Archive for the 'Chiang Mai' Category

The best food in the world

The food in Laos was really underwhelming, and while Cambodia was a little better, I think I can say with authority that Thailand has the best food in the world (yep, the world. Or at least of all that I’ve been exposed to, it’s my favorite)

We landed in Chiang Mai and immediately got on a bus to Chiang Rai, where we have friends who are teaching English. Chiang Rai is a nice, relaxing small town with a night market that is a LOT calmer and less crowded than the one in Chiang Mai.

One of the first orders of business was to locate some Khow Soi, which is not too tough to do in Northern Thailand.
kow soy restaurant

I have already written about my love of Khow Soi here, but it’s so good I think it deserves some more attention.

kow soy 2

The red curry and coconut soup with yellow noodles and crispy noodles on top is good on its own, but simply isn’t complete without lime, shallots, and pickled cabbage.


The next day was Thanksgiving, which started out with a typical Thai meal of sticky rice and papaya salad. We heard rumors that there was a turkey dinner at an American-owned restaurant called Don’s, which is a few kilometers out of town, so we hopped on mopeds to go check it out.

dons menu

There was no turkey dinner, it turned out, but there was HOT SAUCE!

hot sauces

I got macaroni and cheese (which unfortunately wasn’t very cheesy) and drenched it in hot sauce. It’s been a long time since I’ve had anything with chipotle!

After Chiang Rai, we took the bus back to Chiang Mai. It was great to be back, and we had a really fun (and tasty) night hanging out in our old neighborhood.

I spotted a cart with the ingredients for what I called “fried rice ball salad” because I never knew the name in Thai.

nam khao ingredients

It turns out, it’s called naem khao-tod, and it comes from Laos (but I never saw it there). It’s crumbled up rice patties, mixed with peanuts, fresh ginger, chiles, green onions, lime juice, and fish sauce. It usually comes with sausage mixed in, but I prefer it without.

nam khao

I’ve always loved green papaya salad (som tham), but during this visit to Chiang Mai, green mango salad (yum mamuang) seemed to be more readily available all over the city. It’s a little sweeter, and this version came with dried anchovies, which were incredibly salty.

yum mamuang2

At the Saturday night market on Wualai Road, we found a few things we’d never tried before. these grilled sticky rice patties were slightly sweet, with a crisp exterior and soft rice inside.

grilled sticky rice

Black jelly, which I’d seen but never tasted (until now), has a strong smoky black tea flavor. To serve, it’s shaved off the giant block and mixed with ice and sugar.

black jelly

There were also tons of giant steamers filled with all kinds of dim sum (which is technically Chinese, but is common street food in Thailand)

steamed things

There’s a saying that you haven’t been to Chiang Mai until you’ve had Khow Soi and been to Wat Doi Suthep. On this, our third visit, we finally made it to the wat (we’d already eaten plenty of khow soi!). It’s about 16 kilometers out of town, on a hillside with a fabulous (but slightly hazy) view of the city.

view from doi suthep

A lot of the inside was covered with scaffolding, but it’s still a beautiful temple.

doi suthep

We had a great time eating our way around Chiang Mai for a few days…then it was off to Bangkok on the night train!


The Perfect Thai Iced Coffee

I pretty much stick to four main food groups here in Thailand: Iced Coffee, Fruit, Noodles, and Food On A Stick. Every day, I eat something from each group. I’ve made it my personal mission to find the best in each of these groups, and today I’m going to show you the best iced coffee in Chiang Mai. Don’t try and argue – I’ve tried DOZENS of places and this one wins, hands down. It’s also the cheapest place in the neighborhood!

I stop by this stand every day, and after about four days, the woman who works there started to recognize me. Now she starts on my coffee as she sees me approaching. Here’s how the perfect beverage is concocted:
First, she puts a spoon full of sugar and a spoon full of creamer into a small glass. 

