Sexy Spices, Massive Markets, and Flying Foxes

If you didn’t already know before, you must know after reading a few of our blogs that we are food enthusiasts.  How could we leave Thailand without taking a cooking class?!  Per Simone’s recommendation, we signed up for a class at a farm about 40 minutes outside of the city with a company called Asia Scenic.  We were picked up from our guesthouse bright and early and escorted to the city cooking class location right across the alley from our guesthouse.  Once we got there, we met the rest of our group: an Australian father daughter pair, an English couple, a French couple, and our instructor: a very small, flamboyant Thai guy named “A” who never ceased to crack us up the entire day.  We shared some tea with everyone and then went for a stroll around the local meat and veggie market so that A could tell us a bit about what we would be cooking with for the day.  After the incredible market/tasting experience we had at our cooking class in Vietnam, this one didn’t quite stack up.  Nonetheless, it was fun to see the early morning Sunday market in action and we got to learn about different types of rice, including sticky rice.

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After A finished buying everything we would need, we all piled into a van and headed out to the farm.  The location was stunning and far exceeded our expectations.  The cooking area was open air, very large, and neat and clean.  A took us on a tour of the farm, showing us where they grew different herbs and veggies.  We headed back into the kitchen and began preparing our first dish.  We were all given the opportunity to choose a dish to make for each of the 5 courses we would be cooking.  John and I chose something different for each course so that we could learn twice as many recipes.  Before we began, we all ate a traditional Thai appetizer consisting of a piece of herb leaf wrapped around peanuts, onions, and a few other spices, all dipped in a spicy sauce.  It was super tasty and made us excited to begin cooking!

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First up was the appetizer.  I chose the Thai spring rolls and John chose the papaya salad.  Both were pretty simple and quick and it was fun to learn two of the same dishes we learned in Vietnam with a completely different spin.  Thai spring rolls are made with wheat paper instead of rice paper and the filling is cooked ahead of time, rather than at the time of frying like in Vietnam.  All the while, A was playfully making fun of us for making limp spring rolls and horrible looking papaya salad.  He was quite the ball of energy.  We ate our first course and moved on to the stir-fry dishes where we learned that Thai food has a lot of sugar, fish sauce, and oil as the basis.  No wonder it’s so tasty!  John made cashew nut with chicken and I made pad see ew.  A asked us what kind of spice we wanted from 1 to 10 for each dish, always reminding us that the more spicy our food, the sexier we were…just like him.  Since John loves spicy food, A enjoyed reminding John how sexy he was throughout the day.  He told us to add spices and ingredients to “match our emotion” and took a liking to making fun of the English couple who took the jokes much more seriously than the rest of us, only fueling his desire to pick on them the most.  We managed to add the right amount of emotion and avoid burning both of our dishes.  A tasted each and approved of our proportions which meant we could eat them!

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With another tasty dish in our bellies, we started the grueling process of making curry paste.  A added all sorts of spices for each of the pastes and we were in charge of grounding them up.  Thank goodness we have a recipe book because there is no way we could remember everything we used for the pastes.  As a group, we made massaman curry paste, green curry paste, red curry paste and panang curry paste.  We learned that green curry is spicier than red because the chilies are fresh in the green curry paste while the red curry paste is made from cooked red chilies.  Panang is just red curry paste with peanuts.  After our arms were exhausted from grinding the peppers down (you should have seen how furious the English couple was as A kept shouting “faster, faster, harder, harder” at them as they were breaking a sweat pounding the spices for the massaman curry!), it was time to head back to the woks.  We added our curry paste, coconut milk, and a variety of meats and veggies to each of our curries and let them simmer.  He approvingly smiled after tasting both of our dishes but told me mine wasn’t sexy enough.  He then moved on to trying the English couple’s curries and cringed as he tasted them – boy was he getting a kick out of giving them a hard time.  We enjoyed our curries even though mine wasn’t the typical massaman curry I’m used to eating.  Next time, I’ll add more coconut!

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Our final dishes were two soups: Tom-yum and tom sab.  I was surprised that the Tom-yum soup (a spicy soup with tomatoes, lemongrass and prawns) was one of my favorites because we tried it in Bangkok and didn’t enjoy it as much.  Little did we know back in Bangkok that the majority of ingredients in the tom-yum soup should are for flavoring and should not be eaten.  We were chomping down on the lemongrass, wondering why anyone would order such a soup – rookie mistake.  John’s soup was really good too and exceptionally sexy which earned him more bonus points with A.

