Khun Ya’s Massaman Curry

Did you think I forgot? What on earth is she talking about? I’m a little embarrassed to admit, but there have been a number of times I said I would post something on this blog, but it never happens. Forgetfulness, ADD, whatever may be the cause, I want to make things right and follow up with all the promises I once made on this blog.

First thing I’m following up on has to do with my grandmothers. I wrote about the big birthday bash celebrating my maternal grandmother Arpor, and now I’d like to introduce you all to my paternal grandmother, Khun Ya. I relate to Khun Ya in a lot of ways. She loves to cook, she loves talking about cooking, and she is known for overwhelming house guests with tons of food. Several years ago, hip surgery made it hard for her to cook at home, so the family arranged for live-in help to take care of the cooking. This took some getting used to, but Khun Ya took it in stride when she realized she was the boss of the kitchen.

When we visited Khun Ya at her house last July, I asked what was her favorite dish to cook. If you read the title of this post, you’ll know what her answer was. And while she didn’t give me thorough instructions on how to make it, she did give me the ingredient list. I came up with the rest based on what I’ve learned from my mom. It may not be too different from other recipes out there, but knowing that it came from my family makes it special to me.

Khun Ya’s Massaman Curry

1 lb. beef cubes
1 lb. potatoes, cubed
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups string beans or other vegetables
1 small can massaman curry paste (Khun Ya said not to bother making my own, the store-bought kind is good enough)
1 can coconut milk
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
palm sugar, to taste
fish sauce, to taste

1. In a large pot, cook coconut milk and massaman curry paste over low heat, and stir until well-mixed.
2. Add beef and stir enough to coat meat with curry mix. Add water to cover meat in pot.
3. Mix in tamarind paste.
4. Keep curry on low heat for roughly an hour, or until beef becomes tender. Refill water as needed during this time.
5. After beef is tender, add potatoes and onions. Add sugar and fish sauce to taste at this point. If needed, add more tamarind paste too.
6. Keep on heat for another 20 minutes or so.
7. Before serving, check taste and add more fish sauce if needed.


Bonus fact about Khun Ya: Just like my maternal grandma, she also had 11 children! Here’s most of us (not everyone since some have passed and some couldn’t make it) at our past family reunion.

Arpor’s 90th Birthday


My favorite memories of my maternal grandmother (Arpor) revolve around her birthday. I seem to always visit Thailand in the summertime when it just can’t get any hotter, and about once a decade, we celebrate Arpor’s birthday in a big way with a family reunion. I don’t know what your family reunions are like, or if you even enjoy them, but these reunions have always been a real treat for me. We feast on great food, and Arpor sits back as we perform endless acts of music* and dancing for our beloved grandma.

Flashback to 1991’s family reunion. Oh boy.

I want to share with y’all some pictures from the latest family reunion celebrating Arpor’s 90th birthday on July 3, 2010. These are mostly professional photos from the celebration in the Novotel Bangkok in Siam Square. Those who came numbered 200, making it a bigger party than my wedding. And as you’ll soon see, we showered Arpor with our love through our musical acts.

Meet my dear grandma Sumitra Boonsermsuwong, or as I call her, Arpor.


The tables were named after her kids as they were all given tables to seat their own friends and family.

This is a fun fact I love telling people. Can you believe my grandmother gave birth to 11 children?! Here they are, happily reunited. Oldest to youngest from right to left. 7 live in Bangkok, 3 in the USA, and 1 is in Hong Kong.

And here’s the entire family. Each of the 11 got married and had children. Some of those children got married and had children. In total, there are 69 of us in the family, spread throughout 5 different countries.

Some of the granddaughters join together in a hip-hop-fan dance.


My dad and Tim played Jim Croce‘s Time in a Bottle while food was served.


Singing to Arpor is a must-have act.

Three generations of daughters danced to the Girls’ Generation HaHaHa song, choreographed by cousin Jent.


A 90th birthday is well-deserving of a tiered cake and mantou tower.


Birds’ nest soup is a popular present for the elderly, believed to be a health tonic.

My paternal grandmother (Khun Ya) even came out, and I don’t know what my oldest uncle is doing, but that’s just classic behavior of our crazy uncle.

If you’re wondering where the food pictures are, then you might be missing my point. While some memories involve food, this is about family itself. If I didn’t snap this picture of the menu, I wouldn’t have known what we ate that night. I know it all tasted great, but experiencing this kind of love beats even the best steamed garoupa [sic] in Bangkok.

*Wondering why the big emphasis on music and dancing at our family reunions? My grandfather had a deep love for music and performing, having led a big band for many years, and he sent his children to music lessons. He passed away in 1997, but we continue to honor him by displaying the love for music he passed down to all of us.