How a housewife from Chon Buri revived a disappearing heritage dish and built a successful online business in the process

Food doesn’t just fill the stomach. When made with care and soul, it can lift the spirit and delight the heart. It’s no wonder that even in this age of haute cuisine and quick-service restaurant culture, people continue to yearn for time-honored comfort food – flavors that remind them of family and transport them back home.

Chon Buri is well-known as one of Thailand’s most important port cities – but it also has a proud culinary heritage. Stretching over dozens of kilometers, its shoreline has been home of hundreds of fishermen villages, and many unique dishes trace their origins back to this way of life. As the world changes and communities relocate, however, these beloved dishes – the iconic “sauteed pork” among them – are slowly fading from cultural memory.

A Recipe Passed From Generation to Generation

Chon Buri resident and mother of three, Palita “Pan” Wattakavanich, 51, is passionate about this quintessential dish and its history. She explains that the preparation for sauteed pork came about at a time when food preservation technology was quite rudimentary. When the fishermen’s catch was particularly huge, some of the fish would be sun-dried and preserved as “salty fish”, which could be kept for months for household consumption.

Another food-preservation technique common among these communities has been “sauteing”, which slowly extracts water content from certain foods and thus extends their shelf life. And as sauteing is common in Thailand’s Eastern Region, practically every household would make and eat “sauteed pork” at home. The comforting taste of hot rice, sauteed pork and fresh vegetables – and a dash of lime, of course – has for decades welcomed people as they came home from a long day of work.

It’s not surprising that natives of Chon Buri who have migrated to work elsewhere often feel homesick for the sauteed pork prepared by their mothers and seek it out during their visits back home.

Ms. Palita’s family, too, has a long history with this dish. She recalls, “My grandpa was the customs chief of Phli Port in Chon Buri province. In my grandparents’ time, they would serve sauteed pork with salted fish to HM Queen Rambai Barni, the wife of King Rama VII every time she visited Chanthaburi. It was the Queen’s favorite dish.”

The much-loved dish, however, has begun to fade over time for many reasons. Migration aside, advanced preservation technologies mean that there’s increasing variety of preserved foods conveniently available. By comparison, sauteing at home takes a lot of time and effort.

Ms. Palita admits that even with the great recipe given to her by her grandparents, she would initially only undertake this preparation for merit-making events. But when many of her friends and acquaintances began to give her enthusiastic feedback, the housewife felt inspired to try preparing it for sale.

In the beginning, Ms. Palita bought just two kilos of pork to fulfill the pre-orders she received via her personal Facebook account. Most of those first customers were friends and acquaintances, but the feedback was consistently positive.

The secret to her growing success is, of course, her 100-year-old family recipe, which has been passed on to her from her ancestors. She reveals, “I season my sauteed pork with quality salted fish. So, the taste is mellow. Importantly, the texture of pork is still soft as I sauté it for four hours.”

Branding & Braving the Online World

After selling her sauteed pork to her small group of customers for a while, Ms. Palita was ready to get serious and develop a business based on her recipe. She also believed the move would help conserve an important part of local heritage for the future generations.

With that thought as her motivation, Ms. Palita did not just rely just on her family’s experience in the restaurant business. She also consulted specialists and enrolled in courses conducted by the Industrial Promotion Center Region 9 and the National Food Institute with the aim to manufacture her product in line with industrial standards.

Ms. Palita’s efforts have led to the launch of her Lita Homemade brand. Focused on two products – Sauteed Pork with Threadfin and Sauteed Pork with King Mackerel –  the brand has won several awards for great taste and hygienic standards.

Just prior to her product launch, as Ms. Palita was preparing her small manufacturing facility and branding and distribution channels, she noticed that online marketing was her weakness. So, when she saw an advertisement for dtac’s Net for Living courses, she quickly jumped on board.

Ms. Palita has come a long way from cooking just two kilos of pork. These days, each lot of sauteing involves 20 kilos of pork. She has also recently launched a new product, Sauteed Pork with Chinese Black Olive. Every month, Lita Homemade sells between 100 and 200 bags. The income from her business has been significant enough that it has become Ms. Palita’s full-time job.

“Thanks to the dtac Net for Living course, I have solid knowledge of online distribution. The course really answers the needs of older people like me. It’s so comprehensive! The content covers pinning your business on Google Maps, photography, storytelling, doing Live broadcasts, and various other practical techniques,” Ms. Palita enthuses. “The coaches are understanding, kind, and caring. If some trainees fall behind, the coaches rush to them to provide further support. They repeat their answer and speak slowly to ensure participants can follow.

Ultimately, the experience is about more than just launching a business. As Ms. Palita says, “Teaching the elderly about the online world is meaningful. It is a way to ensure they are not left behind and that they will not feel lonely.”