Thais believe that food should please the eye as well as the palate. The Thai Art of Fruit and Vegetable Carving is a valuable heritage of Thailand, and one of its oldest art forms. You do not see it much in America or other Western countries, except in special banquets at 5-Star Hotels, and when first seen, people are amazed at how truly beautiful these Thai Carvings are. It takes a special patience and calmness and concentration in its creation. Just visualizing how a watermelon or a carrot can be transformed into artwork is amazing.
My wife Tena (her Thai name is Tianngam, which translates into “pretty candle”) is a Master at this art. She first learned how to do it from her mother in the small Thai town where she grew up. Thai Fruit and Vegetable Carving was also taught to girls in the primary and secondary schools, and still is today in many schools in Thailand. In some Thai universities and most professional Thai cooking schools, advanced Thai Carving is part of the curriculum. My wife, who is also an accomplished Thai chef, would prepare fruit carvings for special events in our restaurant. She would do the carving in the dining area of our restaurant, and customers would be amazed as she quickly turned a simple watermelon into a giant whale bowl with a tummy full of carved fruit appetizers. It was truly a beautiful thing, and she can create many amazing flowers and birds and other natural things that become major centerpieces of buffet tables in amazingly short time in front of everyone in the restaurant.
You don’t see this kind of artwork often in the US, but in Thailand you will find it in elegant hotels and when there is a special banquet, like for a wedding party. Internationally at the premier hotels and on many cruise lines you can see this art practiced. This artwork is taken to an incredibly high level. And to watch the carving being done by a Master of this art is also amazing in how quickly the transformation is made from a simple papaya or a carrot or a melon into something absolutely wonderful. I am certain that if more Americans were exposed to this art, it would quickly become more popular in the US.
Thai Fruit and Vegetable Carving originated in 1364 (that’s a long time ago) when Nang Nopamas, one of the King’s servants decorated a floating lamp for the Royal Festival celebration on the night of the full moon on the 12th month of every year (Loi Kratong). When King Phra Ruaang saw what she had created, he appreciated it so much that he decreed that it would be an art heritage of the Kingdom and should be taught to all girls of the nation. This knowledge of Fruit Carving has been passed on through many generations person to person to the younger family members. Some special techniques were often closely held family secrets.
There are several specialized training academies in Thailand for fruit carving. One designed for professional chefs is a 5-day intensive school offered at The Siam Carving Academy in Bangkok (Link Here). This a highly recommended course for chefs to expand their culinary skills.