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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

Ingredients:

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

Sol Y Sombre

 

“It is better to be alone than in bad company.”
 – George Washington

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It’s strange to think that this was only a month and a half ago. It seems as if at least half a year has past. In the absence of being able to take my camera out I’ve been sifting through my photos…

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Frustratingly the main things to see and do in this area are outside of the actual city, costing significant amounts in transport or for tours which I can’t afford at this point. Of all the places to be stuck in, that I’ve visited so far, I have the feeling that I’ve drawn the short straw.

I’m getting more than a little disgruntled by standing out like a sore thumb in this dodgy Panama city neighbourhood. I just popped down to the shop to get a couple of apples and a drunk Panamanian ran ahead of me and lay down in a puddle for me to walk over, pretending that I was the queen. Ok, granted that is a particularly amusing example. I found it very difficult to maintain a straight face as I walked on by. When he intercepted me on the walk back and repeated this episode, this time with his friend joining in, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing at how ridiculous the situation was. This did not help, however, as they then continued to crawl after me on their hands and knees until I managed to shrug them off. 

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I can’t seem to find a place to while away the time in the hotel either. I’ve been trying to soak up some last minute sun before heading back to the rain; yesterday, late afternoon, I went up for a dip in the roof top pool (more of a plunge pool really, but I can’t complain for the price I’m paying! Also it’s got a hell of a view to make up for it). There were not one, but two couples making out heatedly in the square metre of pool. That’s what your rooms are for you morons. Get out of the communal area. Anyway, standing there wrapped in a towel, I felt it would look ridiculous to turn around straight away and walk back down, so I determinedly got in the pool and awkwardly swam a couple of ‘lengths’. It didn’t take long before I couldn’t take it any more and retreated back to my cave room.

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Back in the days when I knew people here so felt comfortable taking my camera out, this poor planning error caught my eye. The elevated hands of Jesus in ‘Casco Viejo’ make the perfect perch for the local vultures. Not sure that’s the image they had in mind…

P.S. Warning to vegetarians. Panama city = not ideal. Went scouting round a series of cafés/street stalls/restaurants and could not find anything at all without meat. I thought Brazil would be bad but this is by far the worst place for it yet.