How to Order Food for Kids Visiting Thailand [Free Menu]

How to Order Food for Kids Visiting Thailand [Free Menu]

Hey parents, we’ve got good news!

Traveling with kids is difficult enough, don’t let meal times be any more stressful than necessary. To help you, we’ve taken the feedback from guests visiting our kids cooking class in Bangkok, to create a free menu to make ordering food for your kids easier on your next trip to Thailand.

When your children enjoy the food in the country you’re visiting, it can change the entire dynamic of your trip. This is especially true for Thailand, where many of the travelers come specifically to enjoy all of the spicy and full-flavored Thai dishes. However, for those new to Thai cuisine or traveling with small children, figuring out what to order can be daunting.

Don’t miss our recent recipe for kid’s pad thai, give it a try at home to start getting your kids acclimated for the big trip to Thailand.

How to Order Thai Food Kids Enjoy

If you’re planning your trip to Bangkok, you may already be thinking about what to order your kids. One of the common issues is ordering food that isn’t going to set flame to the tastebuds of your little ones. There is plenty of delicious Thai food that isn’t spicy, but you may come up with only a short list reading travel blogs and tips from writers who don’t stay in the country long.

You also need to understand spice in Thailand isn’t a novelty like in other countries. There are seldom chili eating competitions nor much bravado associated with your ability to eat spicy food. That’s because spicy food is the norm in Thailand, and not the exception.

Remember the crisis in Thailand when members of a youth football team were trapped deep in a cave? When they asked the trapped students (many of them from marginalized people groups like the ones Courageous Kitchen serves) what they most wanted to eat, they responded, ‘pad krapao’. This well-loved Thai dish can appear on the menu simply as ‘stir fried basil with pork’. However, some English menus may neglect to mention this dish is usually made with a healthy heaping of chili, where even the mildest versions can be a shock to those unaccustomed to spicy food!

A guest in our kids cooking class is focused on helping make ‘pad see ew’ for her family.

Now that may sound delicious to you, but unless your kids are Thai, they may not be craving a face full of chili as soon as they get off the plane. This means knowing a few milder dishes to order can be extremely helpful. Instead of ordering the aforementioned spicy pad krapao, you can simply order a plate of ‘pad see ew‘ (wok-fried rice nooodles with egg and chicken) instead. Since the dish isn’t spicy by nature, it makes it a much better choice and delicious for both parents and adults.

Knowing some Thai dishes is helpful, and any knowledge of Thai language comes in handy too. For instance, no guidebook or travel guide is complete without teaching you the phrase ‘mai ped‘, meaning ‘not spicy’ in Thai. Flip those words around and change the tones slightly, and you can ask ‘ped mai‘ or ‘is this spicy?‘ to people in restaurants or at street food stalls.

Already confused? Don’t worry, this isn’t a Thai lesson. However, we do hope parents understand before arriving, that communicating the needs of your children in local restaurants can be a monumental task. Although Thailand is a major destination for vacationers around the world, limited English ability by Thais can add miscommunication to the growing list of obstacles keeping you from feeding hangry kids.

Free English to Thai Menu for Parents

To help ease communication issues parents are having, we’ve created a special one page kids menu that you can download. The menu is created using dishes common in restaurants around Thailand, that are also friendly for kids because they’re not overly spicy. Some dishes may even be similar to food options you have in your home country.

Of course, not every restaurant will have all of the dishes we’ve listed. However, our hope is that with a little assistance communicating you’ll find that even restaurants who don’t, will often willingly do their best to make something tasty for your kids.

In addition, with each food item we’ve included a brief English description and the corresponding Thai characters, as well as an abbreviated phonetic spelling for assistance pronouncing the words on your own.

Food Allergies in Thailand

Here’s a preview of the free menu, we hope it makes communicating food allergies easier for parents.

Ordering in Thai restaurants takes another leap in difficulty if you’re also working around your child’s allergy. This may mean, for example, trying to prevent peanuts from being added to a dish like pad thai where they are commonly used to garnish the popular noodle dish. For this reason we’ve added a section to the menu download, specifically for making special requests including common food allergies translated into Thai.

Thailand is becoming friendlier for vegan and vegetarian travelers too. Much of this is due to the growth of local businesses offering solely meat free options, or existing restaurants hoping to attract new customers with more accommodating menu items. This is great news if you’re visiting the big cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket. However, when exploring out of the city centers, you should be ready to communicate your dietary restrictions to street food vendors and restaurants you visit.

