กิน อาหาร (Mae Chaem, Thailand)

Thai Language Lesson:
Kin: กิน (pronounced: ghaen); to eat.
Aa-hăan อาหาร (pronounced: aar-haan); food.

I just returned from a weeklong homestay in the Mae Chaem district; part of the Chiang Mai province in Northern Thailand. It was quite a winding drive to get there, but after only 3 short hours we arrived in the most beautifully serene village, nestled in a small valley up in the mountains.

Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest mountain (8,415 ft high) is also located in the Mae Chaem district and I was able to see it clearly during our trek outside the village one day.

Aa-hăan (food) in Mae Chaem was pretty delicious! I felt extremely spoiled to have 3 home-cooked meals prepared for me everyday for 5 days. Upon arriving in the village, our group of 27 students was divided into groups of 3 and introduced to our host families. Jennifer (32 from Pitzer College in California) and Victoria (19 from Simpson College in Iowa) were my roommates for the week. We hardly knew each other when we arrived, but we left the village closer than we imagined I am sure. I loved getting to know each of them and I'm excited to have made a few more friends here in Chiang Mai.My experiences in Mae Chaem were incredible. I learned so much from my host family, Maw, Paw, Grandma, and Pimm (their eldest daughter, 37). The 7 of us lived together, in close quarters for the week we stayed, but every moment was priceless! I should also mention that no one in my family spoke any English. We relied soley on sign-language, Jen's Lonely Plant Thai-English dictionary, and our few Thai phrases that we had learned to communicate everything. It was a huge challenge, but it taught me to be patient, observant, and gracious in manner.
Maw and Paw enjoying their homemade rice whiskey (mis-si-key)

Pimm (in the background of the above photo) was our main chef for the week. We all woke up around 6:30 when the rooster crowed: consistently, loudly, and obnoxiously. Pimm would then answer to Maw's call to make breakfast, roll out of bed, and heat up the wok. The entire "kitchen" and dining area was outside, typical in traditional Thai homes. Jen, Victoria, and I would lay in bed until around 7:30; smelling the waft of eggs and pork frying from our open windows, hearing the oil crackling, and listening to Maw and Paw laugh at Grandmaw (who was usually still drunk from the night before). Finally, after what sounded like a call for "Kin or Aa-haan," we would roll off our beds (mats) and walk downstairs to a table full of hot plates and huge bowls of rice for each of us.This was the same routine for dinner around 6 pm each night; only we were usually just finishing our showers or lying on the ground trying to escape the heat. We also tried to stay upstairs as long as we could before dinner because rice whiskey shots began around 4:30 in our house, and we learned real fast that we couldn't keep up unless we waited until around 6:00 pm for shot-time.Maw and Grandmaw dancing and singing on a particularly wild night Photo credit: Gaby Corbera

There was actually little to no variation between the food served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast almost always consisted of one large omelet plate, stir-fried bean sprouts with onions, and either some form of stir-fried pork with garlic or another side of stir-fried greens with garlic. Lunch and dinnner varied from an assortment of stir-fried vegetables, fried or grilled fish, fried chicken, stir-fried pork and eggs, fried hard boiled eggs with sweet and sour sauce, or a soup made with meat, greens, and herbs.
Scrambled eggs with larvae? I seriously struggled to eat this but Maw and Pimm were so excited by the delicacy of this dish that I had to stomach a few bites to avoid being rude.
This is one of my favorite "prik" (chili) sauces. Paw would make it fresh each night by simply slicing green chilis in fish sauce with fresh lemon or lime juice and crushed garlic.

Traditional Chiang Mai Lunch

Each region of Thailand (Southern, Central, and Northern) is recognized for its unique style of Thai cuisine. Northern Thailand is often noted for having the best fare! I would have to agree, although I am a bit bias living in Chiang Mai. Today, I joined two other Americans and two local Thais for lunch at Huen Jai Yong เฮือนใจ๋ยอง. We enjoyed many of the traditional Northern Thai "share dishes and ended with a refreshing Thai dessert. This is by far my favorite meal since arriving in Chiang Mai :)Beautiful garden view as we walked up the stairs to our rooftop dining...
we removed our shoes and sat on the ground, traditional Northern Thai style.

Luckily, we had De Pang and "Spicy" (our two Thai friends) with us to order from the Thai only menu.
We had no clue what they ordered until it arrived - even then I wasn't sure what I was eating. But needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised when two Thai servers delivered an incredible array of colorful dishes.
Kaeng Kanun (แกงขนุน) Jackfruit curry/soup: Most Northern Thai curries do not contain coconut milk. This curry was more like a soup but with pork ribs, young jackfruit, various veggies, tomatoes, herbs and spices, and shrimp paste.
Ham-Prik-Noon: A popular side dish in Chiang Mai consisting of roasted green chilis, garlic, and onion, and some other herbs I presume. Very spicy but super delicious with sliced vegetables or sticky rice. This is one of my favorite side dishes.
Kang Hung Lay (Northern Pork Curry/Stew): I am dying to know how to make this dish! It was incredible. Rich flavors with julienned ginger root and perfectly tender pork. Yum! *Wikipedia says: a Burmese influenced stewed pork curry which uses peanuts, dried chilies and tamarind juice in the recipe but containing no coconut milk.
Sai Oua (Northern Style Sausage): If you like Louisiana sausage this is your dish but with Thai flavors! Delicious pork and chicken sausage with fresh and dried herbs and aromatics. Behind the sausage is what I like to call a Thai omelet with onions, greens, chili, and chicken topped with fresh cilantro.
They brought us both brown and white sticky rice :)
Delicious fare! I will be back...
How could I forget dessert?! Lot chong nam kathi: pandan flavored rice flour noodles in coconut milk and shaved ice.

Nat's Knack in Thailand!

What an amazing opportunity! On January 11, I landed in Bangkok, Thailand to begin my 5 month stay in Southeast Asia. I have not stopped smiling since I landed here. Everything about this country is beautiful: the people, the landscape, the fruits, the vegetables, the candies, the garments, the art, the temples... I am in a constant state of awe.

I absolutely love the purity of the food here. Every dish is made from scratch with fresh ingredients close to their source. I have visited local pomelo and fruit farms, seen jackfruits growing on nearly every tree along the road, tasted Thai kale, basil, and bok choy in almost every dish.

I wish I could share every meal with you, but I will spare you the endless picture reel and highlight my two favorite meals since arriving in Thailand. The first meal was enjoyed in Bangkok along the river, the second was my lunch today in Chiang Mai (where I will be living for the next 2 months). Both meals were incredible but distinctly different.
Riverside Lunch - BANGKOK

I don't remember the name of this drink but I think it's safe to call it "Liquid Greens." A bit too earthy for my liking, but it might grow on me?
Best duck in town! Tender and savory.
Traditional fish dish for this area of Thailand. My favorite dish on the table, sweet and savory. I think I ate an entire fish to myself I loved it so much!
Nuy, our guide, explained that when eating Thai "family style" it is important to take one bite at a time as to enjoy the individual flavors of each dish. She explained that each dish has a unique blend of flavors that should not be mixed with others. I love the appreciation for food as an art here.
Sweet and sour sauteed vegetables with shrimp.
Long boat to visit the orchid farm, pomelo fruit farm, and lotus farm.