Cooking Lessons in Southeast Asia

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Cooking classes are a great way to expand your cooking repertoire and learning new skills. I’ve taken classes in Sonoma, California and in my hometown. My son Tevis Spezia took it to a new level when he spent 4 months in Southeast Asia. He took two classes–one in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and one in Hội An, Vietnam. He found both of them on Trip Advisor, which is his go-to when he’s looking for interesting activities when traveling.

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Tevis’ interest in cooking started with lessons from me for he and his friends Jenn and Heather. He quickly expanded his abilities past easy enchiladas and pasta sauce. While he lived in San Francisco he cooked dinner every week with a group of friends with a range of cooking experience. He tried a lot of new recipes and learned new skills.

“You can only go on so many walking tours and see so many museums, so I thought I’d try a cooking class.”  The Chiang Mai class included pick up and drop off from his hostel, and a shopping excursion at the market. Then they went to the farm kitchen for meal prep.

 

 

Tevis did feel like the odd man out in Chiang Mai as it was all couples except him. He did suggest the class to his dinner party friends Alison and Craig who honeymooned in Thailand. His experience in Vietnam was different–there was a mix of singletons and couples. He even ended up mopeding to the next town with someone he met in the class.

In Vietnam they spent more time in the markets shopping and even traveled part of the way by boat. Then they returned to a classroom kitchen in town. They made this specialty rice cake and crepe like pancakes used to roll up with different fillings. Tevis’ favorite recipe and one he’ll make again was the fresh spring rolls. They also made pho, but Tevis didn’t see the point in making pho when you only had to walk a few steps to find phenomenal pho made from a family recipe. And it was all so cheap (about $1.50 a bowl). Even in Boston, where he lives now, he’s more likely to buy a bowl a pho at a restaurant than make it himself.

I didn’t ask if he’d take another cooking class on future trips, because I knew the answer! Tevis’ Chilean cooking class is featured in next blog post.

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Thanks Tevis Spezia for sharing your experience with Adventures of American Julie.

 

Food Memoirs Inspire Travel

My blog posts have slowed in the last month or so because much of my spare time is dedicated to eating an elimination diet and acupuncture appointments. I soak my feet in an herbal tea and I drink gallons of alkaline water. I haven’t felt well for about 2 years but when I broke out in hives in mid-February and they were still with me 6 weeks later, I knew I had to take the time to address my health.

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Pour kettle full of hot water on one foot bath tea bag and let steep for 6 minutes. Then add another kettle full of hot water and 3 pitchers of roughly equivalent size to soak for feet for 30 minutes. Keep water as hot as you can stand. This is intended to help draw toxics out of your body. 

I still don’t know what is  at the root of my health issues. I am in the club of women and men who live with chronic pain that western medicine isn’t good at diagnosing let alone providing relief. If I had to guess I’d say that our western lifestyle is toxic. I know I’d feel better if I could travel. But I had to cancel my Michigan adventure due to my most extreme sciatica episode to date.

My pets are glad to have me home. Yet I need to do something to satisfy my wanderlust.

I have been listening to a lot of podcasts as I cook and soak. Two of my favorites are about reading: What Should I Read Next? and Reading Women. They are both delightful and now the top of my dresser is heaving with books to read. When Reading Women podcast hosts interviewed author Chibundu Onuzo, she recommended several books I wrote down for future reading, including Longthroat Memoirs by Yemisi Aribisala. I already had on my list My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss as a recommendation from WSIRN? I took the plunge and purchased them both.

I read My Berlin Kitchen first because I heard it favorably compared to Ruth Reichl’s memoirs and because I’m curious about Germany — Berlin has been rising on my places to go list. Never fear, if you think it is a book full of German recipes, it is much more varied. The author is American/Italian with deep ties to Berlin. The book is really the story of growing up on two continents and with people she loves in 3 or more countries before and after the Wall fell. She tells her story in short chapters ending with a recipe. I marked 9 different recipes I’d like to try. I already tried her Uncle’s ragu sauce and it was a B+ (of course I did not cook it for 3-5 hours as suggested). This book made me want to go to Berlin, and return to Italy, and for others it might make you want to go to Paris. Not me. She also sends a lot of love to New York City and even Los Angeles. It is a fun read and I managed it in a weekend.

Longthroat Memoirs is much less accessible to me. I have been to South Africa and Capetown is near the top of my wish list because of the penguins, but Nigeria is not on my list yet. This is an ambitious book as it is introducing a complex culture (Nigeria is very large and has many ethnic cultures within), and a cooking style with whom few people have any familiarity. I also found her writing more convoluted to follow with many references I don’t get. To be fair, so does Weiss, but I know Laura Ingalls Wilder and why someone would pine to go to Prince Edward Island.

Also, I cannot envision making groundnut soup, also known as Nigerian River Province Soup or Bayelsa. Aribisala seems determined more to use food as an entry point to so many other subjects that it is probably miscast as a food memoir. And where would I get the ingredients! “There is the green leaf vegetable that cannot, and most definitely should not, be frozen spinach. There is afang leaf unwound from its symbiotic partner in the bush. There is afang leaf grown in town and snubbed by the bush afang. There is the pumpkin leaf that, in one unique language ‘ibok iyep’ (red blood corpuscle) for its nutritional powerhouse status.” (p 23)

So while the book doesn’t satisfy as a food memoir, it is essential reading if you want to spend more time in the diverse countries of Africa. I will give it to Grace Julie who has already traveled extensively in Western Africa.

Food is such an essential part of the travel experience. I will explore this in more detail in future blog posts.