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Posts Tagged ‘Thailand’

Thai’s are not accustomed to cold weather. During the two-week “winter” in December, the temperature drops no lower than 60 degrees.

Sean and I traveled to Nan, seven hours north east of Chiang Mai, in hopes of signing up for a three day/two night trek. March and April are the hottest months in Thailand, temperatures well into the 90’s and high humidity; you can imagine why we would plan to be in the coolest part of the country.

In the late afternoon on Wednesday, Nan welcomed us with below 50 degree weather and freezing rain. We checked into a guesthouse and decided to wait out the weather, hoping to make it on a trek the next day. The freezing rain continued for three days straight, never stopping, and only getting colder. Restaurants and food stalls closed up shop. For the first two days, we  hardly left the guesthouse, spending our time playing backgammon, eating cashews, and drinking red wine.

We were starving by dinner time and decided to make one last attempt to find a real meal. We stumbled across Just Jazz, a small restaurant, no more than ten tables, with an extensive Thai and Western menu. We placed our order, curry for me and lasagna for Sean. We both could tell that this meal would help turn around our dreary days in Nan.

The food was unbelievably good. The lasagna was creamy, the cheese and béchamel sauce oozing from the layers of pasta, and the curry was homemade, thick and rich. We ended up joining a party of regulars; two brits and a guy originally from Boston. As a St. Patty’s Day celebration, one of the regulars ordered the Chef’s Gourmet Beef Burger for the group to split. It was by far the best burger I have had in Thailand. Using local beef, the chef creates a flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth patty, using almost no fat. She then top the burger with home-cured bacon, spicy pickles and melted parmesan cheese.

The five of us sat around the table for hours, sharing various dishes from the menu and drinking whiskey. One of the chef’s realized that I wasn’t drinking whiskey and brought me a complimentary glass of red wine.

In a town with few restaurants and no Western options, Just Jazz is an absolute gem. The quality of the ingredients and the time and care that goes into each dish is not something you will find anywhere else in Nan. We had such a good time that we decided to push our bus back and enjoy brunch the next morning. As it turns out, the bus was full and we ended up eating dinner there as well and sampled some of the Thai dishes. Unsurprisingly,  they were delicious!

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This post is a bit out of the ordinary for me, as the main focus is not food, but rather my lifestyle in Ayutthaya, Thailand. I have been traveling Thailand and SE Asia for six months and working as a primary English teacher for three. Working and living in a foreign country has been truly eye opening, as adapting to the local culture and way of doing business has been crucial for my success and sanity.

Here are a few of the reasons why I decided to leave Chicago and spend close to nine months traveling and teaching on the other side of the world.

Known as K 3/5 (5 and 6 year olds) at my school, here are some pictures of my favorite class. Now, as you can tell by some of their mischievous smiles, they are not the best behaved class, but they are by far the most fun!

Ekaput- He head butts me once a class, but I like to think of it as a big hug.

Modem- She is my little helper. She quiets the class for me and helps the other kids write their name in English... Love her!

 

BM- The only one of my students who can read. He is even more mischievous than he looks.

 

M.O.- She and Modem are two peas in a pod. She is obsessed with the word LOVE (as seen on her worksheet).

Nam Tan (Thai for sugar)- She always has a new and improved hairdo.

Here are some of my other students, ranging in age from K2 (4 and 5 year olds) to P1 (1st graders).

 

 


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In the attempt to find the best pad thai in Thailand, I have eaten this dish at least once a week since for six months. I am a little shocked that I haven’t gotten sick of it yet. I guess it makes sense; if I were living in Italy, pizza and pasta would definitely be a weekly indulgence.

I have had everything from inedible ramen noodle imposters to the most delicious and mouthwatering plates of pad thai you can imagine.  For me, pad thai is my Thai equivalent to homemade risotto, pure comfort food. Diving into a dish that, seconds before hitting my mouth, was bubbling from an open flame in a nearby wok is an experience all on its own. It takes everything in me to let it cool down, so I use this time to jazz my plate up with extra peanuts, chili infused vinegar, lime and bean sprouts.

