A friend of us once said "Southern people eat leaves, not vegetables".
After two years of living in the South of Thailand, I've found out that it's true. Apart from all kinds of vegetables, Southern people also love to eat young leaves such as; the young leaves of the neem tree, lead tree, cashew nut tree, mango tree, etc.
If you have a chance to walk around the Southern fresh market, you'll see all kinds of vegetables and leaves. What this tells you is that the Southern people love real hot spicy food. These leaves are indispensable side dishes to tone down pungent taste. It further tells you about the hot and humid climate of the South where plenty of rain helps trees to put forth new leaves all year round.
Actually, people of the South eat more vegetables than any other part of Thailand, that is about 260 kinds, while the Northern people eat only 168 kinds, the Middle part people 129 kinds, and North-eastern people over 50 kinds.
Same as other parts of Thailand, the Southern people highly depend on multi-use of local vegetables. In medical way, Southern herbal physicians have long been emphasizing the importance of food. They suggest that what we eat must be in accordance with season, topograpy, our physical condition and age. To them, right diet makes a healthy man. According to traditional Thai medicine, the physicians seperate vegetables that one should eat by season. For example, during summer, wax gourd, marrow, loofah gourd, and bitter cucumber are good for health, since these vegetables possess "cool elements", which help cool down the body temperature. In rainy season, the weather is cool so one should warm their body with spicy and bitter vegetable such as garlic, basil, pepper, etc. And in cool season, more bitter vegetables are good to prevent bad cold or dry skin. They recommended hot chili, young leaves of mango tree and neem tree.
There are "DO" and "DON'T" belief concerning certain vegetables and certain people. For instance, many Thais believe that a pregnant woman should not eat caladium as it will weaken her womb. After giving birth she should eat banana's flower cluster, which will help increase her milk to feed the baby.
Aside from being used as food, medicine, and cash crop, certain vegetables are employed in traditional and religious rituals. Bananas, sugar canes, coconuts and betel nuts are important in the ceremony that related to Hinduism for they are believed to be sacred plants. In daily traditions such as funeral, wedding, moving to new house, the vegetables and plants also play role in the ceremonies. For example, any vegetables or plants that have names related to gold or silver will be used in the wedding ceremony for the belief that they will bring prosperosity to the bride and groom.
Next time when you go to the local market, purchase some leaves of the South. They're delicious and make you healthy. Moreover, they go very well with the super hot Southern food.