This is because often Thai food includes what we refer to as ‘sneaky meat’. To get the umami flavors that make the food stand out, cooks are often using meat based sauces and stocks to season food. For example, dishes you may already love such as pad thai and pad see ew are both commonly made with fish sauce. A noodle dish may appear to be meat free, but you can’t assume it is, just because there isn’t any meat cooked in the dish that you can identify easily. Instead, using the right terminology when you order can prevent these problems!

Stir fry sauces in Thailand are often meat based. If vegans and vegetarians are clear in communicating, chefs can use meat free sauces, as in the tofu pad see ew pictured above.

Finally, we know this won’t solve every problem with ordering. You still don’t want to leave home without a smartphone with translation apps and internet access. You can also never underestimate the value of having a local friend. While this simple menu won’t replace your Thai friends, it may make you a little more adventurous on days when you’re not with a guide or friend to give you a hand.

Happy travels to all the parents reading, we hope the entire family enjoys your time in Thailand. If you found this information helpful, please consider making a donation to help us feed and educate those in need.

Try Thailand’s Mango and Sticky Rice 3 Different Ways!

Try Thailand’s Mango and Sticky Rice 3 Different Ways!

You’re here because you’re addicted to sticky rice, sweet tropical mango, and everything that comes along with it!

We don’t blame you.

Welcome friend, you’re in a safe place because today the Courageous Kitchen has got a few versions of Thailand’s most renown dessert, mango and sticky rice, to share with everyone.

Guests enjoy making mango and sticky rice in our Bangkok cooking class.

If you’re new here, we’re a nonprofit with a cooking class that raises money to help improve the lives of youth in Bangkok. We do this simply by hosting tourists visiting Bangkok for fun cooking classes. And you guessed it, one of our most requested desserts is the notorious mango and sticky rice. As we’ve cooked it for you over the years, we’ve had fun learning about all the components of the dessert that make it special, and trying different variations of the dessert.

Don’t let the name fool you, making sticky rice is a lot more work than many people know.

A Delicious, but Tedious Dessert

Although the name sounds like you can just slap wet rice on a plate with mango, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The ‘sticky rice’ used by Thais, isn’t just your regular rice gone soggy, but a separate species of rice entirely. Southeast asian glutinous rice is a beast entirely of its own, and if you don’t give the rice the respect it deserves, it may ruin your day (and your kitchen), when it fails to cook up as nicely as you remember from your trip to Thailand.

For starters the rice has to be washed and then soaked for hours. Many people will soak the rice overnight and steam it in the morning. Next, while your steamed rice is hot, you want to add your sweet coconut sauce so that it can be absorbed by the rice for at least thirty minutes. This isn’t to mention getting your mung beans all toasted and ready, and creating a salty version of the coconut sauce to use as a topping.

Not sure what all the fuss is about? Have a gawk at the classic version of mango and sticky rice.

While making the dish overall isn’t hard, you will have to put in some time and attention to the process if you want it to yield great results. Don’t fret though, we’ve included the instructions for classic mango and sticky rice in the pdf download of our recipe book.

Thais are True Mango Connoisseurs

The sticky rice isn’t the only difficult component of this dessert. The mangoes, depending where you live, can be more than troublesome to find. When you do find them, they may be overripe, or just breeds that don’t lend well to slicing nicely to the pairing. This may because the particular fruit is too fibrous (you know those stringy bits you get on the inside that take over). If they’re large like Mexico’s ‘Tommy Atkins’ mangoes they may be too soft, mushy, and overripe before becoming sweet enough.

While many western countries outside of the tropical zone count themselves fortunate to import a few breeds of mango from places like Mexico and India, Thailand is home to over 200 varieties. The biodiversity found in the country for this one particular fruit is astounding, and the way Thais consume them is a reflection of that variety. They’re eaten unripe and crunchy, soft and velvety, and about every combination in between. At times they’re paired with pungent, fishy dipping sauces, and in other instances dipped in a mix of sugar, salt, and lime.

Mango and sticky rice can hold it’s own against your favorite western desserts like chocolate mousse and banana pudding, or have them all together!

You may not be surprised to learn then that mangoes, during harvest season especially, are shockingly cheap in Thailand. One of the fanciest of Thai ‘nam dok mai’ (a thai cultivar whose name means flower nectar) mangoes may fetch a price of 120 baht or more per kilo. But just think, that’s still only about $4 for a whole heap of luxurious mango to stuff in your face.