Then, she pours Thai coffee into the glass. A lot of places make their iced coffee with regular brewed coffee, or worse, Nescafe, but this is the real stuff. It’s made from oliang powder, which is coffee mixed with a little bit of sesame and corn, poured through a muslin filter. Once the coffee is in the glass, she stirs it well to dissolve the sugar and creamer. Then she adds a generous spoonful of sweetened condensed milk and stirs. She fills a tall plastic cup with ice, and pours some evaporated milk over the top. Then, she pours the coffee mixture into the plastic cup that has the ice and evaporated milk. And there it is…the perfect Thai Iced Coffee!

Thai Cooking Class: Part 2

Of course the best part of the cooking class was the actual cooking! It was kind of a challenge to get good pictures because it was a little dark in the kitchen…but here are the highlights!

We started off with Tom Yam – the popular and delicious hot and sour soup of Thailand.  In order to be called Tom Yam, it MUST have Kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and lemongrass.  After that, it’s pretty much up to you, but without those three things, it’s a different soup.  I also have some chiles in mine…
Add the vegetables (you can add whatever you want; I used Chinese kale, Napa cabbage, baby corn, mushrooms, carrot, and tomato)
Stir in some Tom Yam paste (which is made from chiles, lemongrass, cilantro, sugar, lime leaves, and galangal).  You can make the past or buy it pre-made in a jar.
That’s all it takes for basic tom yam.  You can also stir in just a tablespoon of coconut milk, and it changes it into a creamier, heartier soup.

Next, we made vegetable stir fry with cashews.  It was just a basic vegetable stir fry, flavored with a little sugar, golden mountain sauce, and soy sauce, and we added toasted cashews at the end.
Massaman curry is my absolute favorite.  It has red curry paste and curry powder, so it’s a fusion of Thai and Indian flavors.  It’s often made with beef and potatoes, but since this was a vegetarian class, we just used the potatoes and some tofu.
We made a lot of food and took a lot of notes!  
Green curry with sweet potato.  This steamed up my camera lens!
Fresh spring rolls.  I love these!  The wrappers were basically huge squares of noodles – just not cut up.  They were much easier to work with than the dry wrappers I usually get.  We also made a fabulous peanut sauce to dip these in (with coconut milk, red curry paste, tomatoes, and ground peanuts – it was some of the best peanut sauce I’ve ever had, and I’ve tried MANY recipes!)
My beloved Som Tham!  First, you crush up some garlic, fresh hot chiles, peanuts, lime juice, and sugar in this HUGE mortar and pestle.  
Then you add some pieces of long bean and slices of tomato and pound some more.
Finally, you add shredded carrot and shredded green papaya, stir it all up, put it on a plate, and top with peanuts!
I am VERY excited to make some of these dishes in my own kitchen, whenever I end up living in a place that has one!

Cooking Schools In Chiang Mai

Taking a cooking class is an incredibly popular activity in Chiang Mai.  Every tourist office (where you can book tickets, excursions, classes, etc) has advertisements for cooking schools, and there are probably 20 cooking schools in town.  

If you’re looking for a great class, skip the tourist offices and contact schools directly. They are easy to find on Google, and a lot of them distribute brochures to guest houses and restaurants around the city.
 Ask them who will be teaching the class and the experience they have, how many students are typically in the class, and how many different recipes you’ll be making.  Steer clear of classes with more than about 5 students.  I’ve seen HUGE classes go to the markets, and it doesn’t look like you learn much of anything.
The girl I was meeting suggested May Kaidee’s, because she’s vegetarian and loves the restaurant (there are branches in Chiang Mai and Bangkok). The class was a little bit more expensive than some of the others, but we got to make 12 different dishes, and because there were only 3 people in the class, we could all ask a bunch of questions and have them answered. I enjoyed the class, but unfortunately don’t have anything to compare it to.
If I were going to take another class, I would seriously consider A Lot of Thai because I’ve heard great things about it.

Thai Cooking Class: Part 1

When you travel, the world seems to get a lot smaller. It’s amazing how common it is to bump into acquaintances or friends of friends, even in far-flung locales thousands of miles from home. It turned out that a friend of a friend from college was going to Thailand right around the same time I was. She ended up in the south, and I ended up in the north, but this week she happened to be traveling around Chiang Mai, and we took a cooking class together.

