Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Road Babe Dispatch From Thailand

My next adventure in Chiang Mai was to check an item off my bucket list. What you ask? Take an authentic Thai cooking class. Thai food makes me weak in the knees. As in, if there were a way for Thai food and I to have a serious relationship, I'd sign on. This seemed like the perfect first step in our courtship.

The coolest option I found involved a trip to the market, a tour of an organic farm, and then finished up with cooking six different dishes under the supervision of a sassy Thai woman named Mam. I instinctively felt that this might turn out to be the best day of my life.

We went to a tea shop, where we sipped pots of Chinese tea and selected the dishes we wanted to cook: an appetizer, a soup, a noodle dish, a curry with paste, and a dessert. My choices were spring rolls, Tom Sab soup (which Mam called Sexy Soup), Pad See Ew, Panang curry, and deep-fried bananas with a coconut cream batter. I sensed that Thai food and I were going to be the perfect couple.

We set off to the market to choose some of our ingredients. Monks in saffron robes and plastic flip-flops strolled among aisles of rice-filled baskets and open fire grills where fish and peppers roasted. I just tried to avoid the Durian, which stinks like a rotting corpse. Funny enough, there were signs on many establishments that said “No Durian.” I imagined people casually carrying Durians home and being turned away from shops along the way.

After we'd selected the things we'd need for class, we headed out to the farm. Apart from the herbs and veggies growing all around, the farm was cool because of the bizarre and eclectic mix of flea-market-type stuff everywhere. From old instruments to barbershop chairs to stacks of rusted bicycles, it was fascinating.

Before we started, we took part in a traditional Thai welcome, which is more or less the equivalent of a stiff shot. It consisted of a betel leaf stuffed with raw garlic, ginger, a wedge of lime, peanuts, red onion and a sliver of spicy pepper. This is a welcome that's not easily forgotten, but I was getting in good with Thai food and went back for seconds.

Then the cooking began. We prepared one dish at a time then ate, sharing samples with each other. We all used enormous hatchets and made menacing faces as we chopped and laughed. The food was divine, especially the deep-fried bananas.

The hardest thing we made was the curry paste, which has to be muddled by hand with a mortar and pestle. Thankfully, there were enough of us to take turns. I hoped my Thai-food love-affair wouldn't go South because of this. (Did my beloved feel used with all this sharing?) The easiest thing I made was Pad See Ew and Pad Thai was also fast and simple. I was impressed with my new skill and ready to impress friends back home at a Thai-inspired party. Hopefully, they'd be as inspired by it as I was.

Chiang Mai is a mecca for backpackers, with the funkiness of Bangkok but a fraction of the traffic and smut. There is so much to do there, whether temple hunting, elephant treks, cooking classes, orchid farms, or just a stroll through the colors and lights of the night market. I did it all and wanted more, but limited time required I move on to other parts of the Land of Smiles.

Mittie Babette Roger is from Louisiana but lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She received an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University and authored the book It's Better to Visit the Shaman Without Questions to Ask. She travels the world volunteering to help disadvantaged children and promoting Blue Iguana Tequila to empower serious drinkers.


  1. Note to self: avoid angry woman with cleaver!

    Terrific blog!

  2. oohh nice photo, the girl is pretty wild but beautiful