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Published: September 30th 2017
Thai Sausage ...
... which we unfortunately never got to try, alongside some bowls of what we think are either roasted eggplant or peppers.
Geo: 18.8, 98.98
Thai cuisine is all about balance, the delicate juggling of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, combining seemingly opposed flavours on a culinary canvas, resulting in an utter masterpiece of flavours. There's nothing fancy about it, but it's still shocking how a combination of such simple ingredients can result in such depth and complexity of flavour. Is there anything better than a luscious and spicy Thai curry that beads sweat on your forehead, or an elegant soup made with the freshest of ingredients, that leaves your mouth alive and tingling with flavours and sensations?
Thailand lies at a crossroads in Asia, more or less surrounded by Myanmar, China, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia, with each of those nations leaving an indelible mark on Thailand's people, culture, and most importantly for us today, the cuisine. Thai food may be a perfect example of a hybrid cuisine, taking all the best of all those nations, and even throwing in a hint of Indian and Persian flavours, for good measure.
Perhaps the nation with the biggest influence on Thai food is China, which has introduced some key dishes to Thailand, including congee and fried noodles, and key ingredients such as oyster sauce and
soybean products. However, probably more important than the introduction of Chinese dishes and ingredients to Thai cuisine, is the borrowing of Chinese cooking techniques - food just wouldn't be the same here without the wok, and cooking methods like deep frying and stir frying.
One thing I've learned while globetrotting and sampling food all over the World this past decade, is that tropical climates make for great flavours. Thailand has an absolute embarrassment of riches when it comes to aromatics - basil, chilies, cilantro, coconut milk, galangal, garlic, ginger, kaffir limes and their leaves, lemongrass, mint, peppercorns, shallots, tamarind, turmeric ... not many countries can boast such an array of culinary inspiration to draw from.
With any country, there are certain activities that a tourist "must" do while there; quite often, these activities are nothing more than cliches and variations on a tried and tested formula - booze cruises with unlimited rum punch, snorkeling trips with a bbq, swimming with dolphins, and ziplining, to name a few. While undoubtedly fun, there is nothing culturally significant about these activities, and nothing differentiates between doing them in Cancun, Jamaica, or Caribbean Country X.
Chiang Mai and the surrounding area also has its share of
must-do activities, and one of the most popular is a cooking course, with seemingly hundreds on offer in town. I'm not normally a big fan of anything that is considered must-do, but a Thai cooking course is something I'd endorse wholeheartedly - our visit today to the Siam Rice Thai Cookery School was superb, and undoubtedly one of the highlights of our trip. Anyone visiting Chiang Mai should hop on board the tourist bandwagon and sign up for one of these courses!
The experience started with a visit to a local market, with a guide who explained all the various ingredients commonly found in the Thai kitchen, and their uses. A visit to a local market in any country is always a great experience, not only introducing you to a whole new World of flavours, but also giving great insight into the locals and their daily lives - perhaps as interesting as the plethora of food available, is watching the locals interacting.
Thai markets are not only a feast for the stomach, but for the eyes as well - beyond the aforementioned aromatics, these markets are awash in colour, full of all manner of exotic tropical fruit. Bananas, coconut, durian,
Beautiful Fruit Baskets ...
... such nicely-prepared fruit would probably cost an arm and a leg in Japan, along with a few other appendages.
jackfruit, mango, mangosteen, longan, lychee, papaya, pineapple, pomelo, rambutan, rose apples ... this isn't a visit to your typical local grocery store back home! Just seeing the variety and quality of produce available already had us salivating!
From there, things transitioned to some actual cooking, where you select the items you'd like to cook from a huge variety of dishes. It was this variety that attracted us to Siam Rice, which boasted many more offerings than the average course in Chiang Mai, along with the unique nature of the dishes, which weren't found at many of the other establishments. In hindsight, it would have been nice to do a full day course instead of a half day, as that would have allowed us to cook an additional three dishes, including appetizers and desserts. However, the time we allotted for Chiang Mai was far too short, and we could only afford a few hours for cooking today, as there were other things we wanted to see and do.
The course was heaps of fun, and today we were taught by one of the school's owners, a former professional chef himself, with a sense of humour bordering on the dirty, making for some
Unique Dried Fruits ...
... little strawberries, and kiwi.
good laughs along the way. We were hoping to walk away today with all the secrets to Thai cooking, but soon realized that there really are no secrets - our dishes were foolproof today, because there was nothing more to them than combining and balancing a handful of the freshest ingredients to create something delicious.
Today was one of those days that really can't get any better, the perfect combination of all things you want to experience while traveling - doing something fun and local, learning something new, and meeting interesting locals and other travelers. So how do you manage to cap off what is essentially a perfect day? By digging into the awesome dishes that we had just prepared!
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