The cheaper varietals abound, and people in the countryside might have a mango tree or 20 in their orchards. The ubiquity and variety of mangoes available in Thailand, and their pairing with the humble sticky rice is telling. While jasmine rice was tapped for export, and touted by elites, sticky rice on the other hand remained what average people ate from day to day. You can be confident that the mango and sticky rice combination then, wasn’t a five star chef invention, but made it’s way from the lowly countryside, to the notoriety it enjoys today.

Mango and sticky rice, presented sushi style, rolled in a thin crepe and covered in coconut creme.

Sticky Variations of the Dessert to Try

Now that mango and sticky rice has gone around the world, cooks are challenged to put a new spin on the dish. Serving the dish with a unique presentation can be just what’s needed to catch the eye of locals ready to get excited again about the old favorite, and newcomers to Thailand who may be trying the dessert for the first time. This may mean naturally dying the sticky rice until you have a rainbow of rice to serve with your mango, or even giving it a Japanese makeover, by serving it sushi style.

Another abnormally eye-catching version calls for you to do some kitchen voodoo on the mango. You’ll need to slice the top off and carefully etch away at the flesh against the seed of the mango, being careful not to let your knife cut through the thin skin. If you’re skillful enough, you can create enough space in the in mango to begin twisting the seed until it pops out. Now you’ve got a natural bowl, ready to be filled with mango, sticky rice, and any other fruit your heart desires. When we spotted Chef Seng’s stuffed mango and sticky rice on instagram, our faces lit up and we knew we had to give it try.

A new favorite in our Bangkok cooking class, stuffed mango and sticky rice!

So how do you like your mango and sticky rice? Rolled sushi style? Or shoved back into the fruit so the mango becomes a natural bowl? Maybe you’re like us and will always love the classic version.

Whichever one suits you, we hope you’ve learned more about what it takes to put this deliciousness together, and that the best version is one you can enjoy with friends.

Alright sweet tooth friends either get cooking, or get over here to help us eat them all!

Banh Xeo, A Crispy Vietnamese Crepe Recipe

Banh Xeo, A Crispy Vietnamese Crepe Recipe

One of our favorite recipes, is the super savory and crispy Vietnamese Banh Xeo. A popular street food snack in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, the yellow tinted crepe has gained popularity throughout many Southeast Asian countries because it can be a cost effective way to feed a big family. This makes it a great recipe for use to teach, as we reach out to families in need in Bangkok.

The Courageous Kitchen is a place where aspirational young people like Alina learn to thrive and contribute to recipes we share with you online, and in our cooking classes.

“I grew up in Vietnam, but we lived in a remote village in the countryside. I never had a chance to have banh xeo until learning to cook with Christy. I can’t wait to try making it for my family.” – Alina, CK Trainee

Just like Alina, there are lots of people who may not have had the joy of enjoying these deliciously crispy crepes. They are more fragile and more deeply savory when compared to western crepes. To master the perfect crunch, you need to steam a thin layer of batter until golden brown and it naturally releases from your pan.

However, the real fun part begins when you see what’s inside. Typically bahn xeo can be stuffed with a choice of chicken, shrimp, ground pork, and bean sprouts. But there’s not reason they can’t be vegan, gluten free, or cooked with whatever ingredients you have in the fridge.

Master making these Vietnamese crepes, and then get creative with what you use for the filling them.

Enjoy Christy and Alina’s rendition of the renowned sizzling crepe below. Remember you can request this dish in our charitable cooking classes, and the proceeds from your cooking class and donations will help us to teach and train more young people to be leaders in the kitchen, and their community like Alina.

Banh Xeo Recipe

Recipe by Christy Innouvong & Alina Xiong

Yields: 10-12 crepes

Batter Ingredients

  • 2 cups soda water
  • 1 bunch of green onion, chopped into centimeter pieces (aka scallion, roughly about 200g)
  • 125 ml of coconut milk (a tap more than half a cup)
  • 140 grams rice flour
  • 1-2 tsp of turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Filling Ingredients

  • 200g shredded chicken breast or protein of your choice
    • Tip: Some versions call for you to stir fry your protein with a tbsp of garlic and onion. This is optional.
    • Just be sure you cook your filler protein in advance, so you don’t need to overcook your crepe while waiting on the meat to finish cooking.
  • 1 carrot, shredded thinly
  • 300g bean sprouts

Veggies for Wrapping (optional)

You’ll want to wash all your leafy greens well because you will eat them raw. Be sure to leave some extra time for removing them from the stem if needed.

