Buddhism Wednesday Photo

Temple Detail (Wednesday Photo)

Chiang Mai Temple Detail

Temple Detail
Temple detail
This is a photo of an intricate decoration on a temple in Chiang Mai.

I enjoy the temples of Thailand. From a distance they are often quite gaudy as the outer walls are often covered with ceramic tiles and gold leaf. Whenever I visit a temple I like to pay close attention to what is on the walls. I like this intricate little beast on the outside of a temple in Chiang Mai.

The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Thai Culture Travel

Teach in Thailand – Pay it Forward!

This is a guest blog by Cheron Gelber.

I first fell in love with Thailand and its people when I traveled there in 2003 on one of Kasma’s wonderful trips. We ate our way through the country and I’m sure we saw much more of the “real Thailand” than many other tourists. I was determined to go back.

But I never really thought that many years later, I’d be standing in a classroom in Thailand, saying, “Nut, Porn, Pis, do you have your homework assignments?”

Thai School Kids
Photogenic Thai children
Have you ever thought about teaching English in Thailand?

Here I was at a grade school in Chiang Mai, Thailand, teaching English to a bunch of eager students, three of whom are named Nut, Porn, and Pis. The truth is, I don’t even like kids that much. But these kids stole my heart. Most of the children come from poor families. It was heart-warming to see that in many ways, these children seem to be some of the happiest in the world.

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Teaching at the School
Focused kindergarten class
My cousin and I taught at the school for the hot month of August, and we had the time of our lives. The kids live just outside the city of Chiang Mai and don’t see many farangs (foreigners), so we were a novelty to them. We could tell they were puzzled that we couldn’t speak their language and confused by our feeble attempts to try. They probably wondered, “Why are these grownups so stupid that they don’t know how to talk right?”

We, on the other hand, marveled at their eagerness to learn English. We smiled when we called their names, many of which have such funny translations in English. And we loved to hear them count—“twelve, threeteen, fourteen, fiveteen, sixteen,” which reminded us of how inconsistent English is and how difficult it must be to learn.

A Learning Game
Playing bingo with the alphabet
Every day, we were treated to a delicious Thai lunch with the school’s headmaster and other teachers. The resident “English” teacher was excited to practice our language. He dutifully copied all our lessons onto his computer, so he could use them when we left. The other teachers know a lot less English than he does, so communicating at lunch was interesting to say the least. But it was clear that the staff was thrilled to have us there, and we got by with sign language and the little bit of Thai we’ve picked up. The headmaster wanted us to learn at least one Thai word a day, and we were definitely up to the challenge.

Thai Children
Music for the Children’s Day parade
The English teacher is from a Karen Hill tribe village with its own language, so English is actually his third language. He wanted us to visit his home village. His dream is to start an English teaching program there, as he knows that learning English is often a key to a better future for the children of Thailand.

During our free time, we visited temples, an elephant camp, and an orchid farm–there’s so much to do in Chiang Mai! We went zip lining in the jungle, and of course got lots of wonderful and inexpensive Thai massages. We even went to Laos for a weekend. And naturally, we feasted on wonderful Thai food every day and shopped the many large outdoor markets of Chiang Mai.

A Happy Classroom
Volunteers show off their student’s work
One of the highlights of our teaching experience was that our student, Mong, the son of illegal Burmese immigrants, won the paper-airplane-throwing contest for all of Thailand. He created a national stir when he could not get a passport to travel to Japan for the “all Asia” competition because he was not a Thai citizen. Finally, the Prime Minister of Thailand agreed to grant him a temporary passport and he was able to go to Japan. He came in first in the group competition and third in the solo competition, and we were able to proudly watch videos of our little winner. Mong has a dream to become a pilot some day, and I would be surprised if he doesn’t make it.

Working with these children who are so polite and so appreciative of our efforts was an incredible experience. I returned home vowing to recruit many more volunteers to share in this way to “pay it forward.”

Come join us – NO teaching experience necessary.

