Chiang Mai, Thailand, 27 May 2007
We got up with plans, on another sweltering Sunday morning in Chiang Mai. Curry and tom yum related plans.
Based on another recommendation, we were going to be taking a one-day cooking course at the Thai Farm Cooking School. They said they'd be at our guesthouse at 9 to pick us up.
Can't go to a cooking course without breakfast, right? Let's go with a banana pancake.
This one was totally different than the one we had on the street in Bangkok - this was really just a plain, egg-heavy pancake wrapped around a banana. Served with honey. It was good, and I'd totally replicate it at home if I cooked. We had just about finished when someone came to pick us up.
The guy didn't really speak any English, but he had our room number. We asked the American girl who was already sitting in the van if she was going to the Thai Farm cooking course, and she looked at us blankly and said "No. Huh?"
So we got out. Meanwhile, other vans and trucks were coming by to pick people up at the hotel. We were confused.
We saw the Thai cooking course, another van, a truck, and the A Lot of Thai cooking course. At 9:30, we called our contact person at the Thai Farm cooking course, and he said "but we have you here! We are already at the market!"
That was obviously not true, since we were standing at the Top North Guest House and not enjoying a tour of a Thai market. After a little back-and-forth, they sent a truck back to gather us.
Hopefully, we didn't miss too much... it turned out that another couple staying at our hotel was also taking the course that day, and the driver only had instructions to pick up 2 people.
The market we went to turned out to be a good way out of town, which was great. Tommy, our teacher, gave us a quick tour.
He told us that Thais overwhelmingly eat two types of rice, jasmine and sticky. They also sell red and brown, but these aren't nearly as popular.
We got to see a stand pressing fresh coconut cream. Here's where I finally learned the difference between coconut cream and coconut milk - cream is the first pressing of the coconut, and then water is added for the second and third pressing, from which you get coconut milk. Huh.
After showing us some sauces and a row of freshly pounded curry pastes, Tommy left us to our own devices for fifteen minutes or so.
We examined the chickens, noting how much smaller they are than roly-poly butterball-style American birds.
We saw bags of eggs for sale, marked with their prices. Question - how do you get these eggs home without smashing them all to hell?
There were stacks of fried fish, ready to be added to stews or eaten with rice,
as well as bags of pre-prepared curries and soups. This was something we saw all over Thailand and Vietnam - to-go things were always packed in bags tied with an intricate rubber-band knot at the top. It makes a lot of sense as a packaging saver, plus it looks really cool...
In the brief amount of time we got to explore the market, the most radical departure from what we were used to seeing was this:
There were several tables covered with fried mealworms, grubs, crickets, and grasshoppers. We thought about it, but didn't end up buying any.
All too soon, we were getting back into the pickup truck. Now, it contained other people - a Canadian couple from our hotel and a couple of British girls.
We bounced along smaller and smaller roads, until finally we were on a dirt path. Eventually, we turned into a small driveway and unloaded in front of a wooden building with a thatched annex. The annex was where we'd be.
Nice place to learn to cook Thai!
The main room was occupied by a German group while we were there, but we got a quick picture of the setup while they were out.
They're actually building a new building right now, so I gather business is good.
The first things we learned is that sticky rice needs a precious little hat while it's steaming, or it gets all self-conscious.
Then we all got dressed up like enormous dorks and went for a tour of their organic garden.
Those hats came in real handy, though. I don't know if you've heard me say this, but Thailand in May is rilly rilly hawt.
Tommy was a great guide, letting us eat things out of his little basket (that's not dirty!). Here he is, showing off what I think is a long bean plant. Taa-daa!
I wrote that this farm is organic - since they don't use pesticides, they put their mangoes in a bag, while they're still on the tree, to keep insects away! Simple, yet effective. But probably a pain in the ass for whoever's job it is to bag all the mangoes.
There were all sorts of beautiful and tasty things growing in the garden.
When we got back from our tour of the garden, it was time to start preparing curry paste. I was pretty intimidated by this, since I thought you had to pound everything for hours and hours, but it turns out that you just take 9 ingredients (for red or green curry), cut them up fairly small, and then pound them for five minutes or so.
I mean, it's certainly not the type of thing I'd just whip up for the heck of it, but I definitely feel like it's more reasonable to attempt.
Here are the ingredients:
If you're saying "What the hell am I looking at here?", well, it's lemongrass, galangal, garlic, shallot, kaffir limes, chilies, and Thai ginger. You also throw in a bit of cumin and coriander.
The difference between green and red curries? Well, it's in the type of chilies - red curry paste has dried red chilies.
Husbear chose to make green, while I picked red just to be contrarian.
This is what Husbear's chili paste started out like:
Several minutes of pounding commenced. Husbear was first done, of course, so he started taking pictures of the rest of us taking a long time.
As you can see, I'm not following instructions - we were supposed to keep our hands over the top of the bowl to make sure a rogue pepper didn't fly up into our eye. I 'spose I got lucky this time.
