Chiang Mai Pad Thai

I thought I’d share a video of the cooking class I took in Chiang Mai. It’s just a “taster”- a few minutes long- but you too can feel like you were there. It’s one thing to google a recipe and read all about how to make your favorite dish, but another experience entirely to see it made right in front of you.

Here you can see exactly how to cook a delicious pad thai. Yum.

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Chiang Mai and cooking Thai!

Aaaannd we’re back!

I tell you, eating all day is hard work. As I started writing this post, I was at The Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking school, and was absolutely stuffed on delicious Thai food. But I still had two more courses to go. I’d already made a curry paste, cooked a cashew chicken stir fry, used the curry paste to make a yellow coconut curry tofu dish, and even created tom kha soup.

Next up was my favorite- pad see ew, and then mango with coconut sticky rice for dessert.

But someone would have to roll me back into the kitchen to make it happen.

We started the day with our group being picked up at our various hotels and proceeding straight to a tour of a local farmers market, where our instructor, MB, explained the different types of rice that Thais eat, the reasons for the variations in curry color, as well as the difference between fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, etc.  After the lesson, we got to wander the market for a little sightseeing of some gorgeous, exotic fresh fruits and veggies, as well as some amazing-looking sweets and dried… stuff. 

I tried some warm bananas in coconut milk for breakfast. In a bag. Weird, but tasty.

The plastic bags tied to the fans over some of the tables (particularly the fresh meat) were an interesting solution to keep the flies off.  After the market, we headed out to the farm and got a tasting tour of the various herbs and veggies in the garden.

But though we were at their farm, we didn’t have to pick anything ourselves. 

Everything was already neatly assembled ahead of time. The ingredients for each course were pre-measured and delivered to us on a pretty tray or cutting board.  All we had to do was chop it all up and throw it in at the right time.

We didn’t even have to make the rice ourselves. When it came time to start enjoying our creations, we were served some special sticky rice with our meal. The rice had been steamed in this little wicker basket that looked like a head with a hat on it.

But now we had to move on from our first few courses and get down to the business of cooking again. MB was fun and full of energy, which is just what you need when your stomach is full and you need the motivation to get up and cook more food!  Most of the prep was already done, and dirty dishes and serving/measuring devices were whisked away quickly.

 I took some notes and videos, but was reassured to learn that there would be a recipe book to take home at the end of the class.

I met some great people at the class, and give many thanks to those who shared their own creations with me. We all got to choose what we wanted to make, so we had some menu variations in the class, and people generously shared their unique dishes. And extra thanks to people like the spring roll-making German couple, Doris and Mario, who took some photos of me so I can prove I was there, cooking up a storm.

I was very excited to learn how to cook a couple of dishes in particular, but I have to admit that my favorite dishes didn’t taste quite as good as I expected. Surprisingly, the other courses actually tasted much better than I thought they would, even though they weren’t the ones I was lookig forward to.

 

And now that I’ve made these things myself, I might be able to tinker with the ingredients to get it right next time and even make everything at home. Anyone know where to find fresh galangal and lemongrass? There may be some substitutions in my future, though it’s possible that all the good Asian markets near me might have everything I need. Now I just have to find that perfect thin Thai consistency of the large rice noodles for pad see ew.

That dish was particularly fun to make, as it involved literally getting my hands dirty.

 

I got to massage the molasses into the rice noodles!  That was strange- I’ve never had to actually use my hands when cooking noodles before.

The pad see ew has been out of this world in Thailand. And I tried it at least 10-15 times. Kim and I ate it almost every day.

What?  It was much-needed field research!  I just never knew research could be so delicious.  🙂

Just a taste of Vietnamese food

Pate AND peanut butter? Well done, Vietnam!  I’ve sampled the massive hotel buffet breakfasts, and the meager bread and juice offerings. And I really liked the noodle soup breakfast, except for the fact that the soup was hot, and the dining room was hot, and because it was in the mid-90’s outside, I was hot, too…  this heat is making it a little difficult to sample all of the country’s best dishes. On a hot day, I just don’t usually feel like eating hot food. But I’ve managed some, of course, and will include a slideshow of Vietnamese food highlights in a future post.

It’s nice to have tea in the morning, and even nicer to be given sweetened condensed milk for it.

I have to mention that I keep finding mint leaves in my meals. It’s unexpected, but it works.

I haven’t eaten anything distinctively Western yet (except salads, I guess). Honestly, you could easily visit and eat no Vietnamese food at all. You can get pizza, sandwiches, and spaghetti everywhere. But since I haven’t been eating those things, I’ve found that I’ve been craving cheese. But I do see blocks of Edam, etc, in the little markets. Perhaps there’s some remaining French influence here after all.