Happy Children
Happy Thai twins

Written by Cheron Gelber, October 2010

Classes Cooking Wednesday Photo

Fermented Tofu and Pork (Wednesday Photo)

Stir-fried Fermented Tofu and Pork Belly

Fermented Tofu Dish
Fermented Tofu and Pork

One of my very favorite Thai dishes, probably in the top 5, is Stir-fried Fermented Tofu and Pork Belly. I first ate it at our beloved Ruen Mai Restaurant in Krabi, Thailand. Kasma calls her version, pictured above, Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Fermented Tofu Sauce and Thai Chillies (Moo Sahm Chan Pad Dtow Hoo Yee). Ruen Mai calls it Pad Mu Tao Hu Yi and describes it as “fried pork with fermented bean curd and some garlic.”

The brine from the red fermented tofu adds a wonderful sourness that contrasts and blends with the generous addition of garlic and chillies. We love to make it with pork belly (the cut used to make bacon) for the delightful combination of pork meat and fat.

I know of no place in the U.S. other than Kasma’s kitchen where you can get this dish! Kasma taught her recipe in Advanced Series H-2.(Although there may be a restaurant somewhere in the U.S. that serves it.)

We are not big fans of soy, in general. Traditionally, it was only eaten in its fermented form, for the fermentation helps to ameliorate some of soy’s problems (such as high levels of phytic acid, which interfere with mineral absorption, and its anti-thyroid properties).

If you think non-fermented soy is a healthy food, you might want to read a summary of the dangers of soy (offsite, opens in new window) and follow some of the links below the summary. Here are three good places to start.

The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Food ingredient

Southeast Asian Ideas With Pumpkin

Winter squashes are used for various dishes is Southeast Asian Cooking.

With the autumn leaves rustling, orange and golden colors are appearing all around us. On tables at farmer’s markets, produce counters in supermarkets and seasonal pumpkin patches at corner lots, the colorful winter squashes are the smash of the season’s harvest. Seeing them all around stirs up delicious memories of the golden squashes I grew up with and the wonderful dishes in which they reveal their glory.

Golden Squash
Golden squash, Sukhothai
The squash I grew up knowing as “pumpkin” is a much different variety from the bright orange ones that are carved and decorated as jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween. Smaller, flatter and more disc-shaped, its mottled dark green peel turns to a dull greyish green, tinged with spots of yellow and light orange as it ripens. Inside, the flesh is a vibrant golden yellow, hence we call it “golden squash.”

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Luckily there are now so many different varieties of winter squashes to choose from in Bay Area produce markets. Relatives to the golden squashes of home are the kabocha and the kalabasa. Tasty and sweet, both these varieties revive recollections of my favorite flavors from childhood. Brought to us here by Japanese American farmers, the kabocha (meaning “little pumpkin”) is now widely available not only in Asian markets, but in supermarkets and neighborhood grocery stores as well. It is prized by Southeast Asian immigrants as can be seen by its availability in most of their markets, to the exclusion of other “pumpkins.” Kalabasa, on the other hand, is only beginning to become popular and its availability is still limited.

Kabocha Squash
Cut kabocha squash
I love kabocha. A fully ripe one has a delightful natural sweetness. Cooked, its smooth, creamy texture melts in the mouth, revealing a rich and nutty flavor. Without the stringiness and sponginess of common varieties of pumpkins, some of my friends tell me it makes an exquisite pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

Squash Carving
Carving a squash

Southeast Asians also carve their pumpkins, but in floral designs on the outside, while the cavity inside is used as a bowl to hold a sweet coconut-egg custard that is steamed until both pumpkin and custard are cooked through. This is sliced and served in small wedges, the golden flesh of the pumpkin surrounding the caramel-colored custard – a lovely and delicious dessert. (See Coconut Egg custard (Sangkaya).) Instead of pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread, we make bite-size pumpkin cakes with rice flour and shredded coconut steamed in small banana leaf cups, (See a picture of Steamed Pumpkin Cakes (Kanom Faktong).) and a sweet soup of pumpkin sticks in coconut milk. (See Sweet Soup of Kabocha in Coconut Milk (Gkaeng Buad Fak Tong).) As you may have guessed, coconut is a favorite companion for our pumpkins.

