Known variously as "Thai salad", "spicy salad" or "traditional salad", "Papaya salad" is one of the few Thai foods that I'd never tried and never heard of, prior to coming to Thailand. And now I know why. Tonight in Mae Hat — just before leaving Ko Tao — I sampled a plate of this infamous dish for the first time. I'd been warned that this is "the spiciest dish in Thailand": and as such, I naturally went ahead and asked them to prepare it pet pet ("very spicy") for me. Big mistake: it really is the spiciest dish in Thailand, and perhaps in the entire world. The stuff probably isn't even legal back home. It's a delicious salad: but brace yourself before trying it, because it will blow you away.
"No name" vegetables is a crunchy Thai appetiser, which consists of chopped-up mixed vegies, that are battered and deep-fried into little snackable pieces. Best eaten dipped in sweet 'n' sour sauce. Not sure if they have it elsewhere in Thailand — I don't recall seeing it in Bangkok or in the north — but here in Ko Tao, most restaurants list it on their menu. At the remote restaurant this afternoon (after bashing through the jungle), my friend Robert introduced me to this dish, which I've never tried before, but which I hope to sample again.
Roti isn't a Thai dish as such — at least, not as far as I'm aware — but they've got plenty of it on the street here in Pai, and I hear that they have it elsewhere in Thailand as well. It's a very thin pancake, cooked in about 30 seconds over a hot stove (from a small handful of dough), and commonly offered with such fillings as banana, chocolate and pineapple. As well as being delicious, roti is also the perfect dessert to fill that gap in your stomach, which seems to so annoyingly form several hours after dinner. The street vendors are well aware of this magical property that their pancakes possess, and as such, they can be found flippin' and sizzlin' every night, well into the wee hours of the evening.
This was yet another savoury street snack that Marie, Claire and myself sampled at the Pai night market this evening. These pancakes are made primarily from ground corn and from coconut milk, with a bit of rice thrown in for good measure. Unlike the grilled rice pancakes, they're quite petite, and are generally sold by the dozen or half-dozen. There was a long wait for them this evening — despite the fact that they were cooking them in batches of about 100 — but our patience was well rewarded.
Grilled rice pancake was one of the many delicious, fresh-cooked street snacks that I discovered at the Pai night market this evening. Its appearance is not so appetising: it's black and flat and slimy, and it looks not unlike what I imagine a female uterus would appear like (when grilled). But don't be deterred by this: the pancake is sweet and chewy, and it's divine. Best eaten fresh off the coals, in no more than 5 bites and gulps.
It's been a while since I last took a cooking class on this trip; but today, the great tradition was finally revived. And revived Thai style, no less. This morning I was picked up from my new guesthouse (Yourhouse — better than the original dump that I stayed in), and taken to meet my 10 fellow classmates for today's lesson. The cooking school that I signed up with is run by two brothers: I was picked up by one brother; but he's taking a break today, and the lesson was conducted by his bigger, funnier second brother. We commenced with an eyebrow-raising tour of one of Chiang Mai's food markets, and then drove over to the school's private kitchen for the main event.
Sweet sticky rice is a delicious dessert in Thai cuisine. The art of making sticky rice is quite an involved one: it includes soaking the rice (special-grain) in water overnight, and then cooking it in a special steamer and bag. For the sweet sticky rice dish, you add sugar and coconut, and the rice is generally served with fresh mango slices. Sweet sticky rice was the final dish that we made during today's cooking class: and by the time we got round to sampling it, we were already all in imminent danger of explosion, due to overeating.
One of the tastiest side dishes in the world of Thai cuisine is the nation's vegetarian spring rolls. Preparation for this dish involves making the paste that is the roll's filling: this consists of various vegetables, noodles, sauces and spices, which are all mushed together. The paste is then rolled up inside sheets of rice paper, and deep fried until cooked and crunchy. Best served hot, and best dipped in fresh sweet-chili sauce. This was yet another one of the mouth-watering foods that I made during today's cooking class.
Green Curry Chicken (in Thai: "Gang Kiew Wan Gai") is the classic Thai curry dish, and it remains my favourite of the nation's many curries, due to its rich coconut taste and its refreshing spice. The preparation for this dish can be quite long — especially if you need to prepare the curry paste yourself — however, as with most Thai dishes, actually cooking it is both quick and simple. "Gang Kiew" ("green curry") is generally cooked with "Gai" ("chicken"), but alternatives are fine as well. This was the main course of today's cooking class.
Pad Thai is so famous, it's virtually synonymous with Thai cuisine. For many people, it's the only Thai dish they know; and for more still, it's the one that they love above all others. And it's little wonder, seeing that this quick and simple rice-noodle stir-fry dish — generally cooked with egg, and sometimes also with chicken, pork or shrimp — is one of the tastiest, the cheapest and the most widely-available in all of Thailand. I love Pad Thai, and as far as I'm concerned, today's cooking class wouldn't have been complete without it.