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Published: February 3rd 2012
All Ready To Go
Having the ingredients prepared for you in perfect quantities was a big help.
Home Cooked Secrets
day in Chiang Mai had been much anticipated. We were booked in, on Liza’s sister Jenna’s recommendation to take a Thai cooking class with an instructor named Yui (like what you call a U-Turn, she told us). Waiting outside our guesthouse at 9am, along came a light blue VW bus straight out of the 60s. We hopped on board and joined a couple from NYC, a family of 4 from Switzerland, and another couple from upstate NY. We were taken to Yui’s home at the edge of town and got set up with aprons and a cooking station. The standard routine was watching Yui explain and demonstrate how to make a dish, trying it on our own as she circulated and gave instructions, and then sitting around the table and enjoying our creation. During the morning session we learned how to make Pad Thai, Green and Red Curry, and Fried Spring Rolls. We were then chaperoned to the local market where Yui had worked for her entire adolescence. She explained to us what many of the mysterious looking vegetables were, and given the fantastic rapport she has with so many of the vendors from her
Matt making his delicious red curry.
time spent working there and her patronage of her cooking school we were handed many different samples.We ate slated crickets (tastes a little like popcorn) and then after sampling one of the hottest chilli peppers imaginable, we spent some of our money at the drink stand. We returned to the house for our afternoon session where we were taught how to make cashew nut chicken, tom yum soup, and the delicious dessert of mango and sticky rice. It was amazing to learn how to make all of these fantastic dishes. What put the class over the top though was Yui’s enthusiasm. He love of food and passion for cooking was at the forefront the entire time. She talked about cooking as an art, about the importance of trusting your palate rather than sticking exactly to the recipe. She also incorporated chemistry, physics, and math into her instructions displaying the depth of her knowledge and understanding of the craft. Spending the entire day in her home and getting to know the fantastic people in our group further added to the enjoyment. The only downside to the class was that in learning how delicious those dishes could taste, we were enlightened to
Red Curry Green Curry
Liza's (green) is prettier. Matt's was tastier.
the fact that the food we had been eating and would continue to eat was not even close to the standards that Yui had set. Oh well – there is always a price to pay. As we had eaten each dish that we made there was no need to find dinner, so once we were dropped off at our guesthouse we slipped into our food comas and retreated from the world.
Hoards of Heffalumps
After digesting the deliciousness of the day before, we had pre-booked a day at the Elephant Nature Park, located 65 km outside of Chiang Mai. The park acts as a refuge for mistreated, injured, and semi-wild elephants. Although the elephant is the most revered animal in Thailand, there is a deep-rooted history and culture surrounding using elephants as beasts of burden. The traditional methods of training the elephants has been passed down through Thai culture for many generations. Before elephants reach the age of 4, they are separated from their mothers in order to be tamed. Traditional Thais believe that the only way to tame an elephant is to break its spirit – so that the elephant no longer knows that it is an elephant.
We thought they might trample us.
In order to accomplish this, a juvenile elephant is corralled into a bamboo holding pen with bars pressed snug against the animal on all side. The feet are chained to the pen and to one another and the head is tethered for use of human control. The elephant is kept in the pen until its spirit is broken, which is done by beating it whenever it resists, prodding its skin with sharpened sticks, and driving nails into the foot pads, ear canals, and eyes. The tenet in which the Elephant Nature Park was founded is that elephants can be trained through nurturing and positive reinforcement. This, in addition to being a refuge for injured and orphaned elephants, the park is an education centre, attempting to train elephants using their techniques to prove the efficacy and to spread their message to tribal colonies still training elephants in the traditional method. We arrived at the park around 9:30 am and got a tour of the kitchen. The kitchen was stocked with an abundance of full pumpkins, entire bushels of banana, and pineapples galore. The sheer volume of fruit and vegetables required to feed the 36 elephants at the park was remarkable. We
It was like shaking hands.
then got a tour of a section of the grounds and got introduced to some of the elephants that were hanging around the fully equipped medical centre that they have on site. After realizing how enormous elephants really are, how gentle they can be, but also how forceful and destructive they could be if they wanted to, we made our way to the deck for feeding time. Each elephant knows its proper place to show up for feeding. We stood on a raised platform that the elephants approached when the meal bell rings. Our job, as the “feeders”, was to grab massive handfuls of pumpkin, bananas, or pineapple (the elephant we were feeding couple only eat pumpkin due to dietary restrictions) and reach out far enough so that you could place the food near the end of its trunk. The elephant would tightly grasp the food with the end of its trunk and then throw/place the food into its mount. This happened non-stop for almost half an hour, and she probably consumed somewhere close to 40 full-sized pumpkins. After elephants eat, elephants need to bathe, so with our buckets in hand we escorted our gigantic friends down to the river.
No rubber duckies for this guy. Just massive pails of water.
Throwing bucket after bucket of water into the elephant’s face and body seemed somewhat cruel, but they seemed to like it so we continued to have at it. It was difficult to understand what the point of cleaning the animals was because IMMEDIATELY after their baths were over the elephants proceeded to the mud pit where they coated every inch of their body in dirt. Watching the elephants get filthy was the most enjoyable part of the nature park experience as it was the only time they were able to interact with each other, and function in the absence of human contact or assistance. We took a break for lunch and then repeated the process. As astounding as it was to witness the amount of food consumed in the morning, the fact that the elephants ate just as much only a few hours later left us flabbergasted. The afternoon was much more relaxed, providing better opportunities to spend quality time connecting with individual elephants. When our time was up, we packed into our mini-bus and made the return trip to the city. As we packed our bags and readied ourselves to leave Thailand for Laos the next morning we reflected
This better tempered elephant could be fed directly in her mouth. Her tongue was bigger than my forearm.
on our amazing time in Chiang Mai and marvelled at how we were able to spend eight days in one place without even realizing it.
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