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Where's the Peanut Sauce?

March 12, 2014









I enjoy Thai food and looked forward to wonderful meals on our recent trip, but Mrs. C. took her enthusiasm for cooking to a higher level by signing us up for a day at the Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School. Had I studied the brochure I’d have known what I was getting into, but of course I didn’t.


We were picked up at our hotel and driven to an open market for a lecture on local cooking ingredients. Live fish and frogs were in tanks and I tried not to make eye contact with them. Mysterious animal parts hung from chains dangling from the ceiling, casting shadows over rows of severed pig heads. I’ve never eaten pig face. I understand it’s a delicacy but I have a rule that I never eat anything capable of looking back at me.




Chiang Mai Market


After the market we were driven into the country. Along the way our driver swerved to miss an incredibly large snake on the road. Giddy over what he called a lucky moment (Thais, like many people in Asia, revere snakes) he planned on buying a lottery ticket that evening.


Mrs. C. promised me a fine lunch but she never told me I’d have to work my ass off for it. On arriving at the farm we were given a tour of the organic gardens. One item caught my attention—the infamous durian fruit. Our guide told us the durian is very popular in Thailand and known as the “king of fruits” in southeast Asia.  She claimed it tasted like heaven but smelled like hell, and compared it to eating a delicious avocado while sitting on a toilet. She plucked one from a tree, cut it open and passed it around. Pee-you! No way was I going to eat that.




The notorious durian fruit


We were given choices as to what we were going to cook and I decided on green curry shrimp soup. The ingredients for curry were placed on a cutting board in front of me, along with a stone mortar and pestle. I was told to place the ingredients in my pestle and to begin the process of pulverization. I pounded, and pounded, and pounded. Altogether there were about two dozen of us, with only two guys, me being one of them, and I was proud of the fact that my masculine strength was coming into play—until our instructor approached, squeezed my arm and said, “You so big but pound like little girl.” She took the mortar from me and pounded the life out of those ingredients. Frankly, I don’t think she pounded any harder than I did, but my ego sure took a pounding.




Our instructor. Cute, even though her name was unpronounceable




Ingredients for green curry


After struggling with my gas work station, I managed to complete my soup. I must admit it tasted fabulous, although many of the ingredients weren’t thoroughly cooked. After all that mortar pounding my hands were shaky, which is why the picture is slightly out of focus.



Green curry soup with shrimp


I made several dishes, including stir-fried big noodles, and pumpkin in coconut milk for dessert. One of the things I like most about Thai food is spicy peanut sauce. When I asked our instructor about this she said she’d never eaten food with a spicy peanut sauce. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’d recently departed Hong Kong (China) without spotting a single fortune cookie.     



Upstaged by a young instructor. Just goes to show that size doesn't amount to much... in the kitchen.
By: Daniel LaFrance on March 12, 2014
I think she says that to all Americans. Very funny, you may hear that phrase again from Mrs. CC. If you could teach them spicy peanut sauce you would be famous in Thailand.
By: Cranky on March 12, 2014
i am such a meat geek that i would have up and died at the market place.
By: TexWisGirl on March 12, 2014
I have heard so much about Durian fruit because I have hippies for friends and they rave about it while practicing the very best of poor hygiene and joblessness.
By: Michael Offutt on March 12, 2014
I'd try the durian fruit, but pass on the pig's face. Sounds like you had a good time, and learned a few things. But I should tell you that B just signed up for a day-long pie-making class at the Culinary Institute. I think I got the better deal!
By: tom sightings on March 12, 2014
Women can be so undermining! Challenging your masculinity like that - what a cheek!
By: Bryan Jones on March 12, 2014
we went to cooking classes while in Oaxaca. That's where I took the photo for my blog header. Your class sounds a lot more exotic than ours! Great pics too!
By: Kathe W. on March 12, 2014
Not only wouldn't I eat things that have a face, I don't want to eat things that still look more than 50 percent of what they did in life. Just walking through San Francisco's Chinatown makes me queezy. I would be a real buzz kill on any trip to Asia. Snakes revered, pig face cuisine, ...I am rather surprised they have a tourist industry. Clearly others are more adventuresome than I am. hahaha...funny about the "pound like a girl" As insults go that one doesn't seem overly offensive.
By: Cheryl P. on March 12, 2014
It seems, when they come to the West, they adapt the local ingredients they have on hand. That doesn't surprise me at all.
By: mimi on March 12, 2014
I'm amazed and impressed that you participated in the class. I have never been involved with a man who would do something like that with me. Willy Dunne Wooters wouldn't even see Barry Manilow with me because "that's for wimmen". Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on March 12, 2014
That market would have done me in. We are so use to seeing our food unrecognizable in Styrofoam packages. I'd have tried the fruit. I can hold my breath a long time. Ok "little girl" was a bit harsh.
By: Akansas Patti on March 12, 2014
I am loving your Thai adventure. This episode makes me particularly hungry. I wonder, is Pad Thai authentic or one of those westernized creations?
By: Tom Cochrun on March 12, 2014
haha i'm still laughing at you pounding like a little girl. durian is most sought after in asia. my friend used to bring it to work frozen. tastes like icecream smells awful though. all my friends in indonesia love it. they have these cooking classes in bali too. my friend Maria does one. great stuff. i'm still catching up with your posts since you've been back. terrific reading. nice to have you back blogging again
By: Fran on March 12, 2014
You're so adventurous! If I can't warm it in the oven, or heat it in the microwave, I can't cook it. I was afraid your driver was going to jump out and grab the snake to cook for supper!
By: Val on March 12, 2014
What a great idea, to take a cooking class in a foreign country! I'd be afraid I could never find the exotic ingredients in my local grocery store. For a minute I wondered if you were getting live frogs for your cooking class. Of course, they would be available to you in Oregon... (trying to picture you now chasing after frogs in your local park).
By: Pixel Peeper on March 12, 2014
It was a smart thing to do to take a cooking class. Now I'm lost in the story. Wasn't Mrs C going to do the cooking. In the end you did the cooking??? I'm sure this experience was a hit.
By: red on March 12, 2014
They revere snakes? Cross that off my places to visit. I used to like Thai food but most of it is way too spicy for me anymore. Curse us weak Americans.
By: PT Dilloway on March 12, 2014
The finished product looks really good, which sort of sucks because it is 9:44 at night, and now I am hungry.
By: Katy Anders on March 12, 2014
I am with you, I don't like eating anything that looks back at me. Sounds though like you had a great day!
By: John on March 13, 2014
Wow, another fabulous adventure to add to your list. The soup sounds wonderful and I am sure you were just fine in the pulverizing dept. Sheesh. Oma Linda
By: Oma Linda on March 13, 2014
Good for Mrs. C. for signing you up on this adventure. I love the way both of you experience the places you visit.
By: Hilary on March 13, 2014
My wife and her daughter are huge fans of Thai food. I am not so while we laughed at your post, I could not thoroughly enjoy the taste treats.
By: Catalyst/Taylor on March 13, 2014
Stephen: This was a fascinating outing! Don't let the instructor's words bother you too much. Next time...
By: Michael Manning on March 13, 2014
I loved hearing about your cooking adventure. It must have been a proud moment to complete a shrimp curry - that's not easy. I had no idea about the stinky fruit or that seeing a snake brings luck. Great post!
By: Lexa Cain on March 13, 2014

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