Our holiday was quickly drawing to a close, but today was a day we’d been looking forward to with great anticipation. Last time we were in Chiang Mai, Orn looked after us beautifully at Baanbooloo. She now has her own cooking school, Auntie Orn’s Organic Family Cooking. Orn is passionate about fresh organic food, cooked in ways that the whole family will love.
We were collected in a songthaew and headed off to meet with Orn at her local market. No other tourists there! It was lovely to see Orn again, and she enjoyed seeing how much the girls had grown over the past two and a half years. Firstly we went into the ready-made part of the market, where you could buy desserts, sausages, cooked meats, and similar items. I really enjoy those glutinous coconutty sweets in little leaf packages. So delicious! As it was almost Chinese New Year there were lots of appropriate treats being prepared.
The items in the below photo really look like “natural” cigarettes to me! What do you think? Do you know? They are parcelled up with rolled up tubes, dried leaf matter, and boxes of matches. I really should have asked.
The fresh food section of the market was also quite extensive. There are always fruits and vegetables that I’m not familiar with in among the ones that I know. This is very much the local Coles or Woolworths – everything that you need can be found here.
More mystery parcels in the photo below! We did ask what was inside those leaf wrappings – I think it was sticky rice and coconut.
Kaffir limes – these are such a great fruit. Both the fruit and the leaves are used extensively in Thai cooking. As per Wikipedia: The leaves are the most frequently used part of the plant, fresh, dried, or frozen. The leaves are widely used in Thai and Lao cuisine (for dishes such as tom yum) and Cambodian cuisine (for the base paste “krueng“). The leaves are used in Vietnamese cuisine to add fragrance to chicken dishes and to decrease the pungent odor when steaming snails. The leaves are used in Indonesian cuisine (especially Balinese cuisine and Javanese cuisine) for foods such as soto ayam and are used along with Indonesian bay leaf for chicken and fish. They are also found in Malaysian and Burmese cuisines. It is used widely in South Indian cuisine. The rind (peel) is commonly used in Lao and Thai curry paste, adding an aromatic, astringent flavor. The zest of the fruit, referred to as combava, is used in creole cuisine to impart flavor in infused rums and rougails in Martinique, Réunion, and Madagascar. In Cambodia, the entire fruit is crystallized/candied for eating.
The juice and rinds of the peel are used in traditional medicine in some Asian countries; the fruit’s juice is often used in shampoo and is believed to kill head lice. The juice finds use as a cleanser for clothing and hair in Thailand and very occasionally in Cambodia. Lustral water mixed with slices of the fruit is used in religious ceremonies in Cambodia.
I enjoy the aesthetics of the wrinkly skin. They look like tiny brains.
I had to ask what this vegetable was – it’s bamboo shoots, prepared in different ways. Not something that we can easily buy fresh in Australia at all! Wikipedia tells me in Thai cuisine bamboo shoots are called no mai. It can be used in stir-fries, soups such as tom kha kai, curries such as kaeng tai pla, as well as in Thai salads. Some dishes ask for fresh bamboo shoots, others for pickled bamboo shoots (no mai dong).
And look closely at what is inside the bag in the next photo:
Yes, those are frogs. Frogs were on many of the menus we encountered in Thailand. I’ve found a terrific blog post here that details their use as an ingredient. I did not indulge. I just can’t go there. I know it’s all in the mind, but still. The below photo is of another interesting Thai ingredient, chicken blood, that is used in conjunction with a particular type of noodle. I am pretty sure that the name of the dish is nam ngiao.
And of course, chicken feet! Every part of the animal is used in Thai cooking. Stella was rather perturbed that the chickens were sold with the head and feet on, looking extremely identifiable as chickens. Of course, the rest o the meat section of the market was the same. Every single part of the animal was available for purchase. No wastage here! We were rather pleased that this section was cooled and enclosed to keep insects to a minimum. Appealed to my western food safety and hygiene sensibilities.
There were also terrific clean pay toilet facilities at the market – including a toilet with disabled access. I think that was the first time that I saw any provision made for people with physical disabilities while we were in Thailand. I often wondered how people cope with the uneven streets and pathways and the multitude of steps both outside and inside houses.
After we’d decided on what meals we would cook and had bought all the ingredients, Orn’s friend Lek picked us up in his car and we drove to Orn’s home and cooking school. There was a very special surprise waiting for us there in the form of two puppies! Stella was ecstatic. She’s been missing Buzz.
Orn and Lek have constructed all the buildings on their land themselves, primarily from simple materials in straightforward traditional styles. The climate certainly helps with this – most living is outdoor living, with the bathhouse and bedrooms the only rooms that can be enclosed. They’ve used plenty of bamboo, mud bricks and plaster where appropriate, and are embracing an organic and permaculture lifestyle. They have all the things that they need – including a fridge, beer, computers – but not a great deal of excess. Enough, but not too much. It’s pretty inspiring.
