Posted in Asia, English, Phuket, Thailand

Thailand – Day 8

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

25 March 2018

Despite yesterday’s worries, we made it to our last cooking class very smoothly. As it was indicated, we were picked up at 8am by a minibus and taken to the opposide coast of the peninsula, right through the town of Phuket. First we stopped at a market, where, just as during our previous classes, the instructor showed us variuos products, specific for Thai cuisine. But while neither in Bangkok nor in Chiangmai did we get to see a full-scale market, here we found ourselves right in one, with all its peculiar smells.

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The instructor explained that all the products that we were going to use today had been purchased here, except for meat and fish. The meat and fish here stay outside without a refrigerator all day, and, she said, while it is not a problem for a Thai stomach, ours would not necessarily appreciate it, that is why these products had been bought at a supermarket.

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From the market we headed to the cooking school, located right on the beach.

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To start with, we were treated to local desserts and exotic fruits, mostly familiar to us, except for the rose apple or chompoo, looking like a pear, very juicy, and not tasting anything like a proper apple. As for desserts, they all seemed to taste the same – just like the sticky rice that usually goes with mango.

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Our half-day course included cooking everything we were already familiar with: spring rolls, tom yum soup and sticky rice with mango. The difference between this course and the previous ones was that firstly, there were different instructors for different dishes and secondly, the process itself went like this: we sat in a room looking like a mini-lecture theatre, and the instructor demonstrated the whole cooking process from beginning to end, and then we had to repeat it on our own.

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Once again, we didn’t get to cook the sticky rice with mango, but were only shown how to do it. The reason is that this dessert is made in bulk rather than in individual portions: first you have to steam the glutinous rice and then top it with a sweet coconut sauce. But this time, the process of cooking the rice was explained very well and thoroughly.

We watched the instructor prepare the tom yum soup just like a theatre performance. He was totally killing it, supplying every action with jokes and funny faces.

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So now we can quite consider ourselves specialists in Thai cuisine!

After the class we were brought back to the hotel, and our tour programme was over. Now the travel agency would only need to safely take us to the airport in 4 days’ time, and for now we are completely left to ourselves. So I personally spent my afternoon by the infinity pool in our hotel, overlooking the sea. I got to see a gorgeous sunset – we are lucky to be staying in the west of the peninsula.

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Looking for a place to have seafood dinner, we wandered into a restaurant. First we were a bit confused about what to choose, and then the waiter told us that just for 2200 baht (about $70) we could get a crab, a lobster, a fish, mussels, shrimp and squid, and choose how to cook each of the beasts, which would be more than enough for two people. And we got a whole feast!

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Posted in Asia, Chiang Mai, English, Thailand

Thailand – Day 6

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

23 March 2018

We had our second planned cooking class today in Chiang Mai. In the morning we got picked up from the hotel by the cooking school’s own car, along with the a few more people from two other hotels.

Once we arrived at the school, it took us a while to understand what was going on – for some reason we were seated at a table, while our fellow car travelers were left to wait at the entrance, and then were put on a different car together with another group of newcomers and taken somewhere. Only after seeing the school’s advertising leaflet, we realised that they were offering classes both here, at the school, and on a farm, and apparently those guys had booked a farm class.

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Eventually, our group was formed – apart from us, it consisted of a French couple and two different companies of Americans. We were then given the menu. Here the concept was slightly different from what we saw in Bangkok. Out of seven categories of dishes, we were supposed to cook five on our half-day class, and three of them – curry paste, curry and spring rolls – were pre-selected for us, so our group had to agree and choose two more out of the remaining four. We chose stir-fry and dessert, and did not choose soup and salad. And then, everyone could individually pick their own dish from each chosen category. For example, I chose hot basil stir fried chicken (many went for pad thai, but we had already made that in Bangkok); a local kind of curry called khaw soi and the respective curry paste; bananas in coconut milk for dessert; and as for spring rolls, there was only one variety.

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The school has its own vegetable garden, and we went there to see and smell the ingredients frequently used in Thai cuisine: green onions, leeks, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, various kinds of basil, roots of ginger, galangal, turmeric and ginseng.

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Then we walked all the way to the local market, passing by very interesting places with guest house and cafes, apparently for backpackers and other budget tourists.

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At the market, our instructor named Da showed us different spices, ready-made curry pastes, various kinds of noodles and rice. Here I found both a short-term and a long-term solution to my problem of the lack of vital ingerdients back home – and bought a pack of dried ingredients for tom yum soup, as well as kaffir lime seeds.

