Saturday, June 21, 2008

Thailand, Part I: Seeking Sanuk

We're just back from Thailand, and I can't stop dreaming about our first trip to the Asian continent. Specifically, the food. Good lord, the food.

We split our visit between Bangkok and Phuket, and we did not have a single bad meal. I was eating every two hours. So not joking!

One of my favorite food experiences (among many) during the trip was a cooking class with Chef Tutka at the JW Marriot Beach Club in Phuket.

The lesson began with an excursion to the open air food market in Phang Nga, just north of Phuket on the mainland. The sights and sounds were so richly foreign, I was gaping left and right the whole time trying to take it all in.

(A man makes naan from scratch.)

(Dorian, the "king of fruit." Stinky as all getout, but delicious with a buttery texture.)

Tutka insisted, and we quickly came to understand, that it is impossible to learn Thai cooking without seeing the ingredient source. That's because good Thai cooking is about using what's fresh and available in the fridge or the market place, and not about blindly following a recipe.

That "toss in everything but the table leg" style is right up my alley! It allows for plenty of experimentation and creativity. And given my messy nature in the kitchen, the happy disregard of precision in measurement was heartening as well.

According to Tutka, Thais believe that everything you venture in life, including cooking, should be pleasurable or enjoyable. The term "sanuk" signifies striving not for hedonistic pleasure, but for positive expression. So cooking is most importantly a process of living - even though it's a daily activity, that doesn't mean it must be mundane. Enjoying the process of cooking (as opposed to obsessing over the finished dish) is just one small way to make the most of every life moment, savoring even the smaller pleasures that come our way.

As someone who loves good food, sharing meals with friends, and smelling, prodding, and tasting every ingredient as she cooks it, that's definitely a cooking philosophy I can live with! Chef Tutka taught us three recipes from her own collection, and I'll post about my favorite next time.

Until then, Buen Provecho!

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