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.  🙂

On travel…

I’m sitting here in this foreign land, in a cafe across from a river with a name I can’t pronounce (yet). I’m eating my dinner- a local specialty which, if I could find it, costs less than half what it would at home. I’m drinking my beverage made of a fruit I love but which costs $2 a piece at home and wouldn’t be frittered away in a drink if I bought it. And I’m reading my downloaded book (thank you, library!) which has nothing to do with travel, but which nonetheless just delivered the following thought-provoking quote to me. Enjoy…

“No man is brave that has never walked a hundred miles. If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself that a hundred years of quiet introspection.”

~Patrick Rothfuss

Thoughts?

Chiang Mai Night Market

For some reason, Kim decided not to quit her job and join me for the rest of the trip, so we had to part ways when she went home and I continued north to Chiang Mai. Rest assured, we had many more adventures that I haven’t covered yet but will post in future.  🙂

I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand on a Sunday night, which can only mean one thing: Night Market!! They take over a bunch of streets in the center of town, make them pedestrian-only, and sell tons of decorations, clothes, and souvenirs- and food!  Ah, lights and colors… bliss!

And of course they had lanterns- my favorite. Admit it- you know you want one! I’m rubbing off on you.  🙂  One of the great things about this market is that instead of mass-produced junk, most of the items being sold here are made locally and help sustain the community. So, you can feel good about stocking up and giving in to the urge to accumulate souvenirs (assuming you have space!).

Some crafts are more obviously home-made than others. Some show up at multiple stalls, so you know that it’s a larger business but one that is hopefully still local.  And when I say multiple stalls, I need to clarify that this market has become so huge that I wandered it for about five hours and still missed parts of it. It’s really a big community event.

At some stalls, the artisan is actually sitting at the booth and creating while at the market itself. I walked by this display of detailed lacquerware and saw a person seated alongside it, painting more of the bowls! It just doesn’t get more local than that. That’s the kind of market I want to support. Plus, if you cut out the middleman, sometimes prices are a little cheaper.  😉

One of the other nice things about the Chiang Mai market is the local music and dance performances that are featured at a few stages. And there are a few bands, notably of blind singers, who sit in the middle of the road in a row and belt out their all-time hits.

The flipside is that I also saw children standing alone and singing into microphones. Not talented children, either, but cute ones set out by their parents to collect tip money. It’s sad to see kids essentially working to support the family- and so late at night.

But there is a positive thing about the market being held from 5pm- 11pm.

It’s a great opportunity to see some of the wats. The local ones stay open late on market nights, so you can see them all lit up at night.

Oddly, you can also get your street/market food and eat at the temples. They set up tables and chairs and food stalls on the temple grounds.

I never thought I’d get to enjoy that kind of scenery during dinner!  But what a great use of space.

Like the sleeping and mealtimes we saw taking place at the temples back in Yangon, this is clearly a community that believes it doesn’t have to separate its holy places from its daily life… or its fun.

James Bond Island

We decided that there were so many interesting things to see near to Ao Nang/Krabi that we’d better combine a few of them into an organized tour. This is pretty common in SE Asia- there are tour companies everywhere, happy to whisk you away to the local attractions and overcharge you a little, but they make it worth your while by taking all the worry and planning and transportation issues out of the equation for you.

Well, we loved the photos we’d seen of the “James Bond island” (so named because ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ was filmed there), and so we booked a tour that featured a visit to it. Its actual name?  Ko Tapu, or ‘Nail Island’.

It’s such an impossible-looking limestone karst, rising top-heavy up out of the green waters.

Well, we didn’t get to spend much time there (maybe 30 minutes- certainly not enough time for any of the Bond actors to show up) but the other destinations were pretty fun, too. We also saw a floating village, the Tone-Tai waterfall, and Wat Suwankuha – the monkey temple with Buddhas tucked away in a cave amongst the stalactites.

It was a very full day, and as always, we got to know some of the people on our tour with us, which is always fun and informative (you learn a lot when you meet people from other cities and countries).

And Kim made a very special friend of her own.  🙂

Beach time!

The islands of Thailand are really breathtaking. It’s funny, though- getting to the beach is not at all straightforward.  At home, if we want to go to the beach, we just walk there (assuming it’s summer, of course). But here… no- it’s a bit of
an ordeal.  So… for starters, from Bangkok, we flew down to Krabi in the south of Thailand.

