A Vegetarian Thai Cooking Class and Trip to a Produce Market in Chiang Mai. Thailand part 1.

by Sala @ Veggie Belly on April 12, 2010

When I visited Thailand, I was intoxicated by the sites, sounds, smells and tastes. The sensory explosion was just incredible. And the food…oh man the food..where do I even start?! Thailand has a huge street food culture; so this only means one thing – tasty, fast, cheap food. Batter fried bananas, sticky rice steamed inside hollow bamboo sticks, street-side penang curry, morning glory (a spinach like green vegetable) with garlic..the list is endless!

I had no problem being a vegetarian traveling in Thailand and finding vegetarian food. I asked for my dishes without meat and with vegetables only and most often got what I wanted. They all probably had fish sauce in them, but I was ok with that. Also, I was very excited to learn how to make vegetarian thai food without fish sauce and shrimp paste! That was the highlight of my trip – a vegetarian cooking class I took at May Kaidee’s restaurant in Chiang Mai. May Kaidee’s is a vegetarian restaurant run by two sisters. May runs the Bangkok restaurant and Duan runs the Chiang Mai one.

Above, Duan is all set to go to the produce market next to her restaurant.

I didnt know which to admire more, the delicious straw mushrooms at the market or Duan’s beautiful fingers! Dear Duan, you will always have a back up career as a hand model for Veggie Belly.

Duan holds up some essentials for Thai cooking – kaffir lime leaf, lemongrass, galangal (ginger-like rhizome), turmeric, cilantro, red chillies.

At the market: noodle lady and beans and rice man.

Fresh tofu! Colored a brilliant yellow using turmeric. Wood ear mushrooms really felt like ear cartilage.

Back at the restaurant, Duan gave me some tips:

-          Fry tofu in vegetable oil, keep the tofu in the oil till you are ready to use it. Use the same tofu flavored oil while cooking your dish.
-          Look for the “Jay” symbol on Thai sauce bottles, this means they are vegetarian


Look what Duan found at the market! Gorgeous Thai basil.

Here are excerpts from a chat with Duan:

On an average day, what do you and your family eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks? 
We usually eat traditional items such as curry with rice , fried egg with rice etc. We almost always have papaya salad and sticky rice for lunch. Dinner may be noodle soup or rice soup. We dont really snack much, maybe a fruit shake or ice tea with milk.
 
Thai food has a lot of fish sauce and shrimp paste, how can a vegetarian cook make thai food without these ingredients?
That is the thai way..lots of fish sauce and shrimp paste. They add saltiness to dishes. You can use salt, soy sauce, mushroom flavored soy sauce or thick mushroom sauce instead.
Sala’s note: Healthy Boy brand mushroom flavored soy sauce is really good! Available in Asian stores.
 
What items do you use instead of meat?
In my restaurant  I use soy protien, tofu and sometimes vegetarian sausage or seitan.
 
Tell me about the food Thais eat during the Kin-Jay vegetarian festival
You can see fried yellow noodles with shitake mushrooms as the main dish everywhere during the festival.  Yellow is for goodness and prosperity in our culture.
 
What are the basic thai ingredients a thai vegetarian cook needs?
Chilli, garlic , onion, lemon grass, galangal, kaffir leaves — these are used in the paste for curry and in everyday dishes like stir fry and soup.
  
What is the most important element to thai vegetarian cooking?
The balance of spicy, sour, salty and sweet. Also important are fresh produce and freshly prepared pastes and ingredients. 
 
Are fake meats (seitan) popular in Thailand? Do you use them?
Yes. There are some dishes like a vegetarian ‘fish’ wrapped in seaweed.
 
What are some of your favorite ingredients to cook with? why?
I like to cook noodles because I love to eat pad thai and pad see ew. Noodles are also really easy to cook.
 
What are your favorite dishes?
I love Pad Thai.  And my mother’s pumpkin cashew hummus is really good.

If you want to learn more about May Kaidee’s:

Restaurant website: http://www.maykaidee.com/
Cook book: http://www.maykaidee.com/site/cookbook/ebook

I’m not affiliated with May Kaidee in any way; I just think they are awesome!

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Comments

comments

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pavani April 12, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Thailand is one country that I definitely want to visit. My husband keeps raving abt the awesome street food, he looves the papaya salad and pad thai from street vendors.
All the produce looks so fresh and vibrant.. Thanks for sharing.

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2 Anh April 12, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Beautiful, beautiful! I love everything about this post, especially the photos! Wish I could return to Thailand soon for a visit.

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3 Anjali April 12, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Awesome post! Makes me want to go to Thailand right away but I think I might have to settle for just the cookbook for now :) Waiting for Part 2!

