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Buddhist gathering, chang mai

There’s a huge array of tourist-orientated excursions and activities available in Chang Mai. One of the nicer things to do, in my personal opinion, is to simply wander about the city checking out a couple of the Wats or popping in for a three dollar massage in one of the numerous establishments. Today I indulged in an hour long traditional Thai massage. It was quite bizarre: a little like some sort of eccentric physiotherapy session with the masseuse wrapping herself around me to twist my limbs into the strangest contortions. At times it was verging on being quite unbearable in terms of the intense pressure levels – she would dig in her elbows into your muscle with her full body weight, bringing me to the brink of what I like to call ‘hysterical pain laughter’.

The night bazaar is also definitely worth a visit. It’s basically an extensive network of vendor stalls interwoven with street food, live music, bikes selling delicious coconut ice-cream, the odd boxing ring, delicious smoothies etc. Be prepared to bargain hard, though. Most of the prices originally quoted to me were brought down by at least two thirds!

This morning I headed out with a couple of the girls to take on my second cooking course, this time in Thai cuisine. We started off with a shop in the local farmer’s market where the lady conducting the class explained some of the crucial ingredients to us.

small aubergine/ eggplant

This is actually a kind of aubergine on a bed of holy basil. You can see where the american ‘eggplant’ came from as it’s actually about the size and shape of an egg.

We each made four dishes of our choice, but as we chose different options it allowed us to see how to make quite a large number of meals! Here are the recipes with rough measurements for one portion size. Like with the Vietnamese recipes, I’m not sure if they’ll be of any practical use to anyone but I hope they might be vaguely interesting, if nothing else!

Pad Thai


50g Narrow rice noodles
(50g sliced chicken/prawns– small strips) – Substitute with extra tofu for vegetarians.
20g tofu, sliced into small pieces
10g Chinese chives or spring onion cut into 3cm lengths
30g bean sprouts
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 egg
2 tbsp cooking oil
1 ½ tbsp oyster sauce (For Veggies: mushroom sauce)
½ tbsp fish sauce (Veg: soy sauce)
1 tsp sugar
¼ cup water

You can also add 1 tbsp tamarind sauce/ some red dried shrimp to get the authentic Thai feel, although these ingredients aren’t so easy to get your hands on! Birds eye chillies can be added to taste.

Pad Thai ingredients

1. Fry tofu in the oil until lightly golden. Add garlic. If adding chicken/prawns, put them in shortly after the garlic and fry until cooked through.
2. Push the tofu, garlic and meat over to one side of the pan/wok and break in an egg. Scramble slightly then mix in as it whitens.

Cooking pad thai
3. Lower the heat a little. Add the water, sauces and sugar followed by the noodles and stir until the noodles have gone tender (can cut with the spatula/spoon)
4. Add the bean sprouts and chives and stir in for around a minute.

Cooking Pad Thai
5. Serve with peanuts, fresh lime and chilli powder!

Pad Thai

Tom Kha Kai (Chicken/Tofu in coconut milk soup)

50g boneless chicken breast/ Tofu, sliced around 3cm thick
1 lemon grass cut into 3-4 1 inch pieces
3-4 1 inch pieces of thinly sliced galangal (Thai ginger – can use ordinary ginger)
2 kaffir lime leaves torn in half
1-3 fresh birds eye chillies, crushed
Half a large onion, quartered
Half a medium sized tomato cut into quarters
A large oyster mushroom torn into pieces
½ tbsp sliced coriander
1 ½ tsp sugar
1 ½ tbsp lemon/lime juice
1 tbsp fish or soy sauce
1 ½ cup coconut milk

Coconut soup ingredients

1. Boil coconut milk in a pot. Add lemon grass, ginger, kaffir lime leaves and chillies.
2. Add the chicken/tofu oyster mushrooms and large onion and wait until cooked.

Cooking coconut chicken or tofu soup
3. Add tomatoes and the seasoning/sauces
4. Serve with coriander sprinkled on top.

Coconut and Tom Yam soup
Tom Yam soup (on the left) is actually very similar to this but with stock water in place of coconut milk. Also straw mushrooms can be used instead of the oysters. The same process applies. If using prawns in place of chicken/tofu add these later with the tomatoes.

Here's a lighter, vegetarian alternative with chinese cabbage, carrot and soft tofu.