Then we took a bus from Krabi airport to Ao Nang Beach, but this beach wasn’t even a swimming beach. You have to take more boats and trek through jungle to get to the
really nice beaches. So we tried a trip to Koh Phi Phi Don (a 2 hour ferry ride away from Ao Nang), but while the beach in front of us there looked okay, it didn’t appear to be attracting any beachgoers.

So we hiked 30 min through and up and down a rough forest path to get to Long beach- which was beautiful, but had a rough/sharp stone and shell bar to walk over before you could make it into the surf.  Alternatively, you can take yet
another boat to Maya bay on Koh Phi Phi Ley, the site from the movie The Beach.

Maya bay looks really beautiful and calm in photos, but we couldn’t justify spending another $100 just to get to the 4th beach in one day for just 2 hours of beach time. Why wasn’t the first beach the destination?  I have to say that while it’s beautiful here, there is quite a scam on parting tourists with their money in search of the perfect beach.

 

 

 

 

 

It feels much easier to get to a good beach in
the US. In fact, I think I prefer my 10-block walk.  But I’ll take the amazing fresh seafood of Thailand any day!

 

 

And maybe getting there is half the fun?  We certainly enjoyed ourselves. Kim took some great shots of the journey. And we met a lovely couple from Seattle, who shared their umbrella with me in the hot, hot sun. (Which I’m pretty sure was absolutely determined to burn me to a crisp.)

 

 

And hanging your feet off the edge of the ferry, with the wind in your hair, just makes for a better ride home.  🙂

Wat?

Bangkok is not only a modern city of around 12 million people- it’s also steeped in history and thus has all the accompanying historic buildings and architecture. This town has been around since at least the 1400s, when it came under the rule of Ayutthaya (another great place we visited on a separate day). And it became the capital of Thailand in 1782 after things got messy with Burma. So you can tell that there’s going to be some interesting history remaining amidst the new buildings and train systems

 

In an odd parallel with Los Angeles, the locals actually call Bangkok “Krung Thep”, or City of Angels.  I suspect that Bangkok had the name first, though.

There are many gorgeous, ornate Wats (temples) to visit around the city. Kim and I had a Wat day where we sampled some of the best, as well as the Grand Palace.

A bonus was that to get to them, we had to take the river boat, so we fit a little cruising sight-seeing in, too.

All told, we saw the Grand Palace (which maybe deserves an entire day to itself), Wat Pho, and Wat Phra Kaew/ Temple of the Emerald Buddha that day. I think we saw another one, too, but honestly it’s a little blurry post-wat, so I’m not sure.

By the end of the day of walking around beautiful gilded buildings in the burning hot sun, you get a little Watted out, so luckily we saved Wat Arun for a separate day. That was wise- it deserves its own day. (That’s a hint about a future post- maybe for the highlights reel in a month!)

The mix of different styles of architecture and decoration at the Grand Palace was impressive. It was actually created as the residence for the Kings of Thailand/Siam, so they started building it in 1782, but then spent years adding to it after that. That probably explains all the different styles present in this huge complex. I have no explanation for the little blue men, however.

It’s a good educational experience to see how people worship and give differently in various cities and countries. Here they buy little bits of gold leaf to rub on to the Buddha statues. It sometimes makes for a rather saucy Buddha, with all his gold streamers fluttering in the breeze.

Each of these Buddha temples does not sit lonely by itself, of course. That’s part of the reason it’s hard to keep track of how many you’ve seen on a Wat Day.

The wats are usually part of a larger complex with other assorted buildings and stupas and gardens and statuary and I don’t know what else. Like this ancient stone guardian who looks like a character out of a fantasy novel. Would you rather have some of these guys guarding your house, or some of the scary little blue guys?  Tough call… but I’ll go with the stone wizard guy.

Even after we’d seen the Grand Palace complex, the other Wats continued to impress. The Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho was pretty incredible. It’s 15 meters tall (49 feet) and 43 meters long (141 feet). And as you can imagine, it’s really difficult to fit in one photo. But you’ve got to love the detail on the toes! .

That’s one of the fun things about visiting these temple complexes: finding all the little details- intricate gold carvings, mirrored walls, gold Buddhas draped in saffron robes, all the decoration.

 

 

It’s so colorful, and a beautiful way to spend the day.

 

 

By the way, Kim and I discovered that our own version of “Wat’s on first” does not, in fact, ever get old.

🙂