The consistency of pad thai is one that can easily be ruined. Not enough time in the wok leads to crunchy noodles and a thin, watery sauce and a minute too long will leave it dry. Classic pad thai begins with sautéing garlic, shallots, carrot (optional) and tofu in vegetable oil until golden brown. Add the pre-soaked Thai rice noodles to the wok, stirring actively. Next comes the sauce: add tamarind, sugar, fish sauce, and chili pepper until the noodles and sauce are fully combined.  Push the noodle mixture off to the side and crack an egg in the wok. Scramble the egg and incorporate it into the pad thai (Not an egg fan? Leave it out). Add green chives and bean sprouts a minute or two before serving. Top your pad thai with peanuts, bean sprouts, chives and a wedge of lime.

There are too many amazing pad thai places that I have discovered to name them all, but when I have the craving, a local guesthouse in Ayutthaya comes to mind. It is hard to walk by ‘One Love…Coffee’ guesthouse and not stop in for at least a drink. The three women who work there love practicing their English and all but harass you until you decide to take a seat and stay a while. The company and a perfect plate of pad thai always has me coming back for more.

For a traditional pad thai recipe, I found a great website with step-by-step instructions and pictures for a first timer. Enjoy.



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For the past few months, I have been eating lunch Monday–Friday at the school where I teach kindergarten. The food started off mediocre and has gotten progressively worse throughout the semester. I told myself that I would only eat out once a week, in an attempt to save money. However, for someone who loves food as much as I do, having four awful meals a week just wasn’t working out.

Thankfully, I discovered a som tam lady. I have had som tam many times in Thailand so it would be more accurate to say I discovered my latest som tam lady.  While taking a short motorbike drive to grab a diet coke from the local convenience store, I spotted her. The piles of shredded papaya and limes were a dead give away.

Som tam is a classic spicy Thai salad. Unlike most western dishes, som tam’s flavors are multi-dimensional; sweet, sour, spicy and salty. The dish is made by pulverizing the ingredients with a mortar and pestle. The process begins with a handful of small Thai garlic and fresh red chilies (I have to ask for, “neung prik kha”, one pepper please). Then comes the sauce: a mixture of fish sauce, palm sugar, freshly squeezed limejuice, and salt.  A large handful of shredded papaya, plum tomatoes, green long beans and peanuts mak mak (lots) are added to the mortar to finish the dish. The concoction is tossed in the sauce and served alongside sticky rice.

Som tam is a great alternative when I get to the point where I just can’t eat another rice dish. Needless to say, my som tam lady is a lifesaver, or at least my lunch saver. By now she knows to leave out the fermented shrimp and raw crab and gives me extra peanuts to compensate. Already, I have had som tam for lunch four times this week (and it is Thursday). Can you guess what my lunch will be tomorrow?

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Before moving to Thailand, I considered myself a curry lover, and still do. I grew up eating Panang curry at home and love every variation of this Indian delicacy. Back home I head to Mt. Everest in Evanston with my family to indulge in Indian food. Even though I smell like an Indian restaurant for days it is worth it every time.

It is undeniable that Kaeng khiao wan (literally translated to sweet green curry) is a staple at every Thai restaurant and green curry paste is as prevalent in the market as fresh coconuts. The first time I tried green curry I was surprised by the sweetness of the sauce. Something was not right. How could I not like a dish made with Keffir lime leaves, coconut milk and Thai basil?

The only conclusion I made is that I am not a fan of Thai eggplant and pea aubergine (I will admit, I was not familiar with this vegetable the first time I tried it). Both vegetables are slightly bitter and when cooked keep their coarse, crunchy texture. I guess I am used to eggplant that melts in your mouth.

Even though I don’t love green curry, the entire country of Thailand swears by it. So, if you have a fantastic recipe for green curry, send it my way, I will always give something another try. Or better yet, next time you’re out for Thai, order the green curry and make your own conclusions about this famous Thai dish!