  • 1 bunch of Vietnamese mustard greens
    • Tip: This can be hard to find. Substitute Vietnamese coriander, perilla leaf, or heart leaf if possible.
  • 1 bunch of mint
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 1 head of romaine or similarly leafy lettuce for wrapping  
This simple Vietnamese dipping sauce (nuoc cham) can add some flavor intensity to your crepes and other crispy snacks.

Vietnamese Dipping sauce

Nuoc cham (pronounced NEW-uk jham) aka Vietnamese dipping sauce is traditionally poured over each crepe, or alternatively used for dipping bites of your banh xeo or fried egg rolls.

Here’s a simple recipe for nuoc cham:

  • 1/2 cup of soda water
  • 1/3 cup of fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup of vinegar
  • 3 tbsp of white sugar
  • 2 tbsp of lime juice
  • 2 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 2 spicy red chili chopped
For this Vietnamese recipe it’s helpful to have a nonstick skillet brushed with oil, and a soft spatula you can use to maneuver the crepe once cooked.

Instructions

Prepare Your Batter

Combine all batter ingredients except scallions in a large mixing bowl for at least 30 minutes before cooking. You can leave refrigerated up to one night before cooking. Add scallions only right before making the crêpes.

Prepare Your Filling

Cook your protein and slice or shred small, so it can easily be eaten when biting into the crepe.

Wash bean sprouts and leafy greens. Keep your leafy greens large and intact, they will be used to wrap bites of your stuffed crepes.

Scallions add color and are a great contrast in color with the turmeric tinted crepe batter.

Making the Banh Xeo Crepe (Each takes approx. 5-7 mins)

In a skillet, heat to medium and then turn the heat to low. This is important because if the skillet is too hot, it will burn your crepe before it is fully cooked. Brush some cooking oil (a teaspoon will do) on your skillet and add your batter (approximate ½ a cup). You can pick up the pan and tilt so that the batter covers the entire skillet.

Tip: If you add too much batter, simply pour the excess back into your batter bowl.

Add a little bit more batter if it wasn’t enough to cover the pan, but to achieve a thin, crisp omelette the less batter the better. Add your filling ingredients and cover for 4-5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, the bean sprouts should appear slightly cooked and the batter should also be transparent and crispy around the edges. You can brush a touch of oil around the edges to help lift your crepe.

Remove the lid and fold in half (omelette style), transfer to a plate and serve immediately with greens and dipping sauce on the side.

Be patient and be sure your crepes are crispy and lightly browned before serving.

How to Eat Banh Xeo

Roughly tear your fresh herbs and place on top or inside of crepe. Generally people will chop the crepe in several pieces and eat inside of the large leaves as a wrap. Decide whether you prefer the leaf wrap version, or just want to eat it like a taco. Whatever you choose, be sure to drizzle your nuoc cham sauce over the entire banh xeo crepe. Enjoy!

Hunt These 5 Exotic Thai Fruits in Bangkok’s Markets

Hunt These 5 Exotic Thai Fruits in Bangkok’s Markets

Time to talk about Bangkok’s fresh fruit buffets! Come to Thailand and experience an overload of tropical fruit, available for ridiculously affordable prices. Imagine kilos of fruit for the price of what people are paying, for a single fruit in colder parts of the world. This makes enjoying fruit in Thailand, easily a bucket list item everyone should be checking off!

We’re blessed to be able to enjoy this fruit regularly and to bring our Bangkok cooking class guests, and street food tour foodies to our favorite local markets. Each time the adventure is a feast for the senses, and we want to answer common Thai fruit questions you may have when planning your trip here.

Gorge of fruit Thai style by hunting these five fruits during your trip!

Let’s start with one of the most loved fruits in Thailand, mangosteen!

1) Mangosteen

Mangosteen is one of Thailand’s most loved tropical fruits. If you’re hunting an exotic taste in Bangkok’s markets this fruit is a great place to start. The eye-pleasing spherical purple fruits usually have a sprig of greengage from the top when they’re fresh. You’ll want to pull that off and squeeze the fruit, allowing it to come apart naturally with the interior white and fleshy fruit still intact. The sweet and tart fruit is delicious and will have you coming back for more! Just keep in mind the best mangosteens aren’t in season all year long, but those of you visiting during the rainy season will find them plentiful and cheap. 

Durian is simultaneously one of the most loved and hated fruