Shade Market Cooking: Roasted Celery Root Salad

Shade Market Cooking: Roasted Celery Root Salad

Coming from America, one of the great things about cooking in Turkey is the familiarity of the ingredients. The seasons for growing are very similar here: tomatoes in the summer, peas in the spring and pumpkin in the fall. The difference is the approach to using ingredients. At the morning markets in Istanbul, groups of men gather around tables to eat piles of raw vegetables, cheese and chunks of fluffy bread for breakfast. This is a country where veggies are at the heart of meals, and seasonal eating is a rule.

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A Reality Check in Myanmar

Now was our chance — our time to lather up in sunscreen, put our hats and sunglasses on, tote our cameras and stand up for our rights as tourists. Screw you, hot afternoon sun! Piss off, you flounced up, over-important inspector! We are going to a cafe! You may be able to bully and suppress your own people, but not us! We paid 20 dollars! We are Americans!

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Mindful Eating = Mindful Living

Mindful Eating = Mindful Living

During the 4 week duration, the cleanse took me on a journey inward. Being forced to think before eating or drinking suddenly sparked a lot of thought. While having lunch, I was aware of how the food differed from what I might normally eat: how it tasted, how it smelled, what emotions it triggered. While digesting I could feel my body working, absorbing nutrients. When something didn't agree with me, I could feel my body’s disdain.

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Fly Problems?

Fly Problems?

Then there is this fly infested market in Laos. Food lying on the street, no fanfare, no advertisement, just fruits, vegetables and fresh fish. Just healthy food, the type of food that holds the key to vast reductions in death from disease for Americans. And, I have to think, it's not pretty, but at least it's honest.

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Chiang Mai Dining

Chiang Mai Dining

There are tons of places we want to show love to in Chiang Mai. These spots made us feel at home in a foreign land and helped us experience the complex flavors of Northern Thailand. They might not be the absolute best restaurants in all of Thailand, but they are really great, and they mean something to us. Whether it was a spicy, bowl of soup or a friendly smile, these are the restaurants and the dishes we kept returning to:

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A Surprise Introduction to a New Love

A Surprise Introduction to a New Love

One of the first friends we made in Chiang Mai is a kid named Gangi.  He's 19 years old, built like a professional football player and an avid biker, with a recently opened bicycle repair shop.  Ganji is the son of a Burmese father and an English mother but has called Chiang Mai home his entire life.  Of course the first thing we asked him was where we should eat.  He did us one better and took us out to dinner.  We were expecting Thai food.  Instead he brought us to Burmese Restaurant and Library.  Paige and I sat down while the young man shuffled about looking in pots, pointing at things and chatting with the cooks.  Soon he sat down and in minutes an unprecedented feast arrived at our table.  So started our love affair with Burmese food.

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Farmer's Markets, Chiang Mai

Farmer's Markets, Chiang Mai

With the abundant street markets downtown and farms lining the hills, we naively assumed that the meat and produce in Chiang Mai came from independent farmers. But, large agribusinesses, such as CP, maintain monopolies on agricultural production; much like Monsanto. This type of farming requires large amounts of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. The produce itself is then brought to market by middle men, who purchase from farms and transport it to villages and cities for sale. Farmers are left with no say on how their crops are distributed or how much they should be sold for. It’s harder than we thought to find organic produce and food that comes directly from the source.  The bustling markets of Chiang Mai lost some of their magic when we realized that we had been misinformed. But, the best tasting food is found at the street markets and in grungy kitchens. So, how can we eat traditional Thai food while considering sustainability?

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This is a Northern Food

This is a Northern Food

It's early morning in Chiang Mai, and Ton Payom market is starting to get going at full speed.  A tapping rhythm can faintly be heard from the western entrance.  As we drift towards the southwest corner of the open air market, the tapping becomes a pounding. We finally got to the market early enough to watch a young man help prepare our favorite laap.  The dish laap is a salad of minced meat, in the same sense that steak tartare is a salad.  But it is more than that.  Laap is a dish of celebration.  It's a verb, a communal activity.  Laap is a rhythm passed down for centuries, pounded out with blades, flesh and blood.  Or, as Mr. Yoot, one of the proprietors of Ton Payom's laap stand, put it, "This is a northern food."  The modest presentation of laap belies its rich flavor and history.