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Tonight, we headed to Malakor for dinner. This seems to be a trend when we are unsure on our dinner plans. Malakor is a very modest Thai style restaurant. There are never more than 8 diners  sitting cross-legged on the floor, and yet they serve the best Thai food in Ayutthaya. Malakor was our first meal in Ayutthaya and has been a weekly occurrence ever since.

One dish that has become a staple for me in Thailand is Pad Med Ma Muang, or Stir-fry chicken with cashew nuts. It seems that the more I order the dish, the better it is. Either each restaurant I go to makes it better than the last, or I just cannot go a week without the combination of warm crunchy cashew nuts with caramelized onions. I’m going to go with the latter.

Malakor’s take on the dish uses dried red chilies instead of fresh, giving the dish a smoky flavor. The stir-fry also includes sweet green peppers (similar to banana peppers), carrots, green onion, baby corn, and local mushrooms. Ma Muang, meaning mango in Thai, could be one of the reasons the sauce is so flavorful, but with the communication barrier, I am not even sure if mango is used. Even if can’t figure out the exact ingredients, mai bpen rai, I know my fix is just a five minute motorbike away.

I am aware that my blog must look like an advertisement for Malakor, but if you ever find yourself in Ayutthaya, it would be worth it to eat multiple meals in this hole-in-the-wall spot.

I am the opposite of a picky eater. I’m no Andrew Zimmern, but I’ll basically try anything. Soup, however, has just never been my cup of tea. I like foods with multiple textures and soup tends to get boring. Or so I thought until I had my first bowl of Tom Kha at Malakor.

On our first trip to Malakor, Sean and I split Tom Kha and another main dish. By the time the second course came out, we had both our spoons in the Tom Kha bowl, fighting over the last few sips. We were more than tempted to order a second bowl.

Tom Kha is a coconut milk-based soup and has similar flavors to Tom Yum (a popular spicy Thai soup). The coconut milk is slowly cooked with large pieces of galangal (Thai ginger), lemongrass, red chilies and bay leaves. The mushroom, tomato, onion and shrimp are added with a few minutes left to cook, allowing the liquid to reduce and for the flavors to come alive.

Another Malakor crowd favorite: red curry with shrimp (featured below).

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Railroad Market

One of the highlights of my parents visit was the railway market, located about 70 km outside Bangkok. It would be a lie to say that I was overly excited to visit a market. Sean and I go to the Ayutthaya market at least once a week to buy our cooking ingredients, so my initial feeling was “been there, done that”.

Every morning, vegetable, fruit, meat and fish vendors set up  shop, flanking the sides of a popular railroad track. The market begins in the early morning and continues until about noon (give or take an hour or two- Thai time). Sometime around 9am, the vendors hear the roaring sounds of the incoming train and quickly roll their stalls no more than three feet away from the tracks, leaving inches between their produce and the rushing train. After the train passes, the stalls are put back into place, and the shopping continues.

We left the hotel at 7am sharp, all four of us piling into a minivan that would normally carry 15-20 Thais. We arrived at the market and Nang, our Thai guide, led us through the various stalls, helping us decipher between pig stomach and intestines. We made our way to the railroad. The only place to walk is on the actual railroad track, so you can imagine how crowded the small passageway was. Thai’s were everywhere; fighting to get the still flopping red snapper they had their eye on before the person behind them.

This market had everything you could imagine, and a lot that you would not want to think about.  We were a bit unlucky, there was flooding and the daily train had been cancelled that day- but the site of this controlled chaos made me realize how crazy and backwards this country can be, and made my parents realize how lucky they are to have Grand Foods Grocery just a few blocks away.

Here are some pictures from the market. Enjoy!

A HUGE piece of swordfish

Thai Eggplant


 

 

 

Fresh Catfish

Pumpkin

 

 

 

 

Railroad Market

Thai Vegetables

Pig Stomach

Blue Crab

Red Snapper and Sea Bass

Scallops

 

Thai Green Mussels

Fish Roe

Fermented Shrimp and Shrimp Paste

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