Cooking pad thai in Chiang Mai

See our gallery of photos tagged with “chiang mai”.

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After five nights in busy, clanging, dirty, hot, fantastic, delicious, colorful Bangkok, we decided to take a quick plane ride up north to the city of Chiang Mai. Although it’s Thailand’s second largest city, you’d never know it. Chiang Mai has a very relaxed and friendly vibe that we really enjoyed. Several people (including a monk) stopped us on the street to make sure we knew where we were going and just to find out more about us. It took several of these experiences — during which we initially braced ourselves for “the sell” — to realize that people were actually just being friendly. (Side note: when we identify ourselves at American, the response is almost invariably “Obama!” with an arm or two raised in excitement. This has happened throughout SE Asia both before and after the election.)

Our visit to Chiang Mai was just before the start of the annual Loy Krathong festival that is held on the first full moon night of the twelfth lunar month. As part of the celebration, residents release paper lanterns into the air and float small boats carrying candles down the river. We unfortunately missed the main festival, but did get to see a small spattering of lanterns floating through the air on Saturday night, as well as intermittent bursts of fireworks throughout our stay. We also took a half-day tour to see a beautiful temple called Doi Suthep, which is nestled into the trees at the top of a mountain, and also to visit a Hmong village where we met these adorable youngsters.

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The real highlight of our visit to Chiang Mai was a full-day cooking class at a place called A Lot of Thai that came highly recommended from a new friend named Mari, whom we met during the election day festivities in Bangkok. (Mari is currently traveling throughout SE Asia and has a great food-focused blog called fedification.com.) The A Lot of Thai cooking class is run by a delightful woman named Yui, who grew up in Chiang Mai and comes from a family that includes cooks, butchers, and farmers. Yui’s love of tasty, fresh, and healthy food is contagious and she is an excellent teacher. In addition to several Thai dishes, we also learned how to crack an egg with one hand, how not to burn garlic, and why we shouldn’t fear deep-frying.

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Throughout the day, we made pad thai, green curry with chicken, vegetable spring rolls, chicken with cashew nuts, hot & sour prawn soup, and sticky rice with mango. After the first three dishes, we went on a field trip to the local market where we got to see all of the different fruits, vegetables, pastes, powders, sugars, and more that go into traditional Thai cooking. In Seattle, we’re lucky to have places like Pike Place Market and Uwajimaya for a variety of ingredients, but this was something else entirely. One of my favorite discoveries was the “pea eggplant,” which is exactly what it sounds like … an eggplant the size of a (big) pea.

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Yui answering one of my questions about green curry.

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Yui showing us galangal root at the market.

Besides the delicious food and personable teacher, what we loved about the class was how it made so many dishes that we’ve always considered restaurant-dependent suddenly doable on our own. So, friends and family, get psyched for our return to Seattle, because with no jobs and newfound cooking skills, we look forward to hosting many dinner parties.

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