If ever you have the opportunity to travel to Thailand, I highly encourage you to go. I recently came back from a month-long trip, volunteering up north for two weeks then touring my way down south for the last two weeks. I did so much, saw so many beautiful things, and learned that I have a very independent and adventurous side.
It was an unforgettable month, and needless to say the delicious selection of Thai food made for some of the happiest moments of my trip. The amount of Thai iced teas I drank means that this creamy, slightly sweet, iced beverage is now forever within my veins.
I learned that food can be a medium for comfort when I’m shy or nervous, such as when I was introducing myself at the first dinner with the strangers I would be spending a month with or as a relief for stress when I was anxious about snorkeling for the first time.
I also learned that food can be a medium for curiosity and fun, from trying out Green Tea Kit Kat bars, exotic fruits, and rolled ice cream, to unbelievable degrees of spiciness from itty-bitty ingredients—I’m looking at you prik kee noo chili peppers.
With my mind open, my stomach rumbling, and my Lonely Planet guidebook in hand, I eagerly tried Thailand’s cuisine as frequently as I could. This led to taking a cooking class in downtown Chiang Mai’s Asia Scenic. Thailand’s complexity and zest translated effortlessly on my palate, and after a wonderful evening of open-flame cooking, spice fume-induced crying, and gluttonous eating, I was given a little recipe book.
Naturally, I was inspired to try some Thai cooking in my own bachelor(ette) apartment kitchen after my trip. I decided to challenge myself to cook Thai dishes for a week, and see how I leveled up to the authentic dishes I had eaten during my travels.
Day One: Pad Thai
Ah, the first dish that comes to mind when thinking of Thailand, and for good reason. It’s such a euphoric harmony of flavours in one quickly made and cheaply-priced meal.
Granted, it took a fair amount of prep work and a quick switch to the fast-paced cooking time, but the end result was worth the time and minor stress. The tastes took me right back to going out on the town with friends during my trip. Definitely happy I learned how to make this dish.
Day Two: Deep Fried Spring Rolls and Bananas in Coconut Milk
The spring rolls were a pain, only because there were so many steps for preparation and cooking. The best part was the folding and rolling of the spring rolls—it was easy and almost calming to do. After one go, I had the pattern memorized. I felt like a proper chef using my hands as utensils: scooping the filling, rolling the rice paper, and dabbing on the egg wash.
#SpoonTip: Put a lot of time aside to make these, because it’s a challenge to do everything by yourself.
The boiled bananas in warm coconut milk was … interesting. The dessert dish was a little odd, mostly because my brain was confused by the fact that it looked like soup but had a sweet taste and a chunky texture from the banana.
I will say that the “broth” of coconut milk, sugar, salt, sesame seed, and cinnamon was amazing just by itself. I wanted to remove the bananas and drink the coconut milk like a hot chocolate (only this was 1000 times better than that).
Day Three: Pad See Ew
One of my favourite Thai dishes. Thus far, this one seemed the easiest to cook, but it just didn’t taste like when I had it in downtown Chiang Mai. Oh my, it was so good in Thailand.
Maybe the experience and satisfaction of food really has something more to do with the intrigue, excitement, and setting around it as opposed to the taste alone. That was a little #foodforthought as I ate my plateful anyway.
Day Four: Cashew Chicken and Deep Fried Bananas
Now that I’m (mostly) allergy free, this dish was really cool to try out. The cashew chicken was wonderful, with lots of flavour and lots of spice. I will definitely be cooking this up again sometime soon (after practicing my sauce measurements and rice making skills some more).
#SpoonTip: The leftovers the next day have even more flavour.
The deep fried bananas took some care, time, and patience to make, but they were so worth it in the end. I deep fried them twice, because I could. It also added a little extra crispiness to the crunchy dessert.
My only wish is that this recipe came with a sweet coconut sauce for dipping.
Day Five: Sweet and Sour Prawn Soup
This is probably the fastest dish I’ve ever made. The soup took nothing other than a little ingenuity to replace ingredients that I didn’t already have on hand (or couldn’t find before I had to return to my summer course paper due that evening).
Even though I used basil leaves instead of kefir leaves, shrimp instead of prawns, green onion instead of lemongrass, ginger instead of galangal, and red curry paste instead of chilli jam, I think I did pretty well. Props to me for thinking on my toes.
Day Six: Red Curry
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that so much flavour can be packed into one dish. Granted, I didn’t make the curry paste from scratch (unfortunately I don’t have a full Asian spice rack or a mortar and pestle) but I still felt pretty accomplished having made my first ever curry.
There was such a harmony of flavors; the spices from the curry, smoothness from the coconut milk, sweetness from the palm sugar, and a little extra heat from the dried chili peppers. I will definitely make this easy dish again and again.
Day Seven: Sticky Rice with Mango
I know that this isn’t a dinner-type meal, but honestly today was the beginning of a rough week and I really just wanted something sweet. It took a considerable amount of time just to make the rice—4.5 hours, to be exact—but that was mostly soaking it to make it sticky. After that, it was just making the coconut milk “sauce” and then soaking the rice in that.
This dish is usually served in a cute little design, so I got creative with my mangos and sticky rice. This was definitely a very sweet way to end the week.
Overall, this week was a lot of fun. I got to search for ingredients, practice my time management and creativity skills, and cook dishes that I’d never made before.
That said, it was a real challenge to get what I needed on a student budget. Some people might have these ingredients more readily available to them, but I didn’t. Having to make a trip to the grocery store almost every day and cringe at the various subtotals hurt my bank account. When I cook Thai food again I think I’ll just stick to one recipe at a time.
I enjoyed this week, learned a couple things, and reminisced about some wonderful memories from my trip. It was a great experience, but right now, I’m ready for a glass of wine and some pizza.