Monday, March 14, 2011
The first full day of my recent sashay around South East Asia I spent hungover in Bangkok, and the second I spent on a 16 hour overnight train ride, and then trekking around with my backpack in the sweltering heat looking for a guest house. The third day in I settled in quite nicely to travelling solo by hiring a bicycle and exploring Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. I had a map, some cheap sunglasses, no sense of direction, and boundless enthusiasm.
The wise words of my mother came to mind. The mantra she gave my sisters and I growing up, whenever anything went wrong, was "think of it as an adventure". It has served me well throughout my life when faced with any dilemma, and particularly well when travelling. The other wise words she gave me specifically - the directionally-challenged one - when I first went overseas was "make sure you look out for landmarks". It's kind of a joke, that she actually had to point that out to me, but I am hopeless enough that the little gem came in very handy recently.
I cycled around soaking in the sights and smells and colours and temples. The freedom was exhilarating. There were a lot of temples. With lots of gold, lots of buddhas and being New Years Eve, lots of people. There were impressive food markets outside some of them, which included spring rolls, quail eggs, iced coffees and fresh fruit. In one Wat I took a bowl of 108 coins, letting each one go plink into a whole lot of Buddhist prayer bowls, apparently bringing me good karma and good luck.
After getting repeatedly lost, getting a numb butt, having some close calls with motorcyclists, and stumbling upon places I'd given up on trying to find, I had a late lunch at what became my favourite little cafe down one of the many winding cute pedestrian soi. Panang curry and a couple of chang beers set me up nicely for an evening of farewelling 2010. And you've already heard how that went.
Having already professed my enjoyment of new beginnings, I was buzzing the next day with the arrival of 2011. I wore obnoxiously bright pink fisherman's pants and had a life changing fresh mango shake before I arranged to meet up with friends from home the next day. I was also rather hungover. I ventured to the Night Bazaar that evening, and after some sifting around and buying of unnecessary scarves, I parked up at one of the restaurants lining the main street and had my first Khao Soi (also known as chiangmai noodle). It was mouth-wateringly good.
Khao Soi is a northern Thailand chicken curry noodle soup, which blends red chilli curry paste with Indian style ground curry powder. It has boiled egg noodles in it, and deep fried egg noodles on top. The traditional garnish is raw shallots, pickled cabbage and lime. It was a culinary highlight of my month away, and when I met up with said-friends the next day we learnt how to make it at Baan Thai cooking school. We did the class from 4pm - 8pm (500 thai baht, about $22 NZD), which begins with walk to the market; you then choose the dishes you want to learn and eat after each course. As well as 4 dishes, we also made curry paste and fresh coconut milk. I'd highly recommend it.
Back home and keen to put into practice what we learnt, my friends recreated it to perfection the other night. We stuffed our faces, laughing and reminiscing, and just before that lemon tart we also had banana spring rolls (just chopped banana and sugar, wrapped in wonton papers) deep fried and dipped in sweetened condensed milk. Seriously incredible.
Khao Soi (from Baan Thai Cookery School)
50g deep fried egg noodles
100g boiled egg noodles
2 tbsp oil
2 cups coconut milk
2 tbsp fish sauce (vege option, use soy sauce)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp Indian curry powder
1 tbsp red curry paste
Coriander leaves, a fresh lime, 3 chopped shallots - to garnish. And pickled cabbage if you have it!
*Boil egg noodles according to packet instructions and divide into the serving bowls.
*Mix the red curry paste and the Indian curry powder. Place wok over low heat, and put in the oil and the paste. Stir continuously until fragrant.
*Add chicken (or tofu if you're going vege), add 1/4 cup of coconut milk and stir constantly until the chicken is cooked.
*Add the remaining coconut milk, turn to medium heat, and stir constantly.
*Add fish sauce and sugar.
*Pour over the cooked noodles. Top with the deep fried noodles and garnish.
I'm surprised this hasn't taken off in the same way Pad Thai and Tom Yum Soup have around the world. With the Indian curry powder it has a distinctive flavour, but it is seriously easy to make and the garnishes really make it an easy impressive meal. Follow up with banana spring rolls, and even though you will probably be belly-achingly full, you will also most probably be very happy indeed.