Custard in squash

Besides desserts and sweet treats, we use golden squashes in different stages of ripeness for a wide variety of dishes, including soups, salads, appetizers, pickles, vegetable courses and curries. Try the recipe for Golden Pumpkin Coconut Soup (Gkaeng Liang Fak Tong). It is simple and nutritious, but because it is very rich, in the tropical heat, we usually eat only a few mouthfuls of it along with rice, much as we would eat curry and other dishes at a meal. With the colder Northern Californian climate, however, the richness of this soup can be fully appreciated, giving warmth and comfort. Try this soup with some of the hearty sourdough bread for which the Bay Area is known.

Pumpkin Soup
Golden Pumpkin Soup

For a delicious pumpkin soup, use a ripe kabocha squash – one with peel that has turned a light greyish green, splashed with splotches of yellow and orange. But it shouldn’t be so old that it has dried out. Pick one with a good weight for its size. If the squash is under-ripe (i.e., still deep green in color), use a natural sweetener such as palm or coconut sugar to help bring its nutty flavor through the coconut milk. A green kabocha squash will ripen when stored in a well ventilated area for several weeks, or even a few months, so I always have one on hand. It is pretty to look at in the hanging basket in my kitchen. If you are not able to find kabocha, substitute with a good variety of winter squash that has a sweet and buttery flavor.

Here are links to recipes mentioned in this blog:

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, October 2010

Classes ingredient Wednesday Photo

Thai Muslim Goat Curry (Wednesday Photo)

Goat Curry in Thailand

Goat Curry
Thai Muslim Goat Curry

Goat curry might not necessarily come to mind when you think of Thai food.

Although Thailand is said to be anywhere from 90% to 95% Buddhist, there is also a substantial Muslim population, particularly in the southernmost provinces. Goat is a popular meat among Muslims, although it is hard to find in restaurants in Thailand – it is mostly consumed at home. One year we purchased a goat from the wife of our boat driver in Krabi and had her cook us some goat meals. One of the dishes she made was a goat curry, similar to this one.

The only place in America where I’ve had many delicious Thai dishes such as this one is in my own home. Kasma used to teach this recipe in her advanced set H classes in session 1. In the advanced classes I get to eat Thai food such as is available only in Thailand and at home. Many of Kasma’s student begin taking classes after a trip to Thailand when they find out that the only way to get the mouth-watering Thai flavors they experienced in Thailand is to learn how to cook the dishes themselves. Unfortunately, the only way to learn to cook some of these dishes is to work your way through to the Advanced series where it is taught.

I love the Thai word for goat: it is paeh, very much the sound that a goat makes when it bleats.

I thought this month to post a number of pictures from Kasma’s Advanced Thai cooking classes, such as the Thai Fruit Salad from last week.

The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Classes Food Wednesday Photo

Thai Fruit Salad (Wednesday Photo)

Fruit Salad, Thai-Style

Thai Fruit Salad
Thai fruit salad

Fruit salad in Thailand can be very different than what we are used to in the United States.

One of the joys of traveling around Thailand is going to specific restaurants where you can get a dish unlike anything you find elsewhere. One of Kasma’s favorite Chiang Mai restaurants is Kaeng Ron Baan Suan, located outside of the city off the freeway near the Equestrian Club at the foot of Doi Suthep. It has a great listing of northern dishes seldom seen elsewhere. They have a fruit salad that is, perhaps, my favorite dish there.

Kasma has come up with her version of the recipe and used to teach it in her advanced Set G class (4th session).  She calls it Thai-Style Hot-and-Sour Mixed Fruit Salad (Dtam Ponlamai). You may notice that it has a word that also appears in Green Papaya Salad, or Som Dtam; they both have the word dtam, which means to pound, for some of the ingredients are pounded in a mortar and pestle.

Although her version in the U.S. uses different fruits than are found in Thailand, the basic flavors are the same. The fruit is flavored and complimented by garlic, chillies, dried shrimp, fish sauce, limes, palm sugar and interesting texture is added by long beans and carrots. I always look forward to the classes where it’s taught: it’s a wonderful thing to take a bite of a fruit salad and be surprised by flavors you would never think to add to fruit.

The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.