Sunday, July 18, 2010

Chiang Mai (Thailand)

Most of our time in Chiang Mai was devoted to cooking or in markets. We did 3 days of cooking courses at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School. In our opinion, these were the best cooking classes we have ever been to. Each dish was first demonstrated by the staff, and each student then cooked their own version at their own prep station and gas burner after sampling the pro's. They also provided suggestions for altering the taste of a dish as well as how to select and store ingredients. The best morning activity was preparing curry paste, which involved enough mortar and pestle time to make our arms sore, but the results were already better than anything we have ever made at home. The cookery school is an efficient machine, considering we got through 6 dishes in as many hours. Towards the end, we were getting cocky with our technique so then we played around with our garnishes and plating. Richard's best effort was making a smiley face in his soup using straw mushroom and coriander/cilantro stalks, and mine was a palm tree in my red curry out of fresh bamboo shoot and the top of a basil. Some of our favorite dishes included:
- penang curry with pork
- hot and sour prawn soup
- fried fish cakes with a chili-cucumber sauce
- spicy papaya salad eaten with a "scoop" made from a ball of sticky rice
- banana coconut cake steamed in a banana leaf

Chiang Mai also has fantastic markets. The Sunday Walking Market, which we went to twice, was a major thoroughfare with anything for sale, buskers, and amazing street food that tops any street festival in the States (even the one in Chicago before we left). One of the best things about the street food in Thailand is that it comes in snack sizes... even tiny omelets, each made out of a single quail egg. Our interesting finds included:
- Black gelatin shaved from a giant block and topped with ice and heaps of brown sugar, which tasted like sweet tea jello
- A crepe-like thing with coconut cream, shaved coconut, sugar, and cheese
- A giant deep-fried ball of rice, which we thought would be safe, until the seller broke it up, mixed it with vegetables and spices and almost (until we stopped her) what looked like uncooked ground pork... she dropped it, but still used the same hand to mix
- Finally, a decent sausage in Asia! Pork with chilli and lemongrass... so good we went for seconds

My other interesting experience in Chiang Mai was yet another massage (is there such a career as a massage anthropologist? Because if so, sign me up!). It was given by a cute girl with a smile and a bow in her hair... and knuckle tatoos! The women's prison in Chiang Mai has a program for the inmates to learn massage skills, and the money goes into an account for them to use when they get released. She seemed like such a nice girl, and I was dying to know what her crime was... but "so, what are you in for?" is not exactly the sort of conversation you want to have while in a vulnerable position like having your elbows pinned down with her knees. In Thailand, a full body massage seems to also mean their full body as well, since most of the time, it looks like the two of you are wrestling (case in point, sitting cross-legged with her grabbing under your armpits as she swings your upper body to crack your back). Rehabilitation for her and for me.

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