Published: May 9th 2011May 9th 2011
I recently read an article in the Metro (reliable source of journalistic excellence) that one sign of having an eating disorder is that you spend most of your day thinking about food and what you are going to eat next. Interesting. Literally as soon as I have finished breakfast I start planning lunch and same for lunch/dinner. Sometimes I plan what I'm going to eat at the weekend just to keep me going through the week. Well, luckily it was the only symptom I had, but those of you who are reading this will know how much I LOVE food and how much I talk about it (Ingeus crew: let's talk about what everyone had for dinner last night?) so part of this trip's main agenda was to get me some cooking skills and try some Asian dishes - so here is my blog: the food edition.
Quick location update: Chiang Mai is the big northern city that forms the second big part of people's holidays/travels to Thailand (the first being, naturally, the islands and beaches). It's very touristy - in fact I think I saw more non Thai here than in Bangkok, but it's a pretty walled city and without the pollution, commotion and extortion linked to the capital. Checked out an ENORMOUS night market last night where I picked up some shorts, a belt, a pressie and an ice cream for under 5 quid.
FOOD AND DINING OUT
Anyone who's been here will know that the Thais live on street food - there are street stalls on busy roads, street stalls on quiet roads, markets made up of street stalls, walking street stalls, street stalls which are more permanent and semi-covered... you name it, they've got it. And you can buy ANYTHING from the street: thai curries, pad thai noodles, thai stir fries, vegetables, fruits, fruit shakes, sweet snacks, savoury snacks, barbecue food, steamed food, fried chicken, fried spring rolls, fried insects... it's insane! There was a big article in NZ news not too long ago about a poor girl who died in strange circumstances but supposedly from food poisoning following eating from street stalls in Thailand, and our fragile white tummies aren't really made for some of the stronger flavours and intense heat of this country. However, it's hard to just go into tourist restaurants with pictures to go alongside each badly translated menu item when walking through the stalls is a sensual feast. I played it safe in Bangkok and went to a restaurant attached to a cooking school (where, might I add, I had the BEST masaman curry EVER!) and had pad thai from a hostel restaurant (surprisingly the only thing I've eaten so far that's not really agreed with me...) however in Ayutthayah the British couple I met were eating at the night market so I thought - why not! It seems the key is to see where the bulk of the Thai people are going and eat there (or, in this case, chose the only stall that had english translations underneath... ok so I'm easing myself in) Delicious basil chicken stir fry with rice for 60p- thanks very much! After that, in my head, I had sort of resolved to eat properly in Thailand and not fall fowl of the tourist trap areas.
However, there is another side to this tale - because, of course, I am travelling alone. And so far, I am staying in nice guest houses, which are clean, and safe, and have good recommendations on Tripadvisor/Travelfish... but are quiet. And it's not so friendly in the travelling community that you can just walk up to anyone foreign on the street and aggressively befriend them (despite this being a key skill of mine). So really, the easiest way to meet people is to sit in a busy backpacker restaurant or bar with some food and/or a drink and wait for someone to take pity on you (which they invariably do - it's happened twice the 3 times I have tried it now!) So I have a dilemma!! I think what I have resolved, however, is to keep the real thai food for lunch (and don't worry Bee and Drew I'll continue to pick wisely!) and then trudge back to the backpackers/tourist trails for dinner and company. Sound like a plan to you?
COOKING AND SMILING!
Yesterday was my favourite day of the trip so far. There are 3 cooking schools along the Soi where my current guest house is, but the owner recommended one in particular: Thai farm cooking school as it runs slightly differently from the others. Rather than being based in a restaurant/school within the city walls, this school is 17k outside of Chiang Mai on an organic farm. For the same price as day courses at other schools you get to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and get into the countryside. It was such a great day, starting with a trip to a Thai market (we were the only foreigners there) and an explanation of the key ingredients to Thai food: Rice (yum!) and fish sauce (yum when cooked but YIKES that stuff STINKS!) and then a walk around the farm looking at Thai vegetables and ingredients. We cooked 5 dishes each under the tuition of an absolute joker (so remember people (getting equipment for the next dish) you never wok alone!) and then got to feast on our creations around a big dining table set on a balcony over the pond. beautiful! A nice group of 10 of us included Brits, Dutch(the same people I'd met in Ayutthayah - such a small community!), Americans, Chinese and Belgian.
Verdicts (even if I do say so myself)
Thai Red paste and Curry: 8/10 - superb!
Vegetables in Coconut Soup: 9/10 - my fave dish of the day!
Chicken with Holy Basil: 7/10 - the molasses ruined it a bit for me
Sticky Rice with Mango: 8/10 - de-lish-us
Spring Rolls: 5/10 - mine were definitely the special rolls... might leave this one to the professionals!!
Great, great day - I'll do a few more cooking classes along the trip I think.
Next step: deciding whether to do trekking from here (where there will probably be more people) or Chiang Rai (north of here where it will be better for the trek but less people... hmmm)