Here’s a lighter, vegetarian alternative with Chinese cabbage, carrot and soft tofu.

Green Curry paste
7 fresh birds eye green chillies
2tbsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp chopped shallots
1 tbsp chopped lemon grass
½ tsp chopped galangal/ginger
1 tsp chopped coriander root
½ tsp chopped kaffir lime peel
1tsp turmeric
½ tsp roasted peppercorns
2 tsp roasted coriander seeds
1 tsp roasted cumin seeds
½ tsp salt
½ tsp shrimp paste
All ground together in a mortar – peppercorns and seeds are best to do first.

Alternatively you could just by pre-made paste to speed up the process. Having it fresh though really does make the difference!

Green Curry (Kaenf khiaw-waan kai)

50g boneless chicken breasts or tofu thick sliced
30g of egg sized variety of the aubergine – not sure how easy they’ll be to find. Cut into wedges
30g baby sweet corn (or carrot), sliced.
2 kaffir lime leaves – torn
6 sweet basil leaves
1 tbsp green curry paste
1 ½ cup coconut milk
1 ½ tbsp oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp fish or soy sauce

1. Put oil in a pan, on low heat add green curry paste (rub into the oil with the back of your spoon/spatula)– bring to simmer. Add half the coconut milk and stir in well.
2. Add chicken/tofu and stir until cooked

Green Curry
3. Add remaining coconut milk, aubergine, sweet corn/carrot and kaffir lime leaves.
4. Season with the sugar and sauce
5. Sprinkle sweet basil leaves then turn off the heat. Serve with steamed rice.
(Simply substitute a red curry paste for the green for a red curry)

Other items on the cooking menu include the likes of spring rolls, Phanaeng curry and sticky rice pudding with mango (absolute heaven). Unfortunately I feel adding in all the recipes learnt today would be a bit of an overload so I’ve tried to rein it in a little.

Spring rolls

Thai spring rolls

Phanaeng curry ingredients

The basic phanaeng curry ingredients, including mini aubergines!

cooking phanaeng curry

Cooking phanaeng curry.

Following the class, I ventured out to the old town district in the centre of the city, surrounded by the remains of a city wall and moat. By lucky coincidence my visit overlapped with some sort of Buddhist ‘mass’ or prayer session in one of the central temples. It began with a slow stream of monks trickling in and kneeling in neat lines along the floor. In the blink of an eye the entire temple was filled.

Temple in old town chang mai

Monks in Chang Mai

Sugar and Spice

‘Hue’ seems like another fairly standard example of what I’ve come to expect of a Vietnamese city – alive and buzzing, with roads that you have to be virtually suicidal to cross. Pam and I walked out along the river to the Thien Mu pagoda, supposedly the biggest one in Vietnam. After a near on two hour walk along a busy road, we were not too sure it was worth it. Perhaps this is just in comparison to the jaw-dropping pagodas of Yangon. By happy coincidence we arrived just in time for the sunset, though, which improved the situation a little. Exhausted and hungry in the dark we were then treated with a nice dose of sods law: In every city you get constantly hounded, as a foreigner, by moto-taxi owners asking “you wan’ motorbike?” The one time we actually wanted a bloody ride there were none to be seen.  We walked nearly half the way back before we were able to barter a lift. It was pretty fun, though – particularly adrenaline spiking as the helmet, being three times to big, was about as much use as a swimming cap. The traffic was absurd, as usual, although somehow it doesn’t seem so intimidating when you’re part of it (despite the fact that I’ve already witnessed two crashes already). They drive hilariously close to each other on the roads to the extent that you’re practically rubbing thighs with the person on the bike next to you! I’m surprised that they’re not constantly clipping each other…perhaps they are!

Hue Sunset


This morning I arranged a cooking class with a restaurant down the road called ‘Kangaroo Hue’ (not quite sure of the relevance of the Kangaroo, but never mind). Most of the dishes which we made were adapted from the original to be made vegetarian, me being the only ‘student’. I’ll include the meat/shrimp versions as well though, for the sake of everyone else. They’re not particularly specific as a large amount of the cooking relied on what ‘looked right’ or was to personal taste so forgive the vagueness. In terms of quantities these are all made out for roughly one portion (of lots of little bits in some cases)– perhaps two.

