Thailand: Cooking in the cool city of Chiang Mai

December 15th, 2011 · Lisa · restaurant review, Travel · Comments
On Sunday afternoon, I packed up my bags and waved good bye to the elephants. Our bus took the winding route back to the bustling city of Chiang Mai.We arrived just in time to hit the streets for the Sunday Market. I wandered through the crowds, visiting vendors and eyeing presents to take home to my family and friends. I managed to pick up a few things before the crowds made moving a challenge. That evening I met a group of volunteers for dinner at Taste From Heavenfollowed by a drink at a roof top bar. Looking out over the illuminated city packed with people was a great contrast to the luscious landscape of the park.

Jennifer (my friend from Bangkok) flew up with Jess in tow. It was a great surprise to see them both standing in the doorway of our 3sis accommodations.

Chiang Mai is known for its $100 Bhat a night guest houses (that’s about $3 Canadian dollars) but Jennifer and I decided we wanted the kind of luxury that $20 can buy in South-East Asia. 3Sis is a beautiful, modern boutique hotel, situated in the centre of the old city. There is a hydroponic garden out front. A complimentary breakfast is served in their cafe. And durians are banned. It was the perfect place to unwind after my busy week up north.

The next morning we were out to explore again. Jennifer and I stopped for a smoothie at Juicy4U and then we did some shopping at Ginger and The House, two of Jennifer’s favourite finds in Chiang Mai. Jess joined us for a cup of tea at the Ginger Kafe. I had to order the ginger tea…I just couldn’t help myself. The decor is elegant with a whimsical flair – played up through all of the bright Thai fabrics. I felt very sophisticated sipping my tea and talking about future ventures with two amazing women.

Next, we found the Blue Diamond restaurant and shop as recommended by my friend Beck. It was wonderful to walk through the door and see a pile of fresh produce and multiple signs saying “vegan”. There were vegan scones, cinnamon buns, cookies, muffins and ice cream all clearly labeled. We grabbed a table and I ordered a big bowl of pumpkin curry. Jess selected the massamum curry and a hill tribe coffee. Jennifer stuck with a soy latte. My meal was rich, spicy and incredibly satisfying.

Blue Diamond also stocks vegan body products, spices and dried fruits. I picked up a few things and we wandered the streets in search of a relaxing massage. For 150 Bhat we were rubbed, poked and twisted for an hour. I left feeling refreshed and full of gossip about Chiang Mai from my loquacious masseuse.

Later that evening Jennifer and I decided to move beyond the brick walls of the old city and venture out to TianZi. I’m so glad we did. The atmosphere was so peaceful, at our little garden-side table. We were tempted by so many of the menu’s healthful options but decided on three salads (garden, quinoa and burdock) and a tomato buckwheat pizza. We left with leftovers and very full tummies.

The next morning we were up early for Chiang Mai’s most popular tourist attraction – a Thai cooking class. You can find advertisements on every street but we searched out May Kaidee’s class because it was completely vegan friendly and free of deep-frying. When we arrived we prepped some soaked rice and chopped seasonal vegetables. Then we loaded into the back of a pickup truck and took off for the market.

Duane showed us how to source the necessary Thai ingredients and introduced me to some fun new finds, including these tiny green eggplants (about the size of a green pea).

Jennifer and I arrived with a big appetite for tasting and playing in May Kaidee’s outdoor farm kitchen. We worked along side each other at two wok stations whipping up fourteen fantastic recipes. You can seen more pictures on facebook if you’re interested in the action shots.

We started with prepping ingredients, and churning up a Pumpkin Hummus in a mortar and pestle (which we devoured in seconds) then we moved onto Tom Yum Soup and Tom Kha Soup. We also made an amazing Pumpkin Soupwith curry spice but I forgot to get a picture before it disappeared.

Soon the curry pastes were sizzling. We tossed together a big serving of Massamum Curry, Stir-fried Vegetables with Cashews and a creamy Green Thai Curry. Everything was sampled with excitement. The recipes were so simple but the flavours were layered and complex. It was an excellent lesson in how the quality of few a simple ingredient contribute to creating a spectacular final dish.

Next we learned the trick to a traditional Pad Thai (without egg, shrimp, MSG or fish sauce), fresh Spring Rolls and an amazing Peanut Sauce.

As a perfect end to the menu we plated the Mango Sticky Rice (also served with banana). It was warm, sweet and rich. If for some reason I was on a dessert island (not a deserted island) I’d hope it was well stocked with plenty of rice, mango and coconut because I could live a long and happy life on this dish alone.

On the long ride back into town we stopped at a big floral display up in the mountains to take pictures and walk around. This row of trees made me think of Christmas. I hope you’re all enjoying the decorations at home.

After a few hours relaxing in our room, we took a taxi to the Mandarin Oriental hotel. We stayed for an hour, sipping mineral water and wandering around this magnificent resort. It is the most beautiful hotel I have ever seen in my life. It was such a treat just to tour around.

That night Jennifer and I had a small snack at Dada Kafe. We were so full from our big day of taste-testing that a simple bowl of fruit was perfectly satiating. 

Wednesday morning, we woke up early, packed our bags and headed out with our cameras for a last glimpse of Chiang Mai. Here are a few of my favourite shots.

Before heading to the airport we returned to Dada Kafe for some caffeine, fresh fruit and muesli. Their menu is amazing and stock full of vegan options. It was so pleased to have soy milk to drizzle over my muesli and a massive of bowl of fruit to fuel my day.

An hour after take off we were back in Bangkok.

Chiang Mai is an incredible example of hour powerful the tourism industry is in Thailand. The economy revolves around the interests of its visitors. Guesthouses, massage parlours, cafes and tour providers line every street. The offerings can make for some amazing finds. There are plenty of vegan options and great unique boutiques to visit. However, you may find you have to look deeper to find a taste of Thailand behind the westernized options on the city’s massive menu.

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