Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai

Before we ever came to Thailand Cale knew that he wanted to learn to cook Thai food while we were here. He also knew he didn't want to go to one of those commercial cooking schools that cater to tourists. From the looks of those on the internets and in the travel videos we watched, you and your closest 30 strangers gathered in a big room and watched someone cook on commercial grade equipment. Not what Cale had in mind.

So he started searching on the internet for some way to have a small, intimate experience. The ideal situation would being able to homestay with a Thai family and just learn to cook from them as part of daily life. However, any homestay information to be found on the internet as part of some sort of tour package that was expensive and cheesy. I guess this is what you get when you are going to a country with a huge tourism industry.

However, Cale did find mention on a message board of a cooking class in Chiang Rai. The message board indicated that there was a woman there who taught cooking and that the only way to find her was to look for her flyer which was found hanging up in the back of some bar. This was enough of a mystery and a mission to intrigue Cale. We knew we were going to Chiang Rai just so Cale could track this lady down and get her to teach him to cook.

Cale's mission immediately became less adventurous when we started talking to Jake the linguistics PhD student we met up with in Chiang Rai. He is working with the Ahka to record, transcribe and translate the oral traditions of the shaman. He also knew the lady Cale was talking about and had her number in his phone. Cale refused to take the number because he still wanted to track her down. The mission became even less adventurous when we passed a large, display sign on the main tourist road advertising her cooking class. It appeared that this hard to find, little-known lady who taught a cooking class was in fact pretty famous in Chiang Rai. Later we would discover she has a web site, is on facebook and has refused Lonely Planet's invitation to be in the book several times.

Even if it wasn't the mystery and mission that Cale was hoping for, it was still pretty awesome.

Suwannee picked us up at our guest house Thursday morning and immediately took us on a market tour. Just the act of having someone show us around the market suddenly made is less intimidating and more accessible. Instead of feeling like we were constantly surrounded by booths selling underpants or exotic seafoods, we started to know where to find the fruits and vegetables and the snacky foods. All the while Suwannee was introducing the market and foods to us we were learning about her as well. She is in her early- to mid-thirties and is quite the world traveler. Thai by birth she went to school in England and worked in Holland for eight years before returning to Thailand to open a restaurant (probably the "bar" where her flyer was seen in that message board post) and to teach cooking. She wasn't sure which one she would like better at the time, however, three years later she has decided to focus on the cooking classes and to stop with the restaurant.

Chiang Rai

The market tour was very comprehensive. Cale was introduced to the nine types of basil found in Thailand and to a surprising variety of one vegetable that will be a "Name this Plant" soon. Afterwards we went back to Suwannee's house. In back of the house, in a separate building she has a traditional Thai kitchen with a max of eight cooking stations. However, Cale was the only student for this class.

Chiang Rai

Cale made three dishes and a dessert, which were all delicious. It was a pretty excellent day.

— Sara


Anonymous said...

Wow! Glad you are both safe and enjoying the culture. Was worried for a minute there w/ no posts, since there has been some news of recent uprising and the pics of the bikers in earlier post.
Nice pics - that cause stomach envy :D

Barb Carusillo said...

Are you going to be able to find this mystery plant here in the US when you amaze and astound us with your culinary prowess ?(dinner for all parental units when you get back you know).

Manamea said...

The chef is kinda Hot and she's pretty too. Anyways you guys ought to check out the ridiculously cheaper 5 star accomodation available there as well with all the beauty and spa luxuries. You'll probably come out filled with self loathing guilt from your PCV sensitivities but extremely well rested and pampered.

Kim said...

My husband and I will be in Chiang Rai in early June and I'd love to take a cooking class. Can you tell me how to get a hold of this woman?

Cale and Sara Wander Southeast Asia said...

You should be able to find her through her web site

let me know if that doesnt work

Kim said...

Thanks. I'll try that.

Marion said...

That is a nice way to learn to cook! I discovered the pleasures of Thai cuisine during my stay at hotel Chiang Rai Thailand. It had a great restaurant and the food served there was awesome.