We started off with making the local steamed rice cakes (Hue Beo):

  • rice flour,
  • tapioca flour,
  • water,
  • spring onion,
  • shallot,
  • vegetable oil,
  • tofu or shrimp

Put 5 tbsp of rice flour in a bowl with ½ tbsp tapioca flour then around 3 tbsp hot water. Mix a little then add another rough 10 tbsp of cold water and stir well until all is a smooth liquid. Preferably leave for around 20-30 mins.

Steamed Rice Cakes stage 1

Chop a small shallot v. finely and fry in quite a lot of vegetable oil until yellow – add a little salt – pour onion and oil mix into small bowl and add a few finely chopped spring onions.

Boil the tofu then cut very finely and grind into a sort of powder which you then fry briefly until brown (alternatively boil the shrimps for around 5 mins then remove the shells and again grind into a sort of powder)


Put a little of the oil from the shallots into little clay bowls in a steamer pan (Can use a spring onion as a brush!) leave them in the steam pot for around a minute before pouring in the flour mixture so that the little bowls are each around half full. Steam for around 3 mins then the cakes should have puffed out and be totally white (will sink down pretty instantly)

Pre-steaming prepared bowls.

Pre-steaming prepared bowls.

Put in a little of the onion mix then top with the powdered tofu or shrimp.

 Serve with a fish sauce – 5 tbsp fish/soy sauce, 2 tbsp sugar, 4 tbsp water.

Hue fried pancake:

  • Rice flour
  • Shrimp/pork or tofu
  • Egg (just the yolk)
  • Bean sprouts, carrot (cut relativey finely)
  • Straw mushrooms
  • Stock powder, sugar, vegetable oil

Put 2 1/2 tbsp rice flour in bowl with 1 egg yolk, 1 tbsp stock powder, ½ tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp water – stir well until liquid.

Fry the tofu/shrimp/pork for around 3 mins

Put plenty of oil in a deepish frying pan and wait until relly hot then pour in mixture so covers entire pan up to the edges and fry for around a minute (submerged in oil)

Put the bean sprouts, carrot, mushroom and tofu/pork/shrimp on one side of the pancake then fold over the free side. Carefully flip over– when crispy take it out and drain off excess oil.


Serve with salad of bean sprouts, lettuce, mint, v finely chopped cabbage and peanut sauce


Peanut Sauce:

  • Fried peanuts,
  • Fried sesame seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Stock powder
  • Fish/soy sauce
  • Sugar
  • Oil
  • Onion/shallot
  • Garlic

Grind the peanuts and sesames to a powder
Chop the shallot/garlic very finely and fry in oil – once yellow add a tbsp or less of peanut butter, 1 tbsp stock, 2 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp fish sauce and half small bowl of water
Cook for around 5 minutes until thicker consistency


Royal fresh spring roll (nem cuon tuoi):


  • Rice paper
  • Cabbage, carrot, big ear mushrooms, glass noodles
  • Onion/shallot, spring onion, garlic
  • Egg
  • Stock powder, sugar, pepper


Soak glass noodles in water for 10 mins. Cut all the filling as finely as possible and add 1 tbsp stock, 1 pepper, ½ sugar and mix well.
Cook oil until hot then add all the filling and fry for around 10 mins with some water added.

When done move into bowl.
Wet rice paper (using fingers or brush) on both sides – mustn’t get too wet! Put on plate and add a little filling to one side
Fold in the sides on either side of the filling then roll it along the length of the paper to make a sealed roll.



Serve with fish sauce:
1tbsp sugar, 1 rice vinegar, 2 fish sauce, 1 water – cook for about 2 mins – chop fresh chilli and garlic and mix in.


Tofu noodle soup :


Boil water with lemon grass, 2 tbsp chilli powder, a few cloves, 2 tbsp stock powder, 2 fish sauce, ½ sugar, chilli. Add tofu, tomato, potato (pre boiled),carrot, cabbage, pak choi and onion.


Serve with rice noodles and sprinkle of chopped spring onion and pepper.




They use a surprisingly large amount of sugar and oil! I guess for healthier options get rid of the sugar/only use as much oil  as needed to fry not the inch or so used locally!

Anyway those were a bit haphazard – not sure if anyone will be able to get any real use out of them, but they may give you a bit of an idea about what and how people cook here in Hue.


I also found it interesting how they use large ‘cooking’ chopsticks instead of our usual wooden spoons etc.