Friday, November 28, 2008

10. November Market and Four Seasons’ “Spicy Salads” Cooking School

Today, in a challenge to take one for the Tennis Channel Team, Mieke, Maddie, Finn and I are required to chef it up at the Four Seasons Cooking School...! Like all good cooks, we begin at the local morning market. The streets are already lively - vendors, shoppers, dogs, orange-robed monks - we represent the only stray tourists. Everything is pungent, vibrant and fresh - from wriggling frogs to birds’ eye chili peppers. Also available are the accoutrements of the Loi Krathong festival: enormous paper lanterns, ceremonial hand-rolled cigarettes and beautifully crafted “krathongs” - miniature boats of flowers, leaves, candles and incense. The Cooking School kitchen has already purchased and prepped the ingredients, so our market visit is also rather ceremonial, but the sights & sounds are scrumptious, and Maddie & I have a light breakfast of a delicious coconutty sticky rice that comes wrapped in a banana leaf packet.

The grand indoor-outdoor kitchen at the Four Seasons is nothing short of inspirational. A half dozen massive coppertop gas ranges, stone chalice prep sinks, hefty wood chopping blocks, and endless wood bowls, baskets and jars of fruit, vegetables and spices make anyone think they might roll up their sleeves and create a masterpiece. Chef Pitak Srichan has readied a course on Spicy Salads, queuing a menu of:
Yum Nua - “yum,” appropriately, means spicy salad in the Central Southern Thai district, and “nua” is beef. Central Southern flavors incorporate spicy, salty, sour and sweet.
Larb Muang Moo - “larb” is spicy salad, “muang,” Northern style, and “moo” is pork. A northern/central salad features the two flavors of spicy and salty.
Yum Som-o Gai - again a Central Southern salad with “som-o” or pommelo (a large, drier grapefruit)
and, last, but not least, the Thai comfort food salad:
Som Tam Kung Yang - the green papaya salad with prawns

We venture back into Chiang Mai for an evening market. Our fixer is Nym - a talented 8-time published travel photographer/writer who tours the world in addition to her native Thailand. She is pretty and petite with an artsy-filmy New York jenesaisquois and a ready laugh. Thanks to Nym, we gain a little more insight about some of the traditions being showcased in the market: paper cutting and folk music - Finn gets to rock on the sahw, a traditional rustic violin-like instrument, with with a reknowned local artist...! The evening is capped from the aptly-named Rooftop Bar - a shoes-off, grass-mat, open-air place that overlooks the lit square below.

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