Let’s be honest. You may have been waiting for me to talk about Thai food. You may not have been. Well, the (hypothetical) wait is over, because I love food, as many people know, and being able to taste different cuisines was a huge part of wanting to travel, so some thoughts, now that we’ve been here for almost two weeks. Call for take-out now because you’re going to be hungry by the time I’m done, or at the very least, don’t read this at work, because drooling in public can be a real embarrassment!!
First of all, the food has been EXCELLENT, by and large. Some restaurants I won’t be revisiting, but the dishes themselves are wonderful, bright and flavorful creations which have really captured my imagination and taste buds. Years from now, I will still be dreaming about our first bowl of noodles when we got to Chiang Mai: tom yum seafood noodles. (I’m not crazy about the seafood part, but it worked.) I ordered really wide rice noodles, and it came all in a hot, steamy, tart broth that smelled like lime and lemongrass, and there were a few crunchy fried prawns and ground peanuts scattered on top. THE BEST. For 35 baht (~1 USD).
It’s worth noting that Steve wasn’t crazy about the option he chose, or the seafood, but de gustibus non disputandum. Literally. (Thanks, six years of Latin!) He was a little more enthusiastic about the salad that we picked up in front of 7-Eleven one afternoon. A Thai auntie had her stand out there, and fixed us up a large bowl of Thai salad with cabbage, cilantro, carrots, and some seafood substitute food (I have no idea what they make that fake crab meat out of, but it’s decent, and the salad was full of it). It came with two bags, one of a dark green spicy sauce that much resembled what I’ve seen in Indian food and one of a dark brown sauce that smelled like peanuts. The latter was emptied out, the former was sprinkled lightly. It was a very successful mid-afternoon snack shared between the two of us.
Another dish that Steve and I both resoundingly agreed on was the khao soi, a yellow chicken curry with egg noodles and crispy noodles. It’s a northern Thai specialty, and we definitely enjoyed it fully in Chiang Mai — I think we ordered it four or five times while we were there. It was soupy and satisfyingly spicy and tart, but also rich in texture with the crispy and smooth noodles.
And no visit to an Asian country is complete without street food. Several times, Steve and I indulged in rotees, which were pieces of dough stretched out and well-fried in a wok. Sometimes we got them with sliced bananas, diced up, and then drenched in chocolate syrup. They were about 20-30 baht each depending on the toppings, and simply the best thing to eat at the night markets!
Finally, the best experience I had with Thai food was, unsurprisingly, as a part of a Thai cooking class. Five of us from the hostel –Emily, Juan, Cathy, Nathalia, and myself– signed up for an all-day cooking course at the farm, with Smart Cook Thai Cookery School, which cost 1,000 baht and was totally worth it. We had an introduction to vegetables and commonly used ingredients at the morning market, and then took the train and a short bike ride to a country house where we had an open-air kitchen. Our instructor and guide, a woman named Bemi, had a wicked sense of humor and an infectious laughter that kept us in stitches throughout the day. She guided us through making our own stir-fry dish (pad thai for me), soup (hot and sour chicken soup), curry paste and curry (massaman with chicken), appetizer (som tum or papaya salad), and also dessert (sticky rice with mango). We made two courses at a time, ate and ran around, and then made more. It was a lot of fun and very memorable, and I came away with a basic cook book and a good idea of how to recreate these dishes at home. The only trouble will be how to obtain fresh kefir lime leaves and Thai horseradish! Here’s a photo montage of the amazing afternoon.
I really enjoyed the cooking course and doing it with fellow friends from the hostel. Afterwards, I started seeing the wooden pestles and mortars in which som tum or papaya salad is made at different stands, and being able to identify different fish sauces and ingredients at restaurants. It was such a great experience that I think I’ll have to try it in India and other places where we’re heading. It was also a good chance to meet other Thai people who definitely spoke a great amount of English and could really carry on a conversation, which is something I know I’ve been whining about missing.