I have been complaining about our lack of a kitchen since the day we got here, so I was overjoyed to be cooking again. I got to spend about 5 hours learning how to make all sorts of great Thai dishes! The class was great because there were only three students, so we got plenty of individual attention from the teacher, a fun and energetic woman named Duan.

The first hour of the class was spent walking around the market, where we were introduced to different ingredients.   First, we got a look at the different chiles and learned about what they are used for.  The larger ones are mild and are common in stir fries.  The smaller ones are much spicier and are used in sauces and curry paste.  
These are fresh wheat noodles, which are used in my beloved Khow Soi
This is hand-pressed tofu.  It’s nice and firm, and I wish I could find stuff like this in California!  The yellow tofu is colored with turmeric.
We bought a bunch of vegetables to use in the class:
Here, Duan explains different rices.  White basmati rice is most common, but there are also brown and red varieties. Sticky rice can be either black or white. A lot of people buy sticky rice in Thailand and don’t understand why it doesn’t work when they try to cook it.  Apparently it has to soak overnight first.
Tons of spices!  
Green papaya, jackfruit, and banana flowers (the big purple things).  Green papaya gets shredded for som tham, jackfruit is commonly used in desserts, and banana flowers are thinly sliced and used in soup or stir fry.
Thai shallots (on the left) are much smaller than the ones typically available in the US.
Their garlic (on the right) is much smaller too.  Fried garlic is a common garnish, and they don’t peel the cloves first.
A comparison of galangal and ginger:
There are a few different kinds of eggplant, and they’re all green: long thin ones, small green and white golf-ball sized ones (that are commonly found in green curry and some stir fries), and tiny pea-sized ones that are crunchy and incredibly bitter).
The markets usually have big tubs of live fish…

and a lot of them end up stuffed with lemongrass and grilled.
Check back for another post on all the things we made!

Beverage Love

Thais are serious about beverages (and with good reason – it is so hot that if you’re not drinking all day long, you’ll end up severely dehydrated). Along the main street in our neighborhood there are at least a dozen little stands that make coffee, tea, and other delightful drinks.  Look at all the fun, colorful options here!

This one has some coffee and a lot of tea, with Nestea being the substance of choice. I think I’ll pass on that (but this stand is Mike’s favorite).

You can tell by the cans of Carnation milk that this stand’s main focus is coffee.  I don’t know how many cans of evaporated and sweetened condensed milk are consumed in this country on a daily basis, but it’s a huge number.  I almost never see people drinking black coffee; it always has lots of milk and sugar!

Before we came here, I didn’t really pay attention drinks other than water (OK, and coffee, and beer – just the essentials).  To me, they were a waste of calories and I would rather have something I could chew on.  But then I fell in love with Thai iced coffee, and after that I figured I should give all the other drinks a chance too.  Now I probably spend as much on drinks each day as I do on food (two or three dollars).
Thai iced tea with milk has a nice pretty orange color and tastes like tea with an infusion of wheat.  It doesn’t sound particularly pleasant, but trust me, it’s good.  It’s really creamy and not too sweet – very refreshing on hot, humid afternoons.

Check out my mansion!

Before we came over here, I didn’t really think too much about where we would live. I was sure we’d just find an apartment or something, but I didn’t really have any idea what to expect. 

When Mike signed up for the TEFL course, the school recommended a hotel that rents rooms by the month. It’s comfortable and close to campus, plus it has AC – what more do you need?  This is a little peek at where I currently call home!

There is clearly no equivalent to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) here.  The elevator only has buttons for floors 1, 3 and 5, even though there are six floors in the building. Plus, it stops on landings between floors, so wherever you get off, you have to walk up or down a half-flight of stairs to get to a floor.
I don’t have any pictures of our room because it’s a mess…but it has two twin beds shoved together to make a king, a TV (with a couple English channels!), a desk, and a wardrobe.  The bathroom has hot water and a Western toilet (yay!) but the shower head just sticks out of the wall so you the entire bathroom gets soaked when you take a shower.
My favorite part is the view off our balcony.

