Thursday 23 February 2012

Thai Cooking is Good for Your Man

We've been told that a cooking class is a must as part of a stay in Chiang Mai. So today we woke up nice and early to partake in this essential activity. There were certainly more than enough cooking schools throughout town to warrant doing a course; to escape the city again, we chose one that took us out to an organic farm.

A songthaew collected us from our B&B, together with a quiet French couple, a laughing Quebec couple, a knowledgable pair of Macquarie University linguistics researchers from Sydney, and a chatty Chinese girl who was looking to open her own cafe one day. First stop, a trip to the market to learn about some of the ingredients we will be using.

Dried Chillies at a Market in Chiang Mai
Flowers at a market in Chiang Mai
Loads of Onions - Chiang Mai
We arrived at the farm and Embee, our eccentric teacher for the day, showed us our cooking stations.

Our teacher - Cooking class, Chiang Mai
She pointed out the essential amenities: cooking utensils here, washing up sink there, and "oh, the toilet is over back there, just in front of the happy room, you know what a happy room is right?" We glanced at each other in mild surprise. Giggling, she nodded and continued " … and you can use the happy room any time you want!" Hmm, at least its organic right?

Christina geting ready to Cook
Donning sombreros, we were guided through the garden to observe how many traditional Thai ingredients are grown. We picked and ate fresh chillies and eggplants, and smelled the heady aromas of crushed kaffir lime leaves, Thai parsley, and garlic chives. "Garlic chives are good for your man" Embee advised the ladies, "Feed it to him and no other woman will kiss him!" As we were introduced to all the herbs and vegetables, everything appeared to be "Good for your man!", except for one. We tasted the intense bitterness of neem last, a herb sprinkled on various salads and other dishes, also used in combination with tobacco for pest control on the farm thus eliminating the need for chemical pesticides. Strangely enough I didn't mind the bitterness; Embee said many Thai's find it tasty too and it's "Good for woman!" but most of our group spat it out, which probably didn't help the plight of women. Everyone did agreed that baby pineapples were cute though.

Baby Pineapple
Back at our workstations, we got to cooking. We pounded up our own curry pastes from fresh ingredients in stone mortar and pestles, with Embee dropping as many extra chillies into the mortars as dared by each individual.

Ben's Green Curry Paste
I cautiously went for a medium Thai heat, worried about recreating the heat of a certain bamboo chicken dish that we endured not long ago. Thankfully my yellow curry turned out quite satisfactory.

Tia's Yellow Curry
I have to say, I make a mean tom yam goong, and my pad thai is out-of-this-world, provided someone gets me all the ingredients, provides me with a well seasoned wok on a roaring fire, and guides me each step of the way. Oh, and they also have to do the dishes for me.

Pad Thai in the Making
After eating four of the five dishes we cooked during the day, including dessert, we were well and truly full. "Thai Airways!" Embee proclaimed as she taught us the tricks to packing plastic takeaway bags typical of most southeast asian street stalls. Immensely proud of our achievements that day, we cradled our tasty bundles back to town, feeling like masterchefs.

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