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Thai Cooking Class

A lesson in Thai cooking and culture

sunny 85 °F

Chiang Rai is a peaceful town full of bustling markets. We booked a cooking class with Suwannee, and luck had it that we were the only ones to show up that day! So began our private trip to the local market to pick up ingredients for cooking with. This market didn’t show up on any tourist/westerner (felong) map so we were right in the thick of things. We sat down to discuss recipes at a local coffee stall and had the best coffee we’ve had in all of Thailand. The 5 Baht (17 cents) Akaa coffee was uniquely brewed (sort of like French pressed only never pressed – ‘same same, but different’ as they say here). Strangely it was served with a complimentary glass of tea, a glass of sugar and a glass of condensed milk. Suwanee was determined to teach us how to support the local market so that we could fend for ourselves the next day by avoiding the tourist traps and escalated prices (a felong priced instant coffee goes for ~30 Baht ($1). The market was a hoot (as hanh would say)! People were selling rice next to t-shirts, meat next to tea, and driving scooters through the hallways.

While having coffee we agreed on 4 different Thai dishes to shop for and then proceeded through the market to collect our ingredients. Our menu consisted of:

Papaya Salad

Green Chicken Curry

Sweet and Sour Tofu

Pumpkin in Coconut Milk

Suwanee took us to an area of the market that was only for hill tribe venders. She explained how the government lets them sell in this area without charge to try and entice them to grow market worthy products instead of opium. She continued to point out all the local nuances and explained some of the history of the 17ish different cultures in Chiang Rai due to its proximity to the golden triangle border of Myamar, Burma, and Laos. While shopping we sampled a variety of coconut sticky rice, donut looking rice balls that had a chunk of sweet potato in the middle, and a few different fruits. One of the highlights of the market was purchasing coconut cream from a stall where we watched them husk, and press fresh coconuts.

Suwanee’s style of cooking is to use your own taste to determine how much is needed of each ingredient. We never measured anything while cooking; we just tasted and decided whether or not we liked it. If we wanted more salt…add fish sauce, if we wanted more spice…add chilli, want it sweeter...add sugar, and so forth. Robin also learned how powerful a small chili can be; just one chili in her papaya salad was plenty! For the sweet and sour tofu, we used a “secret sauce” composed of 1:1 ketchup and sweet chili sauce. Using this sauce and slightly crushing the pineapples was all we needed to make the most amazing sweet and sour tofu!!

We ended the class by feasting on the dishes that we had just prepared, and Suwannee surprised us with a fridge full of beer to wash it down!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 04:11 Archived in Thailand Tagged food culture cooking thai class hilltribe

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