A Thai kitchen would hardly be complete with a kroke or kitchen mortar. Today, as in the past, the krokeis a mainstay in the kitchen and is used regularly to pound curry pastes or dipping sauces. Mortars and pastels are an important part of Thai daily life as much as they were centuries ago.
Other Southeast Asian countries also use kitchen mortars and many of them bear striking resemblances to those used in Thailand. The stone mortars used in Bali, Indonesia are very similar to the ones used in Thailand. The Balinese mortars differ in that they are made from volcanic rock while Thai mortars are made of granite. The wooden mortars used in Burma are similar to those used in Cambodia and Northern Thailand. The ceramic mortars used in Thailand are identical to those used in Laos.
In the past, most Thai kitchens had mortars made from ceramic and had a wooden pestel. While they were relatively strong, the ceramic mortars would sometimes break under the constant pounded required to make curry paste. Stone mortars made of granite were more costly than their ceramic counterparts, but were preferable because they could withstand frequent poundings. The finer the grain of the granite used to make the mortar, the longer it would last.
Originally mortars in Issan and the North were made from wood because the material was common and inexpensive. These wooden mortars were often homemade and one household might have several different wooden mortars. Each wooden mortar would be used for different kinds of work, such as for salt or curry seasonings.
As stone mortars because less expensive and more common, household around the country started using them instead of the wooden mortars. Again, different mortars would be used for different kinds of work. In Issan, for example, there is a special mortar that is used for making som tam, Thailand’s signature papaya salad, since it requires a deep mortar.
Krokesthat have been used regularly for decades bear the wear of use, but these stone kitchen tools were designed for pounding. In fact, many women prefer the worn mortar and pastel that belonged to their mothers over new mortars because older mortars are worn-in and easier to work with. Our family has one from my grandfather that even made its way to America and is still used by my aunt while a newer mortar and pestle remains unused in five years.