It’s not that random that I am going to end up in Chiang Mai in less than a month. After all, it’s one of my favourite cities in Asia, and it’s certainly one of the more liveable ones. It’s a small city with an official population of around 200,000 and is fairly low-density – the antithesis to Bangkok in so many ways. There are temples on every street corner, a sprawling night market, and mobile food stalls throughout. It was a good city in which to wander, and I spent a lot of time walking along the city’s footpaths lost in my own thoughts. My brother, arguably more foolhardy than me, got around town on a scooter, jostling for space on the roads with sangthaews, tuk tuks, cars and Mormons on bicycles.
We stayed in Siri Guest House, a cheap and comfortable guesthouse close to the centre of town. The owner seemed to spend all the nights we were there in a drunken stupor but in the sober light of day was incredibly helpful and welcoming. He booked us into a much feted hill tribe trek and that was so disappointing I won’t bother recalling it here. However, I arranged a one day cooking class at the Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School and that was a definite highlight of that trip.
Being a foodie as well as a class junkie – there has scarcely been a year of my life where I haven’t been enrolled in something – I dragged my brother along to the class which was run on location at an organic farm just outside town. We started off in the city at one of the many large food markets, where our teachers went through some of the ingredients commonly used in Thai cooking, stuff not quite as readily available in Sydney. (Incidentally I saw a lot of the same ingredients available in Darwin recently which seems to boast a small Thai minority who dominate the food stalls at the markets.)
We spent the day cooking a variety of standard Thai dishes such as those pictured below: bananas in coconut milk, som tam (papaya salad), and chicken and cashew nut stir-fry. All the recipes are available on the school’s website for anyone keen to try out the easy recipes.
It was funny to be cooking dishes which I can order at any Thai restaurant in Sydney. The dishes we made definitely didn’t reflect the amazing diversity of food available in Chiang Mai which has a range of influences spanning back throughout history. But the food was so delicious and filling that we couldn’t get through everything we’d made. I took away the mango & sticky rice and pad thai in banana leaf bowls for later.