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.  🙂

One Night in Bangkok…

This city is huge! And it’s nothing like the cities in Vietnam. It feels very Western. I walked out of the terminal at Suvarnabhumi airport and into the main building and an involuntary giggle escaped my lips as I spotted a Boots (British drug store), Dunkin Donuts, Subway, Baskin Robbins, etc, etc. Within my first 2 hours here, I had already heard more American accents than I did in a month in Bali and Vietnam.

This is a gross over-exaggeration, but Bangkok feels so much more western than Vietnam that it’s almost like I’ve just returned to “civilization” after a month of camping. There are McDonald’s and Starbucks everywhere. And the prices are up.  It’s still cheap compared to the West, but just not AS cheap. And nothing is as cheap as all those stories I read about people traveling in the 80’s.

The dollar was so strong then, and SE Asia so less developed. But there are trade-offs:  the main train line that links the city here (the BTS)didn’t even exist then. In fact, it’s only been here since 1999 and they are still adding to it. My Lonely Planet guide incorrectly lists the train line’s end point, which has already been extended in just the last year.

So, then I start thinking to myself that this is a city that’s really growing and coming up in the world.  And then I walked into a mall. And another involuntary giggle escaped my throat, as I gazed on the luminous altar to capitalism and modernity. And this is just one of many malls here- the big ones are all in a row in one area of the city, oddly enough. I can’t believe I thought Bangkok would be like Vietnam. It’s completely different.  Some of the streets feel the same- dirty little stalls and food cooking alongside the road, but it’s clear that many parts of the city are just as modern as the US.

In fact, I was jealous that there are stores here that I don’t even have at my fancy mall close to home. Especially the nice British ones like Whittards of Chelsea.  Wow.  It’s going to be difficult to reconcile these two very different sides of Bangkok, and my other experiences in SE Asia.

 

Incidentally, you would never think to head to the mall for good food in the US, but in many parts of SE Asia, there is a food court level with really, really good food and also high-level restaurants, to boot. It’s nice to find a place that serves the hygenic equivalent of the local street food, too.

 

I had an excellent mango with sticky coconut rice (black rice!) at one spot, and Kim and I ate the best Pad See Ew in the world at another.  Really.  At a mall.  🙂