Sriboonruang is an amateur Muay Thai fighter in New York City and the founder of Rawsome Treats, a raw, vegan dessert business. Her first fight was in Philadelphia in 2010, when she was 33-years-old, the age when most fighters are retiring because the sport is so physically brutal on the body. It is literally young man’s game, with Thai Buddhist tradition dictating that women should not stand in the ring. It is only in recent history that women have started competing in the national stadiums. Sriboonruang has had 10 fights so far, a formible accomplishment.
Growing up in Thailand, Sriboonruang wasn’t interested in Muay Thai, despite the fact that it’s the national sport. Many Thais are obsessed the way Americans are with baseball, and, like Little League, kids start training young. Muay Thai fighting differs from other types of boxing in that fighters wear boxing gloves and fight barefoot. It’s called “the art of eight limbs” because your weapons are fists, elbows, knees, and shins.
After moving to the U.S. in 2005 for photography work, Sriboonruang was drawn to the small universe of her native culture in the Muay Thai gyms of NYC. “When I called my mom and told her I was doing Muay Thai, she didn’t say anything. She was quiet. I was so scared she was mad or something, and then she says, ‘Your grandfather was nak muay’ [a Muay Thai boxer]. I never knew that.”
Later, in Sriboonruang’s kitchen, I watch her make our post-training lunch. She makes two bowls, starting with quinoa cooked in the rice cooker and oven-roasted slices of squash dusted with cinnamon. She chops fresh cucumber and red bell pepper. “Do you like spicy or not spicy?” she asks, combining green curry, miso paste, coconut nectar and homemade cashew milk in a blender pitcher and gives it a whir. “I always have cashew milk,” she explains. “It’s so much less work than almond milk.” She pours the frothy liquid over our bowls and lunch is served in under 10 minutes. The flavors are strong and fresh. The curry’s heat is balanced by the cool vegetables.
Sriboonruang used to be a vegetarian who occasionally ate dairy and meat. “When I’m talking about meat, I’m talking about fried chicken,” she clarifies. A few years ago, she was on a 14-day juice diet to cut weight for a fight. She was doing multiple sessions each day of sparring, pad work, clinch, sprints, weight training, and three-mile runs. “I didn’t skip training, and I broke my personal record running.” She’s been vegan ever since.
Her iPhone buzzes on the counter with a text message from a customer ordering one of her frozen pies. Sriboonruang describes her four-year-old vegan dessert business as her current fight. It started with her husband’s favorite banana cream pie. “I made him the pie from a recipe on the internet. It was delicious, but what’s in there?” She substituted the dairy with homemade nut milks, coconut cream, and nectar, creating vegan recipes good enough to eat during fight camp.
She shared her experiments with friends, and their friends’ friends, then suddenly Sriboonruang was giving vegan cooking classes, launching a website, and selling to Thai and vegetarian restaurants. Rawsome Treats specializes in frozen desserts with the creamy texture of ice cream on top of crumbly cookie-like crust. She offers classic flavors like mint chocolate, red velvet and tiramisu. In the summertime, she adds lychee. In the fall, it’s the persimmon pie.
The unexpected demand has her working around the clock, struggling to keep up simultaneously with demand and expansion. “Honestly, I don’t have much time to train—I’m dying,” she said. “But I’m not complaining because this is much better than to have no sales.” She’s hoping to find a space in lower Manhattan to open a store this year.
Sriboonruang is happily surprised by the broader market for her paleo friendly, vegan treats, which are free of any gluten, soy or refined sugar, but her heart is really in the gym. “When you are dying from weight cutting and training, and you can eat something delicious: That’s what I want for all my friends who are fighters.”
At her apartment, I turn my attention to the slice of frozen chocolate raspberry pie that has been slowly tempering while we talk. I try the fruit layer, then the chocolate, then both together. I’m surprised by the vibrancy of the raspberry and the creaminess of the chocolate. It’s not too sweet, not too cold, but maybe it’s too small a piece. While Sriboonruang talks, I eat without stopping until it is gone.