We arrived in Chiang Mai mid afternoon and were greeted by travel agent extraordinaire Deb and one of our hosts, Jeffrey Alford. A short ride to our hotel and we quickly got to our rooms, left our bags, and headed to the local market. The Sunday market in Bangkok is a simple market full of cheap souveniers, clothing, spices, and food. We sampled a Thai style gyro with sliced chicken, herbs, vegetables and not enough hot sauce as well as a giant calamari grilled to order with a really nice spicy marinade. After snacking and shopping we met Jeff and his wife Naomi at their apartments. We were introduced to Ying as well as Fern, her daughter Melissa, and her mom. They were all to be around for our week of shopping at the markets, cooking, and eating out. We were welcomed with tables full of Thai snacks, our favorite being the dip/condiment made of roasted chilies, garlic, and shallots (perfect dip for the local pork rinds) and the peanuts fried with wild lime leaves, chili, and shallots. After lots of snacking, and drinking Thai Leo beer (on ice!), we headed to the night market. We sat behind the stalls and ate rice noodles with curry-three types (fish, chicken, and pork) all made with delicious broths. The table we sat at was loaded with condiments for our bowls-bamboo shoots, banana flowers, pickled vegetables, and shredded cabbage. It was interactive and delicious. After wandering the market, we crashed hard, anxiously waiting for our first day of cooking.
After a fast walk around the city’s canal, we met in our hotel lobby at 8:30 am. We divided in three groups and headed out to different city markets to do our shopping. Jen, Penelope, and I were with Naomi and Ying. They gave us our shopping list and guided us through the market, giving us the chance to shop on our own. Not only did we find all of our ingredients but, we saw ingredients such as grasshoppers, ant eggs (maggots, if you ask me), and live frogs. We passed on the bugs for the day, thankfully. The group shopping for the catfish picked one so fresh it actually leaped right off the scale and onto the ground!
We went back to the apartments to prepare many dishes. Over the course of the morning we made a delicious sausage like mixture of pork, lemongrass, wild lime leaves and chiles. We cooked over charcoal braziers (above) on the deck and made beef soup, catfish laab, pork, laab, and sticky rice. We ate the meal gathered on the floor around the steaming dishes. Naomi, Jeff, Fern, Ying, and Melissa all guided us through the day but the true star was Fern’s mom who, originally from north of Chiang Mai, is an amazing cook. She spoke no English but somehow communicated to us through the food, teaching us new techniques and flavors that helped us create these unique dishes. Her face shined bright with an ear to ear smile and, in her fine blouse, skirt, and gold jewelry she got right down with us and yielded a Thai style cleaver like nobody’s business.
Tonight we’ll pile in trucks for dinner at a local restaurant and more market shopping and cooking tomorrow. Stay tuned…