Tuesday, January 31, 2012


It's the last day in January, and what a long and full month it's been. I just felt I had to post a brief note now, to mark the passage into February. This evening, in the heart of dry season, it rained hard here in Chiang Mai, clearing the air and leaving us, I hope, with bright sharp-etched light tomorrow.

Early in the morning I'm heading north to Fang with a group of very nice and interesting people who are here to immerse themselves in food. They're taking the immersethrough course that Fern Somraks and I co-ordinate here each year. We've had two days of marketing and cooking and eating in Chiang Mai. The Muang Mai Market was especially intense this morning, with huge trucks loaded with everything from squashes to ginger to coconuts to cabbages inching their way through the crowds, squeezing us all against the vendors' stands with their displays of every kind of herb and stacked shallots and mushrooms and garlic and eggplants of many shapes and colours and...and... But now we head out of town at the crack of dawn to an entirely different world.

We'll drive north through the mountains to Fang, spend hours wondering at and wondering through the weekly market there, and then head to Fern's lychee farm to cook Shan food outdoors in the clear country air. We have a couple of days at the farm (and an overnight at the Pumanee Hotel in Fang, owned and run by Lahu people). Each time fern and I take people up to cook with Jam and Boon-Ma, who are the Shan food teachers, I learn a lot. And there's still such a lot to learn.

Food is one of the basic human artifacts, and as such has many layers, so it's infinitely interesting, at least to me. There's not just the practicalities of how something is made, but the whys and wherefores of the method, and the history of how different dishes or techniques evolved, and the different words for ingredients, etc etc.

And each day all over the world people are making food to feed themselves and others, sometimes as a resented chore and other times with creative energy and pleasure. It's dizzying.

Many of those who come to the weekly Fang market are from the hills, often refugees or the children of refugees who have fled Burma or perhaps from China, over time, and sought safety and more security in Thailand. I look at their faces and know that I don't know and will never know, much about them... We can only ever understand such a small sliver of the life that unfolds before us. So I guess I feel that my task (and pleasure, I admit it) is to appreciate that fact and press on trying to learn and explore as much as possible, and to be grateful for the chance to do so.

Happy end of January everyone.

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