Chiang Mai, Thailand
This morning I got to ride in one of Chiang Mai’s ubiquitous and iconic forms of transport when a songthaew (a communal taxi like a canopied ute/pick-up truck with seats in the back) came to collect me and carry me away to cooking school. It made the rounds picking up the other students including my co-star for the day, Keshia.
Cooking schools are a dime a dozen in Chiang Mai, most of them based in the city and difficult to differentiate. We instead took the advice given to us by one of our fellow elephant-campers and signed up with Thai Farm Cooking. For the same price as their competitors, we got to escape the city and be driven to their organic farm 17kms out of town. En route we visited a local market for an interpretive tour of the many and varied essential Thai ingredients. Once at the farm, we were each given an apron and hat to wear before being taken on another hands on tour of all the organically grown ingredients we’d be cooking with today.
We were presented with an extensive list of dishes from which to choose five to individually prepare with vegetarian options in every category. I chose tom yum soup, green curry, stir fry with cashews, pad thai and my personal favourite – sticky rice with mango. Our teacher, Bennie, guided us through all the grinding, crushing, chopping, simmering and frying with great humour and an infectious cackle that ensured we made light work of it. After we made each dish, we’d sit around a communal table and eat it. Now I know this is a big call but I’m going to go out on a limb and say my tom yum was the best I’ve ever tasted! The green curry and stir fry weren’t bad either. I’d like to take the credit but think my culinary success is more attributable to the freshly prepared, farm fresh ingredients.
By the time we got to the pad thai (or equivalent noodle dish of choice), we were full as bulls so packed it up to take away. Bennie showed us how to tie up our plastic bags with air in them like we’d seen at the markets. They looked like bubble bags, she called it Thai tupperware – either way, it was very cool and would keep it fresh for dinner. Our last dish was dessert and even though I was full to overflowing, I was willing to extend to ensure I wasted not a single bite of my sticky rice with mango! For a dessert without any ice-cream or chocolate, it was quite simply scrumptious!
After all that feasting in the heat, a little snooze was in order back at my hotel before heading out again for the evening. I’d borrowed a pair of thongs (Australian definition aka flip flops) from the beautician yesterday and was on my way to return them when I saw Keshia through the window of a cafe. I popped in to say hello and ended up staying for a couple of hours engrossed in a truly great conversation, the kind its hard to find the time to indulge in in busy lives. There’s certainly a lot more to Keshia than meets the eye and what I saw of her tonight is truly brave, wise and inspirational. Tomorrow she is grabbing life by the horns and taking herself on a solo scooter excursion up into the mountains and I’m looking forward to a full report. For my part, I expect to have very little to tell her in return with my tomorrow being entirely unplanned and happily so.