I haven't been showing old Light Snacks too much love lately, and that's due to a combination of factors. I've been without decent internet, I've been lazy, and I've been busy. Sorry bout that. But I just fired off something at The Atlantic Food Channel about those old coffee shops in Trang, which I'll share with you here. I found these shops - particularly the oldest versions - to be beautiful examples of Trang's synergy of Thai, Chinese and Malaysian cultures.
If the century-old chairs in the Yu Chiang coffee shop could talk, they would have so many stories to tell.
Those chairs, made of teak cut from the jungles of Trang Province,are twisted from age. So are many customers that sit in them. The shop’s cool marble tabletops, slowly polished by commerce, lean this way and that. Look up, and the entire structure looks like it might fall upon you, mid-sip. But the ceiling fans still spin, and the tiny woodstove in the corner cranks out pots of lightening-strong raankopi – coffee so thick and rich it looks like topsoil in a glass.
Over those hundred-odd years, this shophouse in Thailand’s south has helped kick-start Chinese lives. Immigrants began to arrive in Trang in large numbers in the mid-Nineteenth Century: the Hokkien miners, the Hakka bankers, and the merchants from Teochew (Chaozhou). Mostly male, those first Chinese trafficked in whatever they could gather from this spur of fertile earth.
As I sat in that shop, I thought about how I’d chased the Chinese diaspora across Southeast Asia over the past year, by following a trail of food. At first it was unintentional - I was nudged along by simple interest, and guided by familiarity with that culture. But now it has become a focal point of many stories I write here, because the enduring traditions of these communities sheds light on a China nearly disappeared. (To read the rest, click here)