This makes me feel like I’m living in the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse! (Which, by the way, I still can’t believe they switched to Tarzan’s Tree House…lame, Disney, very lame)
It’s really nature-y out there!  So nature-y, in fact, that we hear the most bizarre bird calls and songs I’ve ever heard in my entire life.  There’s one that sounds like one of those squeaky dog toys, and another that sounds like a rusty gate closing. There are also dozens of roosters.   It doesn’t matter if it’s 2 AM, they feel the need to serenade the world all night long!  

We recently discovered that the place across the street costs half as much per month, so we’re moving very soon.  Fortunately, we’re not leaving the neighborhood because I’ve completely fallen in love with it!

More Noodles I Can’t Live Without

I saw a cart on our street ladling out steaming bowls of bright pinkish-red noodle soup,  and asked the lady making them (in Thai!) what it was.  (“What’s this?” might be one of the most useful phrases I’ve picked up so far).

The answer, it turned out, was Yen Ta Fo.
The unique color comes from the sauce that is stirred into the soup. It is slightly sweet and slightly tangy, and can vary in color from natural looking tomato-sauce red to almost flourescent hot pink.
The soup itself has rice noodles, kale, slices of fish cake, fish balls, fried garlic, and fried wontons.  It’s a nice, filling lunch but it isn’t too heavy.  I’ve been trying this whenever I see a cart that makes it, and while some versions can be a little bland, I really like all the different components that are mixed in.

My new favorite noodles!

     Thai restaurants in America are keeping a secret from you, and you deserve to know what it is. This is a dish that recently replaced Pad Thai as my I-must-eat-this-at-least-once-a-day-or-I-will-suffer-painful-withdrawals meal. It’s that good.
     The shocking thing is, I never knew it existed. I never tried it during my previous visit to Thailand, I have never seen it on a Thai menu in the states, and I cannot figure out why it’s not served everywhere. It’s Khow Soi: a delicious, coconut-based noodle soup.

     Yes, there are a lot of coconut based Thai soups you have probably tried, but this one is special. First of all, the noodles are soft, yellow wheat noodles, not all that different from fettuccini. The soup features soft tangles of these, PLUS (this is where it gets good) some crispy fried ones on top: a perfect yin and yang of textures. The broth has a red curry base, so it’s a little spicy, but nothing overwhelming. The coconut milk makes it creamy and slightly sweet, and the cilantro garnish gives a nice burst of freshness.

    When it is served, it comes with a plate of highly unappetizing looking shriveled greens, shallots, and lime. I was definitely taken aback the first time I saw the garnishes. Shallots and lime, I can handle, but the greens had no appeal. However, when it comes to eating, I want to do what the locals do, and they put everything into the soup. So with hesitation, I did too. Trust me on this – regardless of how those greens look, they are essential! They are pickled cabbage and they add a vital tanginess to the flavor mix in the soup. You will not be disappointed!
    The reason I love it so much is because, like the best dishes here, it combines salty, sweet, sour, and hot flavors with a mix of textures. Each bite features these in different proportions, so you never have that “okay, this soup is nice but I’m getting bored” phenomenon that often comes with, say, canned tomato soup.
    Next time you a) go out for Thai food or b) come to Chiang Mai (whichever comes first), try to hunt down a bowl of this!

Fun snacks

WARNING: There are photos of insect consumption in this post. If you have a weak stomach, move on!

I probably mention in every post that I love all the food options here – the carts are plentiful and cheap, and there are always new things to try.

When I saw the insect stand at the market, I was excited. I’d already been initiated into the bug-eating club with those grubs the other day, so the only tough part here was narrowing down which to try next.

Like these:

Or these (by the way, I thought mackerel was fish…):
Or these:

Oh hello there, grasshopper!  I decided on these, because the Japanese man who was next in line told me they were his favorite.  He looked like someone who knew his (edible) insects, so I trusted his judgement.
The grasshoppers were nice and crunchy – excellent sprinkled with a dash of soy sauce. The only tricky part is their hind legs. They have little spikes on them that can get caught in your throat if you don’t chew them completely.
I think next time, I’m going to try the crickets!


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