Ref. Number: B1118

Country: Thailand

Period: middle 20th Cent.

Material: wood

coconut grater stool

coconut grater stool

The need for coconut milk, an essential component of countless Thai dishes and delicacies, led to the development of an ingenious implement called Kratai (rabbit) Khood (grate) Maprow (coconut)  due mainly to the long, serrated teeth that were like those of a rabbit.

The user straddled the seat and leaning slightly forwards, deftly rotated a half coconut around the grater to extract the interior flesh, from which the milk was subsequently pressed. In actual fact it is a process that looks easier than it is: the smallest slip could result in a painful cut. Kratai were used almost exclusively by women to shred coconut, together with young girls preparing their homemaking skills. Girls were forbidden to sit astride the stools, or to brace the kratai with a foot. They were told to sit with both legs on the same side of the stool and turn to the side was they worked. This was considered to be the polite posture when using a kratai.

There was also a method for extracting the coconut cream. The ground coconut was kneaded together with a little warm water, then squeezed. The cream obtained on the first squeezing was very thick and rich, and called hua kati (“the head of the coconut cream”). More water was then added to the coconut and it was squeezed again to produce thinner coconut milk, and then again to produce a still more watery liquid. These liquids were called hang kati (“the tail of the coconut cream”).

In a traditional Thai home of the not-very-distant past, the kitchen was nearly always a separate structure from the main house, its central feature being an often smoky stove. Lacking gas or electricity, the fuel was usually charcoal or wood which was readily available as in the forested areas of the north.

In modern day Thailand, this tool is rarely used in Thai kitchens because of the canned coconut milk that is so convenient to use and easily available. Also, with the appearance of electric coconut grinders in fresh markets, the popularity of kratai gradually declined. Vendors who sold coconuts would offer to grind them as a service. Nowadays they are made of stainless steel with rotary motors that grind the coconut faster, and there are also compressors to extract the cream. Vendors will now grind the coconut meat, extract the cream and filter it, all in a minute or so.

During a recent trip to the National Museum of Singapore, I was pleasantly surprised to find a display of traditional coconut graters. This display is found inside the Food gallery, which is one of the four “Living Galleries” of the museum.

Also, at the Thaksinkhadee Museum in Songkhla, Southern Thailand, there is a big collection of kratai in a wide variety of forms on display reflecting the moods and inspirations of the artists.

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