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Eating on the Streets of Saigon

Eating on the Streets of Saigon

It was a relief seeing a Roman alphabet upon arrival in Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City, but all of the locals still refer to it as Saigon). In terms of eating, Roman alphabets come in very handy; if you know a few Vietnamese dishes you want to try, it’s much easier to spot who serves what. Vendors make it very apparent as to what dishes they serve.

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Hospitality in Saigon

Hospitality in Saigon

"Arm! Arm!" a Vietnamese waitress instructed me, as she shoved my messenger bag into my chest and wrapped my arm around it.  All around Saigon's touristy district 1, visitors can be witnessed hugging their backpacks to their chests to prevent theft.  Our waitress was helping protect our belongings, which I appreciate, but I'm not going to walk around clutching my purse.  Some questions were raised: where are all of these Vietnamese scoundrels?  How and when will they strike? 

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Rice is Life

Rice is Life

Before coming here, I was aware of rice as a part of a Thai meal.  In New York, I would usually order a side of rice to go with my giant bowl of massaman curry.  Paige and I were sitting down having a coffee near our apartment in Chiang Mai, when I noticed a young Thai woman passing by.  She was carrying a tote bag with the perfect slogan printed on it.  It said: "RICE IS LIFE”.   

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Shade Market Cooking: Condiments Part 1

Shade Market Cooking: Condiments Part 1

When I sit down at a restaurant, whether it's fine dining or a diner, I want a bottle of hot sauce close to me.  In Thailand, they feel my struggle.  Places that serve great food and those that serve up mediocrity will almost always have condiments set at each table. It is actually a sign of a quality restaurant if their table side seasonings look fresh and abundant.  Our favorite spot for Khao Ka Muu, braised pork shank over rice, is a great example. The traditional garnishes of raw whole chiles, raw whole garlic cloves and scallions are usually crisp and unblemished.  The same can't be said for their competition.

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To Kill a Clucking Bird

"Jay-zon", a few seconds of silence, "Jay-zon" again, a raspy yet kind voice called out.  The moon was high, and I was lightly dreaming when I heard my accented name. Groggily, I got up to see what Rocky Bittika wanted.  Rocky is a stocky, strong Karen man and one of the full-time residents at PunPun.  Imagine him as the Burmese "Wolverine", a gruff, good-hearted outdoorsman. Over the past few days, we had bonded over gardening, badminton, smoking cigarettes, and table tennis.  That night, Rocky had something on his mind.  In two days, he would be leaving the farm.  He was en route to the Burmese border to celebrate the ceasefire between a faction of Karen rebels and the Burmese military.  He wanted a grand send off.  "Maybe I will get a fish, or a chicken...or something like that.  We can kill it, and you can cook it,” Rocky said to me, as we puffed some of his aromatic tobacco and papaya leaf blend in the moonlight.  I was honored that he chose me as the chef.  Killing the animal is an important link in the food chain, and being a city boy, I'd never experienced it.  I was excited. Anxiety welled up in my chest.  Fresh blood would flow.  By firelight we would sacrifice a chicken, in honor of Rocky, and feast on its flesh.  I was also tired, and when our meeting was over I stumbled to bed, my head met the pillow, and forgot about our tete a tete.

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Shade Market Cooking: Fresh Tofu

Shade Market Cooking: Fresh Tofu

For years I completely ignored tofu.  It just never excited me.  In my eyes, it was white-ish, bland soy mush.  How ignorant of me!  But, in all fairness, we are not taught to appreciate tofu in the States.  As we mention in our post on soy milk, the mass produced "tofu" that's common in the United States is not real tofu.  It's just soy protein concentrate pressed into a cake.  Real tofu is a whole soy product, including most of the fiber and healthy fats in the soy bean.  Real tofu isn't bland.  It has a slightly sour flavor from the vinegar used to curdle the soy milk.  Real tofu has a vegetal taste from the skin of the legume.  It has a toothsome quality akin to queso fresco or haloumi.  Tofu's porous nature allows it to soak up sauces and flavorful oils. I will continue to ignore the mass produced soy-food that is found in supermarkets, instead opting for fresh tofu at asian markets.  Or, better yet, home-made tofu.

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