My Recs · Travel

2013-14 travel memory: Thai cooking in Chiang Mai + recipe

Thailand is one of my favorite travel memories, not least because of the incredible food traditions of the culture. I’ve taken two Thai cooking classes on my trips there, both at the same wonderful home-based setting near Chiang Mai’s old city. I can highly recommend Vannee and Meo’s Classic Home Cooking if you ever venture to Northern Thailand. Since the pandemic, I think they have been conducting online classes, too, so you can contact them about getting a taste of Thai right in your own kitchen.

Thai food is one of my favorites for its fresh, bright flavors and healthy ingredients. There is such a variety of dishes, too. Some dishes lean more towards Indian spices in their recipes (like Massaman curry), others display Chinese origins, and still others use coconut cream/milk bases that are distinctly Thai. Curry is a central element in many Thai dishes, and the ingredients can vary widely. Also, I can’t forget the incredible street food, which deserves to be shared in another post.

Vannee’s classes were small and personal. For each class, I was picked up at my digs inside Chiang Mai’s old city. While we drove to a traditional market near her home, Vannee handed me a vast menu and told me to choose 6 items I want to cook, including one dessert. We picked up all the necessary ingredients at the market, including some freshly-pressed coconut milk from a vendor with a giant metal press; tofu blocks chosen from a vast array of softness and types; and exotic vegetables, fruits, and mushrooms likely picked from a local garden only hours before. There were also piles of chickens and their parts, pork, beef, fish, and shellfish, as well as bottled sauces and pre-made curries.

We took our provisions back to Vannee’s home, where she conducts her classes in a spacious outdoor kitchen. The first part of class includes a lot of chopping, and we made our own curries for the occasion, using a mortar and pestle. Most dishes were prepared in woks, or in saucepans for the soups. Vannee used to run a restaurant, so she expertly directed us as we moved through the cooking process. I have included photos here from my second cooking experience, to give you an idea of the incredible variety.

After taking the classes, I realized how easy Thai food is to make. Vannee sent me home with a beautiful little cookbook that contains all the recipes from her menu, and I use it to this day. I’d like to share one of my favorites with you, a super-easy Yellow Chicken Curry that can be substituted with tofu for vegetarians. You can buy pre-made curry in packages, instead of using the mortar-and-pestle method, and it will work just fine.

Ingredients: (for one serving – it can be doubled or tripled as required)

100g chicken, chopped finely (use cubed, firm tofu as a substitute)
1/2 cup coconut cream
1 1/2 cup coconut milk
1 Tablespoon yellow curry paste
2 teaspoons bottled fish sauce
1 teaspoon palm sugar (regular sugar or maple syrup will work)
1 large peeled, boiled potato, chopped in bite-sized pieces
1 large onion, chopped bite-size
2 Tablespoons cooking oil
Cilantro leaves for garnish

In a heated wok, fry the curry paste in oil on a low heat until a good smell emerges (about 1-2 minutes) and then add the coconut cream.
Keep stirring and cooking until the oil separates from the coconut cream.
Add the chicken (or tofu), fish sauce, palm sugar, and coconut milk. Stir gently and turn up to medium heat.
Put in potatoes and onions, bring to a boil, then remove from heat and serve. Garnish with a generous pinch of cilantro, if desired. Rice and green salad make great accompaniments.

I look forward to a future trip back to see Vannee and Meo in Thailand. Until then, I’ll be cooking some of her lovely dishes at home.

PHOTO: I bring hyacinth bulbs into my home every Spring. These purple ones have lasted a long time.

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