Here's Husbear's completed curry paste.
We then walked this curry paste over to a station, waiting for us, where we honest-to-goodness cooked our very own Thai curries!
Don't blink, or you'll miss it. I'm cooking!
The curry was pretty simple. It seems like that's the deal with a lot of Thai food - it's all in the preparation, and then everything is thrown together and cooked quickly.
Take their version of Tom Yum, the ubiquitous spicy/sour soup seen on Thai menus worldwide. Here's the mise en place we were given:
See, there's some preparation involved there, but not overmuch. Then you take some water and a big chunk of chili paste, bring it to a boil, and throw all this stuff in. Not at the same time, but you get the idea.
Shrimp goes in last. Husbear turned the heat off on his soup before adding the shrimp, and thus managed not to overcook it.
Just dive on in, there, shrimplets!
On top of the curry and the tom yum soup, we also learned to make chicken stir-fried with a heaping tower of Thai holy basil. That's three dishes each, not counting the two kinds of rice. We also got to sample lemongrass tea and roselle tea - the roselle was really similar to the Egyptian hibiscus tea.
It turned into a spread of bacchanalian proportions.
And if that wasn't enough, Husbear expressed interest in a tree growing on the edge of the water, and Tommy brought us a sample. I... uh... didn't write down what it was. It was pretty sour, with the same strange pockets of jujube-like meat that so many tropical fruits apparently have.
After lunch, we washed up and learned how to put our leftovers into air-filled, top-knotted baggies. Then, Husbear and I went off-menu and learned to make the green papaya salad, which means we got to use the mortar and pestle again. Fun!
The rest of the class continued on with the regular menu, making spring rolls - popiah.
They used these neat wrappers, bought fresh from a woman at the market. Sigh. See, that's the problem - we don't have a market in Austin with a row of women squatting and making spring roll wrappers.
Their spring rolls were fried and settled into a cute little banana boat wrapper. I think everyone was too full to eat theirs, though we did finish our papaya salads... but we don't really fool around when it comes to food.
Again, note the little baggie of sauce.
For dessert, we made bananas in coconut milk. Wanna know how? Well, you take a pot, put coconut milk in it, heat it to a simmer, then put bananas in. Cook until the bananas are tender. That's it.
That's the kind of recipe I like.
And with that, the end of a day at the Thai Farm Cooking School. I'd definitely recommend them, but I know the options in Chiang Mai are pretty extensive. We were lucky that Mia had been there in February and was so excited about recommending them!
We bounced back along the roads to town and were dropped off right back at our hotel. Much smoother than the pickup.
We figured we deserved another dip in the pool, so we went down there for a couple of hours.
But we didn't want to miss Chiang Mai's Sunday night market! (I mean, check out this post on EatingAsia... we couldn't not go!)
The market spreads out along one of Chiang Mai's major streets, but it also flows out beyond the walls, along many of the secondary roads, and even into the front yards of many of Chiang Mai's wats. (A wat is where we found a beautiful hanging for Brandon and Whitney's wedding.)
The original idea was not to shop, it was to get dinner. We dragged along the Canadian couple who'd been in our cooking class, and they had already done the majority of their shopping and had no more room in their bags.
We started out with a couple of bowls of so-so noodles. Then, continuing our walk, we found this guy just within the city walls.
I got a lemon tea popsicle, which was just the thing for the still-sweltering evening - nicely astringent with a little lemony sour. These could be addictive... and they are of course one of the many things we were cautioned to avoid. Unsanitary, apparently. Oh well.
Continuing along, we came to a small courtyard off the main drag filled with food vendors. These omelettes in a basket drew our eye, but turned out to be a little on the dry side - probably just because they sat on the grill after they were finished.
We did a little more grazing, but on the way out spotted a woman hand-making dumplings we just had to try.
Poking around afterward, I found this extremely informative post on EatingAsia - turns out these are most likely Khao Giap Maaw. EatingAsia goes more into the regional variations, which we knew nothing about at the time.
The woman spread here rice-paper batter on this cloth-topped steamer, let it sit for a moment, and topped it with a moist, coconut-heavy shrimp filling.
She then put eight of the dumplings in a container for us, topped them with a little coconut milk, and sprinkled fried garlic over the top. The contrast in textures was delightful, between the softness of the rice paper, the moist coconut and savory shrimp filling, and the crunch of the garlic.
Apparently, this is often served with a crisp lettuce leaf for wrapping, as well as a numbingly hot tiny pepper. I'm sure that would have been even more wonderful, but it was probably good not to know that at the time.
After our grazing dinner, we started shopping in earnest. We eventually parted ways with the Canadians, who had an early morning trekking trip planned, and we shopped until everything shut down around 11.
We took that as our cue that it was time to find our hotel and get to bed. Tomorrow, a downright orgy of wats! (That's probably inappropriate. Oh well.)