After the precious spiritual experience with Buddhist monks, my second day in Chiang Mai was devoted to learning how to cook Thai food.
I’ve never particularly liked cooking, I used to cook just because I lived alone so I had to eat something and I don’t like ready meals, but I’ve always prepared very simple dishes in as little time as possible. Now, since I’ve switched to a vegetarian diet, something strange has happened to me, I love cooking. Interesting, isn’t it?
My way of cooking is kind of… eclectic, to say it with a classy expression. It doesn’t fall into any particular nationality or type, I just mix a bunch of ingredients together and hope for the result to be edible. In most cases, it’s edible, in many it’s even good. This is why, when I saw the sign inviting me to a Thai cooking class, the first thing I thought was “Ok, let’s see if I can give some shape to this recent cooking spree of mine.”
So here I was, in my second day in Chiang Mai, signed up, excited and ready to cut, chop, sprinkle and spice things up.
But first, a stop at the market for shopping, because the lesson started there.
I chose the different courses of my meal, appropriately replacing chicken with tofu, and finally coming up with “yellow curry paste & yellow curry with tofu”, “soup with veggies and tofu”, “stir-fried tofu with cashew nuts” and “banana in coconut milk” for dessert. That was going to be a busy afternoon.
After doing our grocery shopping, we were headed to the farm, where Da showed me around proudly and explained to me Hippocrates-style that “food is our medicine”. I was sold, that’s mainly why I’d become vegetarian, and that was going to be my cooking baptism of fire.
First of all, Da advised that brown rice is much better than refined one because it retains all its nutritional properties. As if I didn’t know, and as if in Italy is as cheap and easy to find as in Thailand. So, brown rice is rich in vitamin B1, B2, phosphorus, calcium, copper, iron, proteins, niacin and fiber, while refined one has lost most of it.
Settled, we go for brown rice, which we harvested just minutes before starting cooking at Da’s rice field. Sort of. Needless to say, at the market I bought a pack of brown rice, I just couldn’t resist.
When we arrived at Da’s farm, the first part of the cooking class was to understand the ingredients, meaning a tour of the farm where Da would show me the actual plants, when is the best time to harvest, how to do it and how to recognize different fruits and plants even though they look similar or they belong to the same family. After explaining how rice grows and is harvested, the difference between ginger and galangal, and proudly telling me that he produces pretty much everything for his family’s consumption, we were off to cook my sumptuous dinner.
First thing, yellow curry paste, probably the only thing I thought it was going to be ready.
Nope, I had to make that too from scratch, meaning chopping and smashing all the ingredients with pestel and mortar for about 15 minutes, until I was starting to lose feeling in my right arm.
The ingredients for the curry paste are:
2-3 red dried chillies to be soaked in water for about 15 minutes
1 tsp of salt
1 tbsp of lemongrass to be chopped
1 tbsp of galangal to be chopped
1 tbsp of shallots to be chopped
1 tbsp of garlic to be chopped
1/2 tbsp of kaffir lime peel to be chopped
1 tsp of coriander root
1 tsp of coriander seeds
1/2 tsp of peppercorns
1 tsp of cumin seeds
2-3 tsp of turmeric powder
for non vegetarians also 1 tsp of shrimp paste
I have also added a piece of fresh turmeric and chopped and smashed it along with the other ingredients.
When the paste was ready, we started preparing the proper dish, putting a pan on the flame and stirring a bowl of coconut milk and the yellow curry paste until the oil appeared on top. I added the tofu and kept boiling for a couple of minutes then added the potatoes and kept simmering and stirring gently until they were cooked.
Here is Da pouring the coconut milk:
And here is the result, with two slices of red pepper on top for decoration. Delicious, of course!
After the yellow curry with tofu, I prepared the egg-tofu and veggie soup, that was easy and less tiring, with only something to roughly chop but nothing to smash. I put all the ingredients, carrots, fresh coriander, cabbage, mushrooms, onions and a piece of vegetable stock to boil, added the egg-tofu after a couple of minutes, let simmer a bit and served warm.
Next stop, oh-so-delicious stir-fried tofu with cashew nuts.
50 g of tofu
1 tbsp of cashew nuts (if you don’t have them, almonds will do, too)
30 g of carrots (or baby corns)
30 g of large onions, sliced diagonally
30 g of mushrooms roughly chopped
10 g of spring onion
1 large red chilli roughly chopped
1 tbsp of chopped garlic
2 tbsp of cooking oil
1 tsp of sugar
3 tbsp of mushroom sauce
2 tbsp of soy sauce
1/4 cup of water
First thing, I stir-fried the garlic until it started releasing its aroma, or smell, if you prefer. I then added the cashew nuts and kept stirring. After a couple of minutes I removed the nuts and put the tofu, the other seasoning ingredients, mushrooms and red chilli in the wok and started stirring non-stop not to make it burn. I added the water, the sugar, mushroom sauce, soy sauce and kept stirring. In the end, I added spring onion, stirred once more and turned off the cooker. Here is the result:
My last treat, the dessert, banana in coconut milk. If you wish, you can replace the banana with pumpkin or sweet potatoes. This was also pretty easy: I cut the banana in pieces, put a cup of coconut milk, 3 tsp of sugar and 1/4 tsp of salt to heat and when it was boiling I added the banana and left it until it was cooked. This can be served hot or cold.
Here is the dessert:
Et voilà, here is the final and complete meal:
Apart from having fun, I acquired a higher self-confidence learning how to combine more ingredients, both preparing these dishes and cooking different ones. I now know how to use coconut milk in different situations while before I wouldn’t dare and, like before, I will keep adding curry just about everywhere.
Where to stay, best hotels in Chiang Mai
High-end. Some of the best options for luxury hotels in Chiang Mai are Chala Number6 for luxurious rooms, swimming pool, fitness center, and a great on-site restaurant, Akyra Manor Chiang Mai, a luxurious all-suite hotel that features an infinity swimming pool on the rooftop and two on-site restaurants, and Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel And Spa, set in a colonial-style building and offering a lobby bar, an outdoor pool, an on-site restaurant, and luxurious rooms and spa services.
Mid-range. Good options for mid-range hotels in Chiang Mai include Mini Boutique House with spacious and nice rooms featuring a kettle, private bathroom, a desk, flat-screen TV, and located close to the main landmarks, At Phra Sing Retro, located in Chiang Mai city center and offering simple rooms equipped with the necessary facilities, helpful staff, and on-site dining options, and Jomkitti Boutique Hotel, a little more expensive but worth the price. This boutique hotel in Chiang Mai city center offers free WiFi and bikes, a fitness center, a small swimming pool, and rooms with a desk, private bathroom, air conditioning, TV, kettle, some rooms with a balcony and a minibar.
Cheap stays. Among the cheap hotels in Chiang Mai, some of the best are Bruuns Guesthouse, conveniently located near important landmarks such as Wat Chiang Man and featuring simple rooms with air conditioning and flat-screen TV, Wayside Guesthouse, another guesthouse with all the necessary facilities and free WiFi for a really cheap price, and Green Sleep Hostel, a cheap hostel in Chiang Mai city center that features free WiFi, air-conditioned rooms, and free bikes.
If you ever go to Chiang Mai and you wish to take the same cooking class, I booked it at a travel agency just past Tha Pae Gate, but if you want to be sure, here are Da’s details:
Mobile: +66 (0)89 8359433