I have an unusual fascination for Pinto (Thai for lunch box), a multi-tiered food container coated in enamel.
I love its simple design and what it stands for -- a vehicle to transport love.
In the old days, moms would send their kids off to school with multiple courses of a home-cooked lunch packed in these containers. The base of the Pinto is usually wider and mostly reserved for rice. The second tier is for the main course and the top part is for soup or sometimes a dessert. If you were lucky, you'd be going to school with a 4 to 5-tier Pinto.
I was always looking forward to the lunchtime ritual of unpacking each tier, which gave me the same feeling as unwrapping a present. I would get all excited to see what mom had in store for me. Though I would get mad if she decided to pack vegetable dishes. Green leafy stuff used to disgust me.
Food commonly found in Thai Pinto are always very simple staples like 'Pad Kra Prow' (stir-fried holy basil with meat), 'Kang Jerd Moo Tao Hoo' (minced pork and tofu soup), 'Kao Kai Dao" (rice with fried egg).
During lunch time, we would gather with our friends and share our home-cooked meals with one another. It was an opportunity to bond as well as one-upping each other. 'My mom cooks better than yours' was mostly my lunchtime sentiment.
My mom's cooking is THE sole reason why I was semi-cool in school despite my hideous mushroom-looking haircut.
Nowadays, I don't see Pinto being used much anymore. I find that it is mostly older people who use it to carry food to the temple for monks, but I have hardly seen the current generation of kids carrying a pinto to school.
It appears that time is the most sought-after ingredient these days. The convenience of lunches provided by a school or pre-packaged food sadly trumps the tradition I grew up looking forward to everyday.
Today, I've recreated a lunch box meal with Pad Kra Prow with Kai Dao, just like my mom would have created for me. Instead of a chicken egg, I have used smaller quail eggs to go with the mini Pinto I bought in Thailand during my last trip home.
And there you have it. A tiny lunch box packed with the flavour of love.
Beautiful, simple and and filled with affection...just like mom.