11 July 2024

The viral sensation, or perhaps the cheeky mimicry, of mackerel ice cream on a stick promises to captivate the taste buds of young visitors to the Mackerel Festival in the charming coastal town of Samut Songkhram. 

For serious fans of mackerel though, nothing quite rivals the blissful moment when they sink their teeth into the succulent, pan-fried mackerel, kissed by the irresistible notes of sweetness and aroma. The experience reaches its zenith with a generous dollop of the sensational chilli relish, such as the iconic ‘Nam Prik Kapi’, sending the taste buds on a thrilling journey.

An iconic Mae Klong culinary delight brings together a handful of fresh vegetables, sensational chilli relish, and pan-fried mackerel.//Photo by TAT’s Samut Songkhram Office

A 3D ice cream features the iconic pattern of two Mae Klong mackerels nestled in a tight bamboo tray.//Photo by TAT’s Samut Songkhram Office

From December 8 to 17, the quiet province of Samut Songkhram, also known as Mae Klong, transforms into a lively setting for the Mae Klong Mackerel Festival.

Pla Too Sa Tia, sweet stewed mackerel, stands out as one of Samut Songkhram’s signature dishes.//Photo by TAT’s Samut Songkhram Office

Now in its 25th year, this year’s festival has already drawn viral attention and sparked drooling anticipation on social media platforms as the hosts entice visitors with delectable and artistic mackerel-patterned ice cream. Reminiscent of the original idea at Wat Arun in Bangkok, the 3D ice cream of Mae Klong comes in four flavours and features the iconic pattern of two Mae Klong mackerels nestled in a tight bamboo tray.

Beyond bliss

Mae Klong mackerel, renowned for its exceptional taste and cultural significance, holds a special place in the hearts and palates of those who have had the pleasure of savouring this delectable fish.

It’s native to Thailand – where fresh, salt, and brackish waters from the Mae Klong (Tha Chin) River and the Gulf of Thailand provide a perfect breeding ground and plenty of food thanks to the rich nutritious plankton.

Differing from the elongated mackerels found in other waters, Mae Klong mackerel thrive in shallow seawater, presenting a unique physique characterized by a short body and a triangular-shaped head. Its distinctive features include a flat expansive body, abundantly laden with tender and succulent flesh.

Adorned in a silvery or subtly greenish hue, this captivating fish is distinguished by its striking black eyes. Elevating the gastronomic experience, the thin skin imparts a sweet flavour, making the Mae Klong mackerel a culinary gem for food enthusiasts.

November to December are the best months to savour Mae Klong Mackerel when the fish undergoes a remarkable transformation, accumulating an extra layer of fat in anticipation of winter.

This seasonal phenomenon enhances the flavour profile, providing a unique and indulgent experience for those seeking to relish the essence of this regional delicacy.

Culinary treats and activities

For 10 days, the coastal province of Samut Songkhram will be buzzing with life as it focuses on culinary treats.

The highlight of this year’s event, the organizer reveals, revolves around the province’s supply of fresh Mae Klong mackerel, meticulously selected from the bustling Mae Klong fish market. Averaging approximately 12-13 pieces per kilogram, each fish contributes to an impressive total of over 50,000 pieces.

Participation in the event extends to seven distinguished restaurants, all of which have earned recognition through various television programs.

These esteemed establishments, namely Red Seafood, Khun Pao, Nok Eiang, Nopparat, New Peng Leng, Rin, and Krua Ban Suan, have curated extensive menus featuring more than 50 delectable dishes crafted from Mae Klong mackerel.

Each expertly seasoned fish is priced at an affordable Bt25, promising a culinary experience that reflects the richness of the Mae Klong mackerel and the culinary expertise of these renowned establishments.

Once known as Bang Chang, the charming riverside communities adorned with lush fruit farms along the Mae Klong River and the abundance of seafood from its coastline, have made Samut Songkhram the culinary heartbeat of Siam for centuries.

Boiled blood cockles, complemented by sensational hot seafood sauce, add a tasty kick to the Mae Klong Mackerel Festival.//Photo by TAT’s Samut Songkhram Office

The gastronomic extravaganza extends beyond the Mae Klong mackerel-centric offerings, with over 10 enticing grilled seafood restaurants making their mark. Notable establishments include Yakisoba Seafood, Chakram Takoyaki, and the delectable Boiled Blood Cockles.

For those with a penchant for both the sweet and savoury, Ban Phra Kru Ti, Yok Siam, and Po Pla Thu serve up an array of tempting dishes.

Pla Too Sa Tia, sweet stewed mackerel, stands out as one of Samut Songkhram’s signature dishes.//Photo by TAT’s Samut Songkhram Office

Moreover, the King Rama II Memorial Park, a significant contributor to preserving traditional Thai culinary culture, will feature a booth presenting recommended dishes rooted in Thai literature and folklore. Among these offerings are Som Chun and Moo Sorong, adding an extra layer of cultural depth to the festival.

There will also be activities for children and families.

The adorable Mackerel mascot, affectionately known as “Pla Pla TooToo”, adds a charming touch to the event, joining a vibrant line-up of design and creativity showcases. A live singing contest, musical performanckres, and a series of cultural presentations will take turns entertaining the audience when mackerel enthusiasts momentarily pause from their delightful feasting.

IF YOU GO

Samut Songkhram beckons with vibrant culture, scenic landscapes, and delectable seafood. Opt for the charming train journey from Wongwian Yai Station in Thonburi, taking 1.5 to 2 hours and offering picturesque views of the Thai countryside.

Arriving at Mae Klong Railway Market, it’s just a 10-minute ride to the Mackerel Festival. Alternatively, a convenient 1.5-hour drive from Bangkok via Route 35 (Rama II) is perfect for those seeking flexibility.

By Thai PBS World Feature Desk