Kuala Lumpur

I had a long layover at the airport here, and thought I’d got it made- time to try some regional food, a chance at getting some small denominations of currency for souvenirs, potential interaction with people in yet another country, and a cozy, quiet, modern airport (rated runner-up in the “sleepinginairports.net” guide) to spend the night in. Well, the plane was late, and the shuttle bus between the cramped low cost carriage terminal (LCCT) I arrived in, and the fancy nice one (KLIA) stopped running at 12:30 am.

So, I missed it. The LCCT was packed with masses of people just lying on the ground to sleep for the night. By the time I got to the sleek modern terminal when the buses started back up in the morning, it was already after 6am, and the overhead announcements had begun. I still managed to get some sleep, but nothing like I was planning. So it could have been lack of sleep that led to my feeling the most foreign and out of place so far on this trip, despite the fact that Malaysia is not usually a country you’d put at the top of the list in SE Asia to make a westerner feel out of place.

But, I sat down in “Taste of Asia” for lunch, and besides a guy who walked in 20 minutes later, I was the only Caucasian in a room packed noisily full with over a hundred people. It was nice to observe them to see that they ate with either two forks, or a fork and a spoon- pushing their rice and sauces into a compact and cohesive shape to eat each bite.  But since my mouth was burning from the heat in my Nasi Lemak, and I stared feeling concerned about the lack of physical heat in the lukewarm dish (I’ve been advised- even by a Malaysian, just hours earlier!- to make sure to eat only hot food- not food that’s been sitting out at all, cooling and becoming bacteria-friendly.) and the tiny dried fish that came sprinkled on the dish were tasty, but were a bit hard and had started to cut my mouth, which was already burning… I called it quits and got up to leave.

Unfortunately, I must have dragged my sleeve through something, and then must have rested my hand on my knee and also my bag, because all were bright orange at that point.  Ah… traveling.  I’ll have to go back another time to give KL another chance. Maybe I’ll even make it out of the airport next time.  🙂

Indonesian food

I’ve tried to make sure that I eat distinctly local dishes when I travel (why come all this way for pizza?), both to travel authentically and to experience the food where it was created (maybe in its perfect form?).

So in Indonesia, I’ve sought out Nasi Goreng, Gado-gado, black rice coconut pudding, Chap Cay, and Kwe Tiaw (that last one mainly because I’ve been craving the flat rice noodles from Pad See Ew, and this dish sounded like it had them!) All were delicious.

 

 

This dark mess is actually a delicious peanut sauce.

 

When in restaurants, I have to keep remembering to ask that they not use ice in my drink, and not use tap water, either.

Also, I can’t eat the nice little cut-up bits of pineapple and carrot and tomato and other fruit and veg, or even the lettuce on the side, just in case it was washed in the local water. Hence, all these juices I keep drinking to make sure I get some fresh fruit in my diet! What a nice excuse to have delicious fresh exotic juice combos. Next on my list to try: “avocado juice”!

 

Mmmm… strawberry juice…

ANZAC Day

Wednesday, April 25th is ANZAC Day (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps). It’s a public holiday dedicated to the anniversary of the WWI troop landing in Gallipoli in 1915, which was the first time that the ANZACs had fought a major military campaign together. After subsequent wars, the day became a way to honor all the people who fought or served for their countries. It’s also an identity thing about the meaning and spirit of being an Aussie; it occurred just 14 years after Australia’s states joined together to become a country.

It’s sort of like Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day in the US, but people take it a bit more seriously or sacredly than I think the average American does. People wear sprigs of rosemary pinned to their lapels for remembrance today. This is even more meaningful because rosemary was found growing wild on the fields of Gallipoli where so many lives were lost.

Today they have parades, a dawn commemorative service, other services throughout the day (we drove past a few crowds, probably gathering at local war memorials in the little towns we passed) and… there are football and rugby games?  But they’re not a part of the tradition the way that football is on Thanksgiving in the US. After the services and parades, people tend to go to the pubs and reminisce and gather and drink together.  Which seems like a nice show of camaraderie to me. Plus, this is the time of year that you get to eat delicious ANZAC biscuits!

A little help from the Brits

Besides the fun of abbreviations, I’ve found some other interesting language differences. Certain things have entirely different names in Australia. I’ve mainly noticed this with food (shocker!). One of my favorite name changes is “fairy floss”. It’s such a cute name, and really conjures up quite the image. You can imagine that a kid’s imagination would go wild in thinking up how this treat came to be.

Anyway, in the US, it’s just cotton candy. Which, if you think about it, sounds a little unappetizing. Who would want to eat cotton? And, I suppose you wouldn’t want to eat something that a fairy might have flossed her teeth with either, but I was thinking more along the lines of a fairy’s embroidery floss, which is more creative and crafty, and less about hygiene. But what I really love about this is that there is no commonality between the terms cotton candy and fairy floss… unless you involve the Brits. In England, it’s called candy floss. Thus, we have the perfect bridge between the American name and the Australian name. Cotton candy = Candy floss = Fairy floss.  Ta dah!