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And then we came back to the cooking school and got down to business. I must say, here we were given more independence and almost made everything by ourselves. By the way, before we started cooking, we were given a snack – leaves, in which we had to wrap peanuts, small pieces of ginger, onion, chili, roasted coconut, and add a spoonful of sweet sauce. Then everyone had to say ‘chok dee’ – which kind of means ‘good luck’ – and, however funny it may seem, toast each other by “clinking” the little wraps before putting them in our mouths.

The stir fries, as usual, were very quick and easy to make, and I got some pre-cooked rice to go with mine.

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Then, two volunteers were chosen from the group, and they made a slightly larger portion of a somewhat generic stir fry, for the spring roll filling. And everyone had to wrap the desired amount of this filling in a provided pancake and deep fry their spring roll.

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After that, we made the curry paste. It turned out that no one chose green curry, and for all the others – red curry, panang curry, khaw soi and massaman curry (nobody chose the last one either) – the base paste is exactly the same, with several different ingredients added later on.

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What goes into red curry paste is the following: pre-soaked dried chili peppers, garlic, turmeric, ginseng, kaffir lime zest and lemongrass. And then you would need to add dried curry powder to make khaw soi paste or crushed peanuts for panang curry paste.

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By the way, red curry itself is made just like green curry – i.e. with Thai eggplants and basil in addition to meat, curry paste, sauces and coconut milk. As for panang curry and khaw soi, they are made without the vegetables. My khaw soi was more liquid than the other curries and had to be served with noodles rather than rice. As I understood, that’s exactly what we ate and took for noodle soup in that roadside eatery the day before yesterday. I even added an extra spoonful of curry paste, since it wasn’t spicy enough!

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At some point between making the curry paste and the curry itself, we somehow managed to squeeze in the dessert preparation. In my case, this was a simple matter: I just had to boil sliced ​​bananas in coconut milk with sugar. Interestingly, while slicing this kind of bananas, we came across big black seeds which we had to pick out – I had never seen anything like that!

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In general, we really liked the Chiang Mai cooking class as well, especially its slightly higher level of complexity after the Bangkok one. There is yet another cooking class awaiting us in Phuket, we have to see what it’s going to be like!

Our guide and driver picked us up at the culinary school, and from there we drove to our last temple in Thailand, planned in the tour programme, on Mount Doi Suthep.

The temple and its surroundings are very croded (as usual, Chinese tourists predominate). To get to the temple itself, one has to walk up 306 stairs in the heat. Fortunately, there is a nice cool breeze atop the mountain.

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You walk into the temple – the golden shine all around makes your eyes hurt. The view is, of course, magnificent, but interestingly – and we agreed on this with my friend when sharing our impressions of the trip – the temples here don’t give you that sense of peacefull bliss, they seem too pompous for that. However, it’s quite possible that it’s just us being taken to such temples, and that somewhere in the mountains, hidden from the tourist’s eye, there are temples and monasteries where you’d find peace and tranquility and want to meditate. Here, even though there is a meditation corner, you don’t quite feel like using it as intended.

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The gilded stupa (or chedi, as they are also called here) in the center of the temple also contains a sacred Buddhist relic – a bone of Lord Buddha – and according to a legend, this relic was loaded on an elephant, which was given an opportunity to pick a spot for the temple, and so the animal came here.

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By the way, as I have already said, there are stupas scattered all around Indochina, which have a special symbolic significance for those born in a certain year of the Eastern zodiac. The local stupa is associated with the year of the goat.

There is also an observation deck on the territory of the temple, with a view of entire Chiang Mai, but it’s too foggy to see anything at all.

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And we’ve been seeing this foggy haze during all the time of our stay both in Chiang Mai and in Chiang Rai, to the extent that in the morning and closer to the sunset the sun looks like an orange tangerine in the sky.

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Once back at our hotel and having said goodbye to our guide, we rested for a bit and headed out to a massage parlor, which we had found based on Internet reviews and booked online. I must say, I liked it less than the one in Chiang Rai, although it was slightly more expensive.

