The male is shaped like a fork with the central prong much longer; the female like a knobbly green tuber, but both can be used.  When they look ready, the villagers prop their  ladders up against the tree, just a bamboo pole with rungs on each side, and climb up.  Syrup can be harvested from both flowers, but they have to be ‘ready’, turgid and yielding slightly when squeezed. If there are too many flowers on a single tree, they remove some of them to concentrate the yield. They then ‘milk’  the chosen flowers by squeezing them gently between large wooden tongs, like those that were once used to get sheets out of the boiler.  This is known as ‘training’ and it is done morning and evening for a four days,  After each training session, they dip the end in a bottle of water.  Then when the flower seems ripe enough to harvest, they cut off the tip with a sharp knife.  If the tip seeps, they attach a bottle to the end and allow the juice to collect. At the end of the day, they pour the dilute syrup into a large metal bowl and allow it to simmer overnight.  The oven is made of the particularly pure clay that can only be collected from termite mounds.  As the branches smoulder, they advance them into the oven to maintain an even heat, hot enough the boil the juice but not too hot so it will dry and burn.

The concentrated syrup is brown and tastes like fudge or maple syrup. It is just right for cooking as a moderate heat makes it runny. It sweetens the coconut cream and fish sauce in Fish Amok.  It is delicious when poured on fresh mango and coconut sticky rice and when added to tamarind juice and lime, it make such a refreshing drink. Or just buy a packet of palm sugar lozenges wrapped up in a palm leaf. So much better than Kendal Mint Cake.

Fish Amok

Chop garlic shallot, galangal, lemon grass, the pool and juice of a Kaffir lime peel and pound together in a large wooden pestle and mortar until it is an even pasty consistency. Add real chilli paste (Kroenung) then top up with coconut milk,  a dollop of palm syrup, fish sauce and an egg.  Add chunks of fish.

To make the banana leaf container, fold the edges of the leaf over and seal with a tiny wooden sliver until you have created an open box, 3 inches by 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches deep.  Pour in the mixture and steam for 20 minutes.  Garnish with thinly sliced Kaffir lime leaves and carrot and eat with jasmine rice.


Sticky rice with mango and palm sugar caramel. 

Peel the mango by slicing level with the flat side of the stone and then cut diagonally. 

Boil the rice, allow to soak in the hot water and then steam it.  (In Laos, they soak it overnight in cold water and then steam it over muslin.  

Place a dollop of palm sugar (like maple syrup but nicer) in a pan with butter and coconut cream. Simmer until it caramelises.  Pour over the mango and rice.