beauty, the beauty in these cultures, and just bring it all together for, for your audience.

Karthika: Thank you, my friend, that means a lot to me. I had a blast.  I can all wait to dig, dig into what you share on social media as well. And I know we talked a little bit about maybe doing an ID live together when this show goes on. So stay tuned for that people who are listening.  thank you again. And I really I’m so thrilled to call your friend and I look forward to seeing where your logging journey takes you. I’m sure it’s going to be amazing.

Suwanee: Thank you.


Leave your comments below

  1. Hiroko Hill says:

    It was fun to listen to this podcast. Your questions to Suwanee were good. One of your questions was who to invite at a dinner table. It actually made me think who I would invite & what to cook. Thank you. I look forward to listening to your other podcast.