Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Chiang Mai- A Foodie's Vacation

“What? You’re not stopping over at Bangkok?” My friends asked, quite surprised when I told them that I was flying out to Chiang Mai for five days from Singapore the second week of my vacation. I’ve been to Bangkok about 4 or 5 times before and I think I’ve out grown it. I remember my first trip to Bangkok; I must have been about 13. I was waiting outside an Arts and Crafts shop in the Night Bazaar while my parents were trying to get the best price (i.e. HAGGLING) for some items when this Sleazy and Greasy European Old Fart approached me and tried to push some Baht notes into the palm of my right hand. I was overcome by surprise at first; I couldn’t make out what he was saying to me. I glanced around for help and that was when I put two and two together. There were ‘Street Walkers’ soliciting at every few metres and this idiot had mistaken me for one of them. I’ve been told many times by Thais that I look like a local, but hang on, I was 13! Sure, I had too much make up on for a 13 year old but I was dressed decently, a little too mature maybe, but decent. We’ve all been there, we want to look as grown-up as possible when we’re teenagers, and as young as we possibly can when we’re my age. SIGH!

Anyhow, the last few trips to Bangkok with my family were, I felt, not very suitable for the girls. Bangkok is too ‘worldly’ for them, I mean the sex industry isn’t exactly low key and there’s too much reality for them to handle at their age. At my age on the other hand, I don’t like too much of a hustle and bustle type place anymore, I’m too laid back these days and prefer a serene countryside with simultaneous mountain and river views like Chiang Mai for a holiday destination. So, are you ready to share the glimpses of my Chiang Mai vacation? Here we go..

Kaohom Cooking School – A Thai Culinary Treasure

When I was planning this holiday, I did a bit of research via the Internet on the Cooking Classes offered in Chiang Mai. I read some really funny comments by tourists who took cooking classes in the kitchens of local’s homes. There was also the very famous Cooking School in Four Seasons Hotel where in the midst of the class, an elephant is ushered by. I didn’t want frills, that’s for sure, and nothing too commercialised. When I came upon the Kaohom website, I knew I had found the cooking school I wanted. It is highly recommended by ‘Lonely Planet’ and I must say I was impressed with what I saw. Still, I had some reservations with what to expect as from past experiences I have found that photos on websites are highly edited and can be really deceiving.
On the scheduled day, we were picked up from our hotel at 10am and chauffeured to Kaohom. It was a pleasant 30-minute drive out of the city. When we finally arrived, we were all “Ooooh and Arhhhs!” – Kaohom was every bit as beautiful as what I saw on the Internet! The cooking school is set in the middle of a lush estate with manicured lawns and gorgeous landscaping. Kanchana (our cooking instructor) and her assistants were there to welcome us as we got out of the car, and what a warm welcome it was. At that moment, I felt like I was on the set of ‘Fantasy Island’. It was almost surreal.

This photo collage is made up of pictures we took of the surrounds of the cooking school. Isn't the caterpillar a beauty?

Kanhana gave us a tour of the cooking school – the place was so immaculate and beautifully organized. There was an indoor cooking class and an outdoor cooking class set under a gazebo. The weather was exceptionally cool that day, perfect for cooking outdoors. Kanchana or ‘Tim’ as she introduced herself as, made us feel as though we were in the company of an old friend, we felt really at home.

This is me, with my head cut off, doing the prep work for our dishes.

Ming, all pleased with himself for completing the prep work before me. Paige in the background.

We were shown how to make beautiful garnishes out of chillies and carrot as part of our 'Botannical Delights' class. Isn't it fantastic!!??

Our lovely cooking Instructor, Tim, showing Chloe how to put the ingredients together for the Fried Corn Cakes.

Cucumber Relish - the accompaniment for the Fried Corn Cakes

Paige enjoying the experience.. and me, looking on.

Fried Corn Cakes - They were soooooooooooooo yummy! After we cooked each dish, we sat down together alfresco style and ate together while the food was piping hot!

Ooooooooo, Green Mango Salad! I'm salivating just thinking of the sweet and sour flavours!

Deep Fried Talipia Fillet - beautifully crisp eaten with the green mango salad, truly a match made in food heaven!

This is the point of difference that Tim offers in her cooking school, trade secrets! No cook book is going to tell you how to get the freshest, best tasting peanuts for your Pad-Thai!

Ming, stir-frying the Pad-Thai like a pro!

Yay! I can make Pad-Thai!

This is the Best Pad-Thai that I've ever tasted - and I made it myself! Tim uses the freshest and best quality ingredients.

Ms Kanchana Ubolsootvanich, 'Tim', our lovely hostess and cooking instructor. I have so much respect for this lady- she runs the school professionally with her carefully orchestrated teaching powered by her passion for Thai cuisine culture. Tim is a single mom who raised her two sons and put them through College and continued studies abroad single handedly. Hard work and long hours continue for Tim as she manages the school and does the prep work for her restaurant, the renowned 'Wanlamoon' which is accredited by Thailand's most prestigious gourmet critique every single day. Tim has no culinary training but learned her cooking skills from watching her own mother cook as a little girl. We had a teary-eyed moment as she shared her inspiring story with us.

After the tears, we need dessert! This is the pumkin custard we made - it was nothing short of AMAZING!

We chattered more over an aromatic cup of coffee...

We really had an excellent time together. Here's Kanchana laughing at one of Ming's Jokes...

Another shot of Tim - she sure is petite!

We all had such a fantastic time with Tim- the girls made us promise that we would return to see Tim again in the near future. Are you planning a trip to Chiang Mai? This is one experience you dont want to miss! Here's how you can contact Tim;
180/1 Chiang Mai - Mae Rim Rd.,
Donkaew, Mae Rim, Chiang Mai
50180 Thailand
Tel: 66 5386 2967, Fax 66 5386 2968
Mobile 08 1993 5320

Stay tuned for the 2nd part of our Chiang Mai Foodie Vacation!