For dinner, we chose a nice Japanese restaurant with a terrace on the second floor and a view over the night market, and sat down outside. But then the whole dinner nearly got ruined by a sudden rain – our first one in Thailand! – and while we waited to see whether it would stop quickly, all the outdoors tables under the canopy and decent tables inside were already occupied, so we had to sit at some tiny table in the corner inside. Luckily, the rain soon stopped and the waitresses kindly moved us back to a lovely table on the terrace.

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The only thing that brightened our time at the stupid corner table inside, was a funny episode at the next table: there was a young Chinese lady sitting there and waiting for her take-away. Suddenly, two older women approached her – perhaps, her mother and aunt, for example – and started showing her some harem pants they bought at the night market, with such delight and enthusiasm, almost jumping up and down with excitement, that we couldn’t help staring at them which made the younger woman quite embarassed, so she asked them to behave more quietly. I have to say, it’s not very often that you see such sincere and genuine joy, let alone when it’s caused by two pairs of pants! 🙂

Posted in Asia, Bangkok, English, Thailand

Thailand – Day 2

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

19 March 2018

Today we had to get up very early to have breakfast and head to the Damnoen Saduak floating market at 7am. It’s a bit hard to assess how far the place really is from Bangkok, since today is Monday and the traffic is simply incredible, the roads are much more packed than yesterday, and we had to spend ages in traffic jams which were aggravated by the very long waiting time at traffic lights.

On the way to the floating market we stopped to see how oil and sugar are produced from coconut – something similar to what we’d already seen in Vietnam.

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If I continue comparing with Vietnam, where the floating market didn’t quite meet our expectations, here it was the same. There were lots of boats, but most of them were carrying tourists, with only a couple boats here and there selling fruits and snacks.

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So we didn’t get to see that iconic postcard view of the canal crammed with boats full of colourful flowers and fruits. Maybe, again, we’d had to be here at 5am for that. On the other hand, along the banks of the canal there was a whole flea market kind of thing, with souvenirs, handicrafts and other stuff, so the boatman kept stopping every minute at one shop or another to get us to buy something off his friends. One of the sellers introduced herself as his wife and, when she faced our languid refusal to buy anything despite her persistence, she asked us to at least give tips to her husband at the end of our ride. Floating by another shop, we saw a woman washing her plate and hands right in the canal, which raised serious doubts as to the compliance of the food sold at the market with sanitary norms. Which is why, having got off the boat and having arrived to a local coffee shop, as agreed in advance with Vanna, we got hot coffee rather than the much desired iced coffee – common sense suggested that the ice could have also been made from frozen canal water, who knows?

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Another attraction at the market was the opportunity to take a picture with wild animals: sloths, loris and pythons. A thought flashed through my mind: maybe I should get a photo with a snake hanging around my neck? But I finally decided that I didn’t want to spend 200 baht (just under 7 USD) to support such a cruel business. Social responsibility, you know!

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What also deserves a separate mention in this place is the toilet. It’s a whole single-storey building with enticing inscriptions and a car park, the interior reminds of pharmacy, there are snacks sold inside and even a wi-fi hotspot!

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In short, we weren’t extremely impressed with the floating market, and we left for Bangkok well before 11am, which was our deadline in order to make it to our cooking class at 1.30pm. What cooking class? – you may ask. Well, actually the tour we chose is called ‘The Taste of Thailand’, so in addition to sightseeing and beach recreation, it also includes three cooking classes in different cities!

We were brought to the corner of some street in Bangkok and handed over to a guy, who assigned us to a group of 8 people and sent us off to the market nearby with his colleague – our current instructor.

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At the market, there were already baskets and a set of vegetables prepared for us, and we had to take them with us. That is, the market trip was a mock one – in fact, there was only one stall still open at this time as the market as such operates very early in the morning. It was just that the instructor – a very funny guy – took the opportunity to show us some essential ingredients, indispensable in Thai cuisine. As he explained, for example, the mushrooms or beans used here are, of course, local varieties, but can easily be replaced with any other variety, as they are used not for the taste, but for the texture, just like most other vegetables. As for galangal (a close relative of ginger), Thai basil, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, though, they can’t be replaced even with closely related plants – it wouldn’t be Thai cuisine anymore. From this we concluded that it is unlikely that we would be able to hone our Thai chef skills in Baku: there’s no way we can find kaffir lime leaves there. He also pointed out the important difference between Thai and Indian curries – in Indian curries the flavour is created using dried herbs and spices, and in Thai curries – using fresh herbs and roots. For instance, ginger and turmeric are always used fresh, never dried and ground.

