The kratai, “rabbit,” is a traditional Thai kitchen appliance that does not require any electrical outlet since it is powered by human hands. Once, the kratai was an indispensable part of a Thai kitchen. The coconut grater gets its name from the shape that it generally takes. Similar tools are found in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.
All of these countries use the coconut graters in preparing their local cuisines. Many of the dishes use coconut cream or coconut milk as ingredients such as curries. In Thailand, however, the kratai has fallen out of favor. It has since been replaced by the vastly more efficient electric coconut graters. Traditional wooden kratai have become more common as an antique or collector’s item than as typical kitchenware.
The structure of the krataiis simple and based on its function. Its body is a low, long, narrow sttol, with the part in front of the seat slightly raised. The blade for grating the coconut are set in front at an angle. Most often the seat was carved into the namesake shape, the rabbit, but other animals were also featured on the coconut graters.
The women in the household were the users of the krataiand generally the girls would be taught how to use this kitchen tool in order to aid their mothers and as part of their training to become proper housewives. The girl did not sit astride it or put her foot on it, instead she sat on it sideways and leaned forward at an angle to use the grater. In order to grate a coconut, it would be broken in half or into segments and worked in circles.
When making coconut cream, a little warm water would be added to the coconut and kneaded into it thoroughly. When this mixture is squeezed, the cream will be very thick. Then water is added and the coconut is squeezed a second and third time, with the coconut milk produced becoming thinner each time. The thick cream extracted from the first squeezing is called hua kati, “the head.” The thinner milk that follows is known as hang kati, “the tail.”
Nowadays, you can buy coconut cream in a can or carton at the supermarket. Most Thai women would hardly know how to use a kratai,much less spend the time to actually grate a fresh coconut and go through the laborious process of making coconut cream by hand. The kratai is no longer a staple in Thai kitchens but its history bespeaks much of Thai culinary culture and tradition.