Pearl Banjurtrungkajornand is a dining club founder (@hernameisnala) who is based between Bangkok and Brooklyn. One of her favourite food memories is having spent Sundays with her family, picking pandan leaves from the backyard to use in her favourite dessert, pandan coconut jelly. At the time, her family used aluminum trays for the jelly, but today she prefers delicate molds. “Thatʼs what I adore about food,” she says. “You embrace whatʼs shown to you growing up, and by injecting your own interpretation, you break the mold that was given to you and form a new one.”
How does your heritage or culture influence your home cooking?
Growing up in a gated community in the suburbs of Bangkok, where over 30 of my relatives also lived, I understood the value of community from a very young age. I was always surrounded by family food gatherings — the type where pot after pot of tom yum soup kept getting ordered to the table; where, without fail, there would always be more than three desserts to choose from. At the dinner table, one could not even fathom the possibility of being stingy. We werenʼt superfluous with our spending, but when it came to food, we were abundant. We knew sharing food was how we showed our care for one another; sharing was our unspoken love language. In the recipes that my mom sends me, such as the one for our signature pandan coconut jelly that Iʼve recreated here, the servings are always defaulted to be made for ten or more people. This is because whenever we made food at home, we always made it with the intention of sharing with others. I would wake up to my family dining table overflowing with fruit: mangoes, dragonfruit, rambutans, longans, lychees — you name it — bounty that was accumulated from either an auntie receiving a big harvest from her mango tree or an uncleʼs visit to a durian ranch down south. Among our extended family, dropping food off at each otherʼs houses was the norm.
How have you built your own community through food?
This idea of sharing has become super integral to how I run my dining club here in Brooklyn. I love inviting friends over for dinner and providing them a sense of home through the dishes I put before them. New York is such an incredible melting pot of individuals from all cultures and walks of life, including some (like me) who have traveled so far from home. It brings me so much joy to feed the people that I love and for them to find refuge at our dining table. Whenever I bake a cake, I save a slice or two for myself, and distribute the rest among my friends. Iʼll either Uber-messenger it to them, tell folks in the vicinity to come pick some up from my stoop, or bring it to a dinner party for my friends to share. One piece of advice that has always stuck with me is, “When in doubt, just feed your friends.” It makes people feel extremely cared for, and theyʼll never forget how you made them feel. My dining club was actually born out of monthly dinners that my roommate and I hosted for our friends. For Thanksgiving one year, we threw a ʼMigrant Childrenʼs Thanksgiving Dinnerʼ for friends who donʼt have family here and therefore donʼt have a ʼhomeʼ to go to. New York is our chosen home and we are all each otherʼs chosen family. At that dinner, we asked each guest to bring something that wouldʼve been a staple on their familyʼs Thanksgiving table. My friend Yada brought a vegan sweet potato pie with pecan crust that she baked herself, while our beloved friend Chomwan brought a Thai basil stir-fry style macaroni casserole. The table was abundant with each personʼs token of nostalgia, and it was incredibly meaningful to share those intimate stories with one another. What Iʼve learned from running a dining club is that whatever each guest brings to the table is as big of a part of the dining experience as any spread we lay before them. Be it a bottle of funky orange wine from their corner wine shop or a new philosophy on the cultural relevance of a new meme, they continually share with us parts of their identity, and Iʼve grown to be so grateful for every bit of it. It truly is what makes an intimidatingly big city like New York smaller, and dare I say, intimate.
Pearlʼs Pandan Coconut Jelly
For the pandan layer:1 cup pandan extract
2 cups water
1/2 tbsp. agar agar powder
1 cup granulated sugar
For the coconut milk layer:1 cup coconut cream
1 tbsp. agar agar powder
3 cups coconut water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
Add pandan extract, water, and agar agar powder to your Perfect Pot on medium heat and
Add granulated sugar and whisk until totally dissolved, another 5 minutes.
Take your Perfect Pot off heat and leave to cool.
In another pot, add coconut cream and agar agar powder and whisk until all powder has dissolved, around 3 minutes.
Add coconut water, granulated sugar, and salt and whisk until totally dissolved, another ten minutes.
In a silicone mold, carefully pour pandan mixture up to half of the mold height.
Wait 10 minutes for the pandan layer to firm at room temperature (check with your finger to see that it bounces back and is no longer liquid). While waiting, take the pot with coconut mixture off heat to cool.
Strain the coconut layer through a sieve to get a smooth mixture.
Carefully use a spoon to ladle the strained coconut mixture directly on top of the settled pandan layer in the mold, right to the moldʼs brim.
Refrigerate for 40 minutes and once completely chilled, carefully turn the mold out onto a plate to serve!