To balance out the spicy dishes, we finished up with fried bananas and mango sticky rice.  John made the fried bananas and I was in charge of the sticky rice for the group.  Both turned out fantastic and A even taught us how to make blue sticky rice with juice from a local blue flower.

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We all spent the rest of the time chatting and finishing the remainder of our meals.  We left there full and happy and excited to have some more recipes to try at home.  We’ll have you all over for dinner when we perfect them, don’t worry.

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We got back to the city and headed out for the Sunday market.  Alex (our new American friend from the long Laos bus ride) told us it was really awesome and Simone also recommended it.  We figured it would be like all the other million markets in Southeast Asia with horrible t-shirts, scarves, and poop pants (if you’ve seen them before, you know what we are talking about).  We were pleasantly surprised that the market was indeed huge and had all sorts of things for sale!  We were in awe of all the cool things we could buy.  I ended up getting a pair of pants that looked like a skirt and a loose shirt for India and a pretty tea pot and some cups.  We could have bought a lot more, but we decided to save our pennies and room in our backpacks.  John loves looking at the local instruments, so we stopped at a few instrument stands and eventually came across an inspiring instrument maker named Manop who hand makes suengs, a local Thai string instrument with 4 strings.  We spent about an hour listening to Manop play us some songs and chatting with him.  He told us about his homestay in the area and offered for us to come visit him and learn to play for free.  We ended up purchasing one of the travel sized suengs (a belated birthday gift for John) and set up a time to come by his studio later in the week.  We later learned he has been interviewed by NPR because he is famous for traditional Lanna music and he loves to spread the knowledge to new people in order to keep the tradition alive.  We would have never known, he was so humble.  You can check out the NPR story here.

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We enjoyed some Thai iced tea while we walked through the market because we would have exploded if we tried the market food after eating in our cooking class all day.  We had such a nice time that we stayed out until the market closed at around 11pm.  Everyday we found something new we absolutely loved about Chiang Mai.  What a fantastic city!

We met heaps of people on the road that highly recommended zip lining in the jungle while we were in Chiang Mai.  We have both partaken in many adventure sports and activities but neither of us had been zip lining.  We decided to give it a go the day after the cooking class and once again got up bright and early to head out to the jungle.  Our group was just the two of us and 6 Chinese tourists, one of which spoke some English.  We almost had more fun watching and listening to them squeal (especially one of the guys!) as they went soaring across the jungle on each of the twenty zip lines.  Our guide (a.k.a. Boston) was really funny and he led us through all the zip lines from platform to platform throughout the jungle.  It was awesome to be out there flying through the trees looking out over the canopy.  The longest zip line was 300 meters!  You should have heard the screams as our crew took turns flying down that one.

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My favorite part was the two abseils which were unlike any we had done before.  These were from really high platforms where stairs weren’t built so they had to lower us on a rope.  The guides hooked us up and literally let us drop, face first, to the next platform almost free falling completely.  It was so much fun!  The zip lining was cool too but I don’t think either of us will decide to sign up for something like that again because, sadly, I think we have become big adrenaline junkies and it didn’t quite get our blood flowing as much as other things (like bungee jumping, skydiving, or rock climbing…).  The company included a really delicious lunch of massaman curry and rice and then returned us safely back to the city.  The two main zip lining companies in Chiang Mai are “Jungle Flight” and “Flight of the Gibbons”.  We went with Jungle Flight because they were cheaper and we heard they were pretty comparable.  Flight of the Gibbons supposedly has the longest zip line; however, our guide informed us that Jungle Flight is building one even longer as we speak and they soon will be in the lead!  We spent the rest of the day celebrating John’s unbirthday (since he was sick on his real birthday) by hanging out in town, enjoying good food and relaxing.

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After several busy days, we decided to take it easy the next day and head over to Manop’s studio so that John could take a sueng lesson.  His studio was really impressive and he has all sorts of instruments as well as rooms for people to stay if they wanted to take daily lessons from him.  John picked it up really fast in only an hour and we explored the city for the rest of the day, ending it with some of Simone’s homemade lasagna.  What a treat to have really good Italian food in Thailand!  As a random side note, I should also mention the small stand across the street from the Number Nice House makes the best banana pancakes in all of Asia.  Trust us, we have tried a lot and most are sad versions of crepes.  These are fluffy and amazing!  So, stay at Number Nice House and frequent the pancake/smoothie stand and Secret Learning.  You will not be disappointed.

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