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4 Cassie April 12, 2010 at 2:47 pm

sala, this is what makes your blog so special, it’s filled with such energy and culture.. thanks for the inside scoop on thailand and its food..are you going to be posting any pics of recipes you learned during the cooking class?

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Sala @ Veggie Belly Reply:

yes! i will be posting a very unique and very tasty recipe soon!

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5 nandini.p April 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm

The interview is very informative sala… Thai vegetarian restaurant! that’s incredible!. Pics are gorgeous as always!!. Waiting for part II..

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6 Sonia April 12, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Beautiful post with quite informative details. Awaiting for further posts. The tofu looks awesome! lovely color. :)

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7 Claire April 12, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Now I want to go to Thailand! Your photos are beautiful and make me hungry.

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8 lisa April 12, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Great shots! I have not been to Thailand yet….I can’t wait to go even more so now. Everything just looks so fresh and vibrant.

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9 Cooking Foodie April 12, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Nice post… I was almost transported to Thailand :) Looking forward to more posts, some with recipes!

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10 Rosa April 12, 2010 at 8:24 pm

I LOVE Thai food! It is so scrumptious and flavorful! My dream is to visit Thailand one day…

Thanks for the interesting interview. Healthy Boy mushroom flavored soy sauce is so good!

Cheers,

Rosa

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11 shaz April 12, 2010 at 9:48 pm

What a great trip Sala. I love Thailand and Thai food, loved all the photos!

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12 Jacqueline April 13, 2010 at 1:02 am

What a brilliant post! I really enjoyed it :)

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13 5 Star Foodie April 13, 2010 at 1:56 am

Gorgeous photos and I enjoyed reading the interview.

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14 Laavanya April 13, 2010 at 2:35 am

Ah… here is the much awaited post :) Simply brilliant.. felt like I was there in the market and the freshness of everything is so evident in these vibrant pictures. Thank you Sala.

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15 Leinana Two Moons April 13, 2010 at 3:54 am

I’m half-Thai (and vegan) but haven’t been to Thailand for many, many years. The last time I was there I ate seafood, and have been worried about how easy it would be to find veggie food there when I return. Your post made me so happy to realize that vegetarian food would be easy to find. I love your photos too – they definitely made me miss Thailand!

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16 Ben April 13, 2010 at 5:02 am

What an amazing post! Thailand is in my list of places to visit before I die and reading your post and looking at the pictures made me wanna go right now! You have a delicious blog here :)

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17 anudivya April 13, 2010 at 5:29 am

Her hands are indeed beautiful! I was intrigued by the pumpkin hummus (with cashew). You have no idea how happy I am to learn of a substitute for fish sauce… I will go to the Asian store to check for the mushroom sauce. Do you know where I can get those flat rice noodles that they use in pad see ew? Never found anything as wide as those…

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Sala @ Veggie Belly Reply:

ive seen the broad, flat noodles in fresh form at the local Asian store. I’m not sure if they come dried..

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18 Cham April 13, 2010 at 4:36 pm

The tofu is awesome! Finding a veg dish without fish and shrimp, that is an exciting discovery!

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19 Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets April 14, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Thanks for sharing the wonderful info! I eat mostly vegetarian, but do dabble in meat, mostly seafood. I’m glad there’s equally delicious vegetarian Thai food available though and I’d love to take that cooking class!

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20 sangeeta April 23, 2010 at 2:01 am

Thanks for dropping by Sala..
you have a wonderful blog n i enjoyed reading a few of your posts .
this post was a delight to read as i make my own soy milk , curd n tofu , i love thai greean n red curries and the mushrooms were a treat for the eyes.
your sev puri post is brilliant too…

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21 pavithra April 29, 2010 at 7:52 am

Mmmm We too went to the local market there, wonderful. Being 5 yrs in singapore I’ll be visiting bankok every year thats really very beautiful place and shop right. I miss everything after coming to US. Especially all soy items which we get fresh in regular wet markets… beautiful post I really appreciate it .

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22 Michelle May 15, 2010 at 4:21 pm

That’s one reason why I would like to move to the Far East. Look at the variety of fresh produce! I’m so bored with what the Western market has to offer. You are proving to the meat eaters out there you can still enjoy your food as a vegetarian!

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23 Jill VB September 8, 2010 at 7:54 pm

I also took this class in Bangkok! Such a great experience that I went back for a private lesson in the afternoon. I have all the recipes transcribed and would love to share. Check my website for a few.

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24 Sue March 4, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Hi Sala, I really like your pictures! Nice post! We also did a Thai cooking course in Koh Lanta and it was very good. The mushrooms look really weird indeed, I am glad we did not have to eat them ;) Cheers, Susanne

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25 Priyanka December 14, 2012 at 11:23 am

Love, love your blog! There is something unique and special about your blog that keeps me coming back! I’ve a whole list of recipes from your blog that I want to try!!! Keep posting :)

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