A funny episode – there was a very nice Colombian couple in the group with us, and right upfront the lady warned the instructor that she couldn’t stand onions or any related plants. The instructor joked that he would then pass onions off as cabbage, and so till the end of the class he continued referring to all kinds of onion-like plants as cabbage.

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Having picked up our baskets with vegetables and herbs, we headed back to the cooking school and immediately got down to work. We had five dishes to cook: Tom Yum soup, Pad Thai, green curry, spicy chicken salad and sticky rice with mango for dessert. Frankly speaking, we didn’t cook the last two ourselves, but rather simply observed the process. Our only contribution to the dessert was participation in making coconut milk from grated pulp, and the milk was then used for the soup and curry as well as for the dessert. We started actually doing something when we moved on to the Tom Yum soup.

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All we had to do was cut up the vegetables (tomatoes, green onions, mushrooms and chili peppers – I boldly took two), prep the “flavour ingredients”: lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves – these are the three ingredients that actually create that distinct Tom Yum flavour and that are not supposed to be eaten, by the way; all the rest can be replaced if necessary – and then put everything in our individual wok, and add fish sauce, chili paste and lime juice to taste. The fish sauce, which we first came across in Vietnam, features in absolutely every dish here, apart from sweets. It replaces salt and enhances the flavours, being a natural source of sodium glutamate. While we were cooking, the instructor was walking around, adding water and coconut milk, then adding shrimps. Generally, I noticed that we were only trusted with processing vegetables and greens, while all the meat was provided already prepped and added straight to our woks.

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Once we cooked and happily consumed our own Tom Yum soup portions, it was time to cook the Pad Thai. The instructor had pre-soaked the rice noodles in cold water, so we just had to cut up the tofu and leeks and return to our woks, already washed and seasoned with soybean oil for us. First of all we fried off some crushed garlic with tofu and spices (fish sauce, coconut sugar, chili flakes, ground peanuts and something like pickled radish). Then we broke an egg into the wok and gave it a quick fry too. Finally, in went the noodles, leeks and soybean sprouts. The instructor told us that in Thailand no one cooks Pad Thai at home, and this is exclusively street food. Interestingly, some type of sugar is added to almost any dish here.

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By the way, at some point the instructor told us that almost everyone in Thailand knows about Azerbaijan, due a lot of Thai players in our volleyball clubs, and since volleyball is the only team sports which Thais are good at, this fact is widely known. Good to know, as we were quite surprised that hearing about us being from Azerbaijan, no one here makes a puzzled face and asks what on Earth it is, like we’re used to.

After Pad Thai we tasted the spicy chicken salad prepared for us by the instructor, as mentioned, using onions, boiled minced chicken, chilis, ground roast rice and of course seasoned with fish sauce. And then we had to cook green curry. The instructor prepared the curry paste himself, explaining in the meantime that no one does it at home and everyone buys readily made paste. He mixed a lot of ingredients in the mortar – coriander and cumin seeds, the “holy trinity” (if you remember, that’s lemongrass, lime leaves and galangal), red and green chili peppers, turmeric root, garlic and something else, and then we took turns to mash it all with a pestle. Then, one last time, we returned to our woks, where coconut milk and chicken slices were already added for us, and cooked that with Thai eggplant, basil and finger root ginger with the addition of fish sauce, sugar and curry paste.

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At the very end we were served our dessert – a slightly salty sticky rice mass (yes, salt is added to desserts and not to savoury dishes here – for the latter this mission is given to fish sauce!) with fresh mango. We really liked the class overall: we acquired new skills, plus it was fun and tasty!

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For the evening we had a ladyboy cabaret show planned. It sounds a bit dubious, I understand, but there was absolutely nothing bawdy there. Just normal singing and dancing, the performance was pretty good: they were portraying Beyoncé and Marilyn Monroe, acting scenes in Chinese and Korean style, and for some reason dancing to “Hava Nagila”. If you don’t know they are ladyboys, you could totally take them for women.

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By the way, the show wasn’t included in our tour programme, therefore, even though Vanna kindly arranged tickets for us, even with a discount, we had to take a taxi ourselves. The cabaret is on the Asiatic embankment – it’s a very pleasant place with a ferris wheel, restaurants, shops and a night food market. We went for little walk after the show, and the street food looked very tempting to us, but firstly, we were still full after the cooking class, and secondly, we are still slightly apprehensive about street food.

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