It is a fact universally acknowledged that mums can cook damn well.
My mum is a champ. She makes a mean rabbit in mustard sauce, the best chicken and mimolette crumble in the world, and bread to die for. (My dad’s pretty great too, but my point here stands with mums.)
The best thing about mums is you can eat all the food they make for free. The second best thing? Learning from them. Which is just what Xie did. And then she opened a cooking school, Me & Mom Cooking School. Everybody together: aww!
Xie in her kitchen
Xie started her cooking school three years ago. ‘I like when I teach people this and that, and then when I taste their food it tastes so good!’ she tells me as we’re driving to the market to pick up ingredients. ‘It makes me proud. I feel like I was successful.’ She goes on to say, though, that it’s often not spicy enough to her taste. She’s a 10-chilli kinda gal. I’m a more, er, restrained three-chilli-er.
At the market, she walks me around and teaches me lots about Thai food. Rice, for example. To me, rice comes in a packet and bears the Tesco own-brand logo. But Thais buy their rice at the fresh market, and it comes in lots of different baskets – and prices! One- or two-year-old rice is for eating, whereas older, darker and cheaper rice is preferred to feed animals. Sticky rice is a different matter altogether, and has to be steamed rather than boiled. And you can also buy broken rice, often used for rice soup or congee.
And that’s just rice.
Markets are my favourite place to go to understand a new place. Food markets tell you so much about a country’s culture and its people. Street markets are great to get a feel for local art, cheap food and, er, what tourists are after (coughfakesunglassescough). This one is definitely a popular spot with groups of Westerners on cooking classes, but Thais are also around picking up groceries. There are stalls packed high with sauces – fish sauce goes in soup, soy sauce in fried rice, dark soy is used for colour, tamarind sauce for pad thai. There’s buckets of curry paste in various colours, piles of dragonfruits and rambutans, bags of mushrooms, shallots and curry paste, pork skewers for breakfast, and meat aplenty.
Thai sauce roulette
Then it’s back to the car and off to the outskirts of Chiang Mai, where the school is hosted in an annexe to Xie’s mum’s quiet, leafy house. There’s a garden full of the ingredients we’ll be using: kaffir limes, pandan, lemongrass, Thai basil, galangal and chillies amongst others.
When it’s time to step behind the stove, Xie tells me the basic: Thai food is sweet, sour and spicy. I’m making tom yum soup with shrimps, pad thai (my favourite), stir fried chicken with holy basil, vegetable green curry and mango with sticky rice. And aside from the slightly lengthy process of pounding the ingredients for the curry paste, it’s all pretty quick and easy. ‘That’s why Thai food is called fast food!’ Xie points out with a smile.
Fried chicken with holy basil and green curry
Tom yum soup with shrimps
‘Okay so how do I plate this so it’s Instagram-worthy’ is a thing I actually asked out loud
Mango with sticky rice flavoured with butterfly pea tea.
Xie was the nicest host and helped me learn how to cook delicious food – I really recommend you check out Me & Mom Cooking School if you find yourself in Chiang Mai. And if not, she was kind enough to let me share a recipe on the blog. I chose pad thai, because it’s damn delicious. Ready, steady… cook!
Pad thai, serves one
80 grams rice noodles (soak in cold water for 5-10 minutes)
1 cup bean sprouts
2 tbsp tofu, cut into small pieces (or small diced pieces of chicken and pork )
1 tbsp of chopped pickled white raddish
1 tbsp chives (or spring onions)
2 tbsp oil
2 cloves chopped crushed garlic
1 tbsp dried shrimps (optional)
For the sauce:
1 tbsp of crushed roasted peanuts
1/3 cup juice of ripe tamarind (or 2 tsp white vinegar, mixed with 3 tbsp water )
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp fish sauce or soy sauce
1 pinch chilli powder
1 tsp thick soy sauce (or molasses)
Heat up the oil in the wok on medium heat. Fry tofu or meat until crunchy. Turn the heat down to low. Add garlic, pickled radish and dried shrimps. Add the egg and scramble. Next, add bean sprouts and chives. Stir until the vegetables are well done (one or two minutes).
Set aside and get the noodles in the wok. Add the sauce and turn the heat up to medium. Stir fry until the noodles are soft. Turn the heat up to high and add meat back in and stir fry thoroughly until well mixed. Enjoy!