Early last fall, my boyfriend (pictured above) left America to train in muay Thai kickboxing for several months…in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I was lucky enough to be able to join him there this past January and to visit some of Thailand’s most beautiful sites. Within the span of three weeks we visited Bangkok, Koh Tao, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai, and Pai. The islands (Tao and Samui), the cities (Chiang Mai and Bangkok), and the mountains (Pai) all had something unique to offer for us backpackers.
But one of the things I loved best about Thailand was the food. My boyfriend had been telling me for months that there was little to nothing in the way of vegetarian fare to be found in Thailand, but this turned out to be false. His basis for this idea were the food stalls near where he stayed in Chiang Mai (though the same goes for most of the other areas we saw) who sold noodles and fried goods-almost always involving meat.
Luckily for me however, the restaurants and markets had a plethora of vegetarian-friendly options wherever we went. We also had the good fortune to find May Kaidee early on in our trip. She has two restaurants in Bangkok and one in Chiang Mai, all of which were visited by us on our trip. All of the food is vegetarian or vegan, made with fresh ingredients which reflect the highest quality of Thai produce and cuisine.
May Kaidee’s restaurants do not have a very large Thai following and are mostly frequented by foreigners. It seems that vegetarianism is poorly understood in Thai culture (as evidenced by the high proportion of meat items sold in the food stalls). May Kaidee recognizes the reservations of the Thai people in regards to her food, especially her use of brown rice: “Most Thais think brown rice is for dogs or people in jail. People started thinking differently when His Majesty the King said brown rice is healthier than white rice several years ago. But Thai people don’t like to change their eating habits.”
Despite the predominantly western crowd, the cuisine at May Kaidee’s was consistent with other high quality Thai meals we enjoyed on our trip, such as the hole in the wall restaurant we found ourselves at after hiking all day on the mountains outside of Pai, or the outdoor dingy tent-restaurant in an alley in Koh Samui (where I had some of the best green curry of my life).
When we learned that May Kaidee offered classes at her very own cooking school, we didn’t think twice about signing up. The school offers four-hour classes where we learned to cook pad thai, green and massaman curries, spring rolls, pumpkin hummus, green papaya salad, tom kha soup, tom yam soup, and isaan.
I’ve been able to successfully recreate several of these dishes back in America, but it is definitely difficult to procure the more non-native ingredients such as galangal, Thai basil and kaffir lime leaves.
Unfortunately, there has not been much in the way of good, authentic Thai restaurants near where I live…until recently.
[[see Part Two, posting soon]]