Photo of the Week: Chiang Mai, Thailand


Thailand was my first international trip and what a way to kick off a lifetime of travel! Chiang Mai is a very cute town and there is so much to do while there. We explored the night market, learned to make pad thai in a cooking class and rode an elephant. If you haven't visited Thailand you really should! I am sure it has changed drastically in the decade plus since I have been there, but one thing I assure you hasn't changed is how incredibly nice everyone will be to you.

Learning through Travel

Appetizer in Florence
One of the things that you cannot miss when you travel is how distinctly food can define a culture. Food brings people together, it erases language barriers and even in the poorest of countries you will see someone puff up with pride when you can’t eat enough of the food they have prepared.  The connection you feel to a city, their people, and a lifestyle is one of the reasons that I try to take a cooking class whenever I travel. I have been fortunate enough to take a class in Thailand, Italy and Guatemala. Each of these classes has introduced me to new ingredients and different methods of cooking, of course the fruits of my labor have tasted that much better!
In 2002 we found a cooking class in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The day started with a visit to the market with our tour guide. She answered questions about ingredients that were foreign to me (back in 2002 I could not have told you what lemongrass or galanga looked like, much less knew the marked taste they impart on food) and helped us shop for the items we would need to create our dishes. On the menu were the better known Thai dishes, such as Tom Yum Gai, Pad Thai and Curry. After shopping we headed back to a house where we started prepping our dishes.  As we passed the mortar and pestle around the circle of students seated on the floor, I couldn’t help but yearn for my cuisinart and the speed with which it would complete the curry paste. 
Still working on making that curry
After ingredients were prepped, we headed out to the backyard, fired up our individual wooden stoves, topped them with our woks and learned to make our dishes. The food itself wasn’t terribly memorable, but the chance to see the market with a local, learn new ingredients and labor over the process has stuck with me…even after 10 years. 
Everyone at their burner
My second cooking class was more recent and was part of a 30th birthday trip to Italy. Since my birthday is in early March, we were looking for things to do in Florence that had us indoors at least some of the time. 
Of course a cooking class came up as an option and we ultimately ended up booking a class through Food and Wine Academy of Florence. The day, much like our last cooking class, started with a walk over to the market in Florence. We wandered the market, sampling olive oils, picking out fresh vegetables, and purchasing meat. 
Finding the ingredients for our meal
After that we returned to the kitchen, donned our aprons, opened a bottle of vino and got to work. The menu included handmade pasta, meatballs, and tiramisu. Again, the kitchen gadgets I love and adore were nowhere to be found, we didn’t have a pasta maker, but instead rolled the dough out by hand, rough cutting it in to tagliatelle. 
Eggs and Flour, That's all you need for pasta
Rolling the Dough
 We soaked bread for meatballs and lady fingers for tiramisu, all while asking our chef questions about where he grew up, the Italian economy, and other great restaurants we had to visit in Florence. 
Dusting the meatballs in flour
The finished product, so good!
More recently we visited Guatemala and took a cooking class in Antigua.  Unlike our prior two classes, we didn’t get a chance to tour the market, but we did get all you can drink beer/wine….so, there was that. 
 We took our class through El Frijol Feliz.  The menu included Pepian, Chilaquiles, and Bunuelos.  We diligently chopped, sauteed, stirred, and whipped (the refried beans in Guatamela are amazing, I could and did eat them every day!). 
Toasting the ingredients for Pepian
Our Teacher
Pepian - the finished product
Again we learned about why the dishes are made the way they are, which occasions warranted a special dish, and the general local politics/economy (what discussion in Central America would be complete without commentary on the drug cartels and their role in the area?).
Although the dishes we made in each country were drastically different, the sense of food as a part of culture was the same. We were given the opportunity to interact with a local who was there to teach us their country’s native dish, share with us the stories of their family, and show us that sometimes simple food is the best.
  This is a part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Each week, a different prompt: Learning Through Travel