The gardens are extensive and Orn and Lek plan to grown pretty much all that they need. There are all sorts of trees, planted in a companion planting style, along with ducks and chickens. The kitchen at the back of the property has a solar powered battery to help with electricity where needed, but cooking is done on gas or charcoal. Food scraps are composted, and activated charcoal is being prepared. There is no plumbed water but instead a couple of deep bores, and water is stored in large ceramic urns. They purchase drinking water, but are otherwise very self-sufficient. We gathered the rest of the ingredients that we needed from the garden.
So, on to the cooking! Dan had done the class last time so after a little while handed over the reins to the rest of the family. He was also feeling a little intestinally challenged (as is often the case when travelling – not sick, but not how things usually are) so was happy to sit back and let us do the work. Actually, the girls did most of it! Ingredients were collected and prepared for a papaya salad, Penang chicken curry, chicken and thai basil stir-fry, and stir fried morning glory (pak boong), all to be eaten with rice.
There goes Stella chopping up the morning glory, as as it’s know in Thai, pak boong. It’s also known as water spinach. We’d eaten the same vegetable in Laos and really enjoyed it there too. It’s a green leafy vegetable with tender shoots and leaves, and if you google pad pak boong you’ll find plenty of recipes for the classic stir-fried version with garlic, chillies and oyster sauce.
Orn and Lek had a volunteer WWOOFer staying with them, Jen, who helped out with the cooking class. I had never heard about WWOOF before. From their website: WWOOF organisations connect people who want to live and learn on organic farms and smallholdings with people who are looking for volunteer help. WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles. Volunteers give hands on help in return.
As it happens there are WWOOF organisations all around the world! Jen was from the USA, and had been with Orn and Lek for a week when we did our class. What a wonderful example of two-way sharing of cultures and information, and no significant cost to either party.
The papaya salad was delicious. Clare picked the green papaya, and grated it. This is usually a very spicy dish, but we toned down the chilli and it was extremely refreshing. Wikipedia has more information about this classic South East Asian dish (originally from Laos) as well. The dish combines the five main tastes of the local cuisine: sour lime, hot chili, salty, savory fish sauce, and sweetness added by palm sugar. The ingredients are mixed and pounded in a mortar; The general Lao name tam som literally means “pounded sour”, however, the more specific Lao name tam maak hoong literally means “pounded papaya”. In Khmer, the name bok l’hong also means “pounded papaya”. In Thai, the name som tam, (a reversal of the Lao name), literally translates as “sour pounded”. However, other pounded salads in Thailand are consistent with the Lao naming convention in which the word tam (“pounded”) is listed first.
Despite the use of papaya, which one may think of as sweet, this salad is actually savory. When not yet ripe, papaya has a slightly tangy flavor. The texture is crisp and firm, sometimes to the point of crunchiness. It is this that allows the fruit to withstand being beaten in the mortar.
In Laos, green papaya salad is one of the traditional staples of the Lao. Pounded salads in Laos all fall under the parent category of tam som, which may or may not contain green papaya, however, when no specific type of tam som is mentioned, it is generally understood to refer to green papaya salad. For absolute clarity, however, the name tam maak hoong may be used, since this name means “pounded papaya”.
In Thailand, it is customary that a customer ask the preparer to make the dish suited to his or her tastes. To specifically refer to the original style of papaya salad as prepared in Laos or Isan, it is known as ส้มตำลาว or som tam Laoor simply as tam Lao, and the dish as prepared in central Thailand may be referred to as som tam Thai.
Traditionally, the local variety of green papaya salad in the streets of Bangkok is very hot due to the addition of a fistful of chopped hot bird’s eye chili. However, with its rising popularity among tourists, it is now often served not as hot.
These dishes would usually contain much more chilli – much hotter chilli! Orn kindly catered to our (children’s) bland tastes and there was enough chilli for flavour but nothing was terribly spicy. As a generally rule Thai love their food super spicy – and their desserts are super sweet! It seems that there is not much in between – the flavours are intense whatever they are. The chicken with basil was pretty much like this recipe, and the stir fried morning glory similar to this. The penang curry was also toned down heat wise. It was all delicious – and incredibly fresh.
It was such a pleasure to see Orn and Lek again and to meet Jen and to share in their hospitality. You can find more information on Orn’s cooking classes here (she is also on Facebook) and I thoroughly recommend them if you are interested in how to cook family style meals in a traditional, fresh way. We left the farm with very full bellies and a whole lot of cooking inspiration!
Some of you probably know that Thailand is famous for its Ladyboy cabaret shows. Louis kindly offered to take me to one of his local favourites to have a cocktail or two and see the show. There were six exquisite ladyboy performers and four equally gorgeous young men as backup dancers. Wikipedia tells me that
These ladyboys put on a really stunning show! Amazing costumes with lots of quick changes between acts, loads of energy, terrific routines, a bit of humour, excellent lip-synching, and they are absolutely beautiful. The bar was packed. It is open to the street on two sides, and the performers were very happy to have their photo taken in the street with audience members after the show. Jeepers, I look so short and plain next to them!
Thanks Louis – it was loads of fun (and it had been a LONG time since I’d last headed out at 9.30pm in the evening to go to a bar!). Now I know why all those sequinned fabrics and glittery trims are available for sale in the market – there are so many cabaret costumes to make!