Tom Yum soup, Tom Kha soup, Issan vegetables, fried vegetables with ginger and cashew nuts, Pad Thai with spicy peanut sauce, spring rolls, Som Tom (green papaya salad), Massaman curry, green curry, pumpkin hummus, mango sticky rice, plus green and red chili pastes. Those are the dishes I offically prepared during my May Kaidee Thai vegetarian cooking class. I was the only student there that day and so those are also the dishes I ate after class. Yes, 11 dishes, all for me. They were accompanied by a cold Singha beer and, within 15 minutes of returning to my room, I lay deep in a food-induced stupor, which I was quite surprised to awaken from some five hours later.
Duan, my teacher, is May Kaidee's sister, and she runs the Chiang Mai restaurant. Like most Thai women she is, by American standards anyway, tiny. She is also very pretty and laughs easily and loudly. Even so she still manages to be rather intimidating. She likes to yell. A lot. The morning started out at one of the local markets, buying ingredients for the class, which was great. Duan apparently knows the whole town and so the trip to the market started out as a social occasion. Then we got down to the business of shopping. "You take picture now!" She yelled each time she held up an item we would be using. "How you know what to buy in America if you don't have picture to remind you?!" I now have approximately 20 pictures of Duan holding up various types of ginger, mushrooms, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, chilis, etc.
Back at the restaurant, in the upstairs "school," a room with an extra stove, sink and mortar and pestle, she yelled some more. "Chop! Now! Like this! Now take picture! How you know how to chop in America if you don't have picture to remind you?!"
Then the actual cooking began and things started to move in some sort of comic, high-speed episode of Iron Chef Thailand meets the confused American massage student. "Stir! Stir more! Faster! Turn up heat! Turn down heat! Stir more! Turn off heat! Done! Now you taste!!" I was in a daze but, someowhere along the way, it occured to me I was also having a great time. And each taste confirmed why I had wanted to do this.
About halfway through the lesson Duan's husband yelled something upstairs. Duan yelled back. Even louder. She kept yelling. I have learned very little Thai while here but I think I can recognize the sound of an angry woman in most any language. Apparently Duan's husband had forgotten to tell her about a very large to-go order one of the yoga studios had ordered for delivery that day. Soon that day. "OK!" Duan regained her composure. "Kimberly listen now!" she yelled. "This morning I teach you how to cook! Now I teach you how to cook for restarant!" And so, knives and veggies flying, two woks full, we prepared tempura seaweed and sweet basil with a spicy peanut sauce, fried rice with veggies, crunchy noodles in red curry, more spring rolls and another soup. After each dish was completed Duan would hand me a spoon and yell, "You taste now!" And so, yet more food for me. I was amazed at how great everything came out considering the utter chaos of the kitchen, not to mention the confusion of the impromptu addition of a fumbling American sous-chef. We had almost completed the order when Duan yelled that she wanted me to make the soup, which I had never heard of before. This did not seem to worry Duan in the least. "It's like Tom Kha from this morning only more Indian! You know, same-same! But different! You do now!"
Just as we handed everything off to her husband and assistant to be boxed-up customers arrived downstairs. "Kimberly! Hurry! Go see what they want!!" "Pad Thai," I reported back to her. "Good!" she yelled. "You learn that only one hour ago! Go make now!" And so I did.
Suddenly quiet came to the kitchen. "OK!" Duan yelled, not even pausing, "Back upstairs! Show must go on!" And so my cooking lesson continued. I do realize that not everyone would like to pay money to be yelled at and then put to work making money for someone else. But for me, the day was hilarious and vastly entertaining and I really did learn a lot. Oh yeah, and the food? Absolutely fantastic, All 11+ dishes of it. :)
Aside from eating great quantities of Thai food, I managed to complete my Thai massage course plus a 2-day workshop on Thai foot massage. The course, school, teachers and students were all great and I feel really lucky to have been able to do this. Now I have a couple of more days to be a tourist in Chiang Mai before heading south to Cambodia.
It feels strange to wake up and not get ready to go to school. Instead I get up early and walk around the Old City. I like watching it awaken to the day. I like watching the barefoot monks make their morning rounds through the streets before heading back for study and contemplation at the various wats. I like watching the markets being set up for the day. I like seeing the old men who still pedal the old-style tuk-tuks ride almost alone through the streets before the modern day traffic overtakes them making you wonder if you really saw them that morning at all. I like seeing the men meditating in stillness by the moat and I like finding small lit candles burning on tiny altars at the base of huge trees wrapped in vines but still reaching up towards the sky. I like Chiang Mai; it's been a wonderful experience; I also feel it is time to say goodbye.
Last night I stopped by May Kaidees, to say goodbye to Duan. I heard her yelling as I approached the restaurant. "Stir now! Turn up heat! Turn down heat! Take picture now!" She had 4 students that evening, all looking dazed and a little frightened, but also smiling, She ran downstairs and hugged me goodbye. "Kimberly!" she yelled. "Go home and cook great food!" I certainly hope to, Duan. :)
I hope each of you is enjoying the colder weather (hard to imagine in the heat here) and the holiday season. I hope you are each well and smiling.