I’m taking extra care for this blog post as my trip to Thailand really transformed the way I traveled, and the regions of the world that most interested in me, particularly from a food perspective. While I had traveled to China in the 1990s (as I described in a prior blog post) the majority of my travel as an adult centered on trips to Europe that centered around major cities, traveling with a friend, and trips lasting no more than 8 days. Those always seemed easily manageable but in 2012 I decided to push my boundaries and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
This was the first time I’d traveled internationally where some portion of my trip would be solo. I initially flew in to Dubai to meet my college roommate Laura, who was working in Afghanistan at the time and from there we flew to Bangkok together. It was a whirlwind of a visit to Bangkok where we fought through jet lag and hit all the highlights (read: temples after temples) in two days.
We then traveled to Phuket for some quieter beach time which included some beautiful time on the water. I’ve never been much of a beach person, namely because I don’t love the heat (which made this trip challenging haha) and I burn so easily. Also, I didn’t love the idea of sitting still on vacation. Which kind of defeats the purpose of using vacation to relax…but I love the adventure of vacation. Four days in Phuket (as part of a 16 day trip) hit the sweet spot for downtime for me, and I would find plenty of adventure in Chiang Mai.
I spent a week on my own in Chiang Mai and this is where my true appreciation for the food of Thailand took root. I stayed in a small apartment in the center of the city, walking distance to the night markets and a ton of small eateries. One of the highlights was taking a cooking class for a day. While the conditions were less than optimal (95+ degrees with insane humidity) it was a fun way to pass the day and to meet some people after a few days of flying solo. We learned to cook a number of dishes from a chicken satay, green curry, and a few other dishes. While I had taken a cooking class in Spain, this was only my second time trying something like this and it became a staple of my travels going forward. I still have all of the cookbooks from those international cooking classes from there on and refer back to them on occasion.
That was a VERY long way of getting to the point that this trip is a big reason while I’m here. Writing and cooking and ADVENTURING my way around the kitchen. While Khao Soi wasn’t a dish that I learned to make in my cooking class, I did have it for the first time in a hawker stall outdoor cafeteria type of space just outside the night markets. In my mind, it was something of a curry/drunken noodle/soup hybrid. A specialty of Northern Thailand, it wasn’t a dish I found on menus in the U.S. for a long time following my trip, but it always something I sought out.
I’d made Khao Soi previously and while good, it didn’t quite hit the right flavor notes. This time around I used a very simple recipe from Jet Tila’s “100 Asian Dishes to Cook Before You Die” and swapped out the beef for chicken (as well as the stock). This was an incredibly easy dish to make and while less soupy than it’s supposed to be, the flavors were fantastic. Since I’ve already written a novel in this post, I’ll let the recipe and photos speak for themselves. This is the recipe I worked from: https://www.lamag.com/digestblog/recipe-chef-jet-tilas-khao-soi-for-songkran/.
Overall Level of Effort: 2
Skill Level: Beginner
Would Make It Again? Yes
Additional Notes: Despite a very productive trip to the Good Fortune Supermarket for ingredients, I couldn’t find the pickled mustard greens so I used fresh. Matt has asked this go into the “rotation” but I think for future takes on this, I may try to use light coconut milk as opposed to the full bodied version to bring the overall fat levels down. But damn if this didn’t take me back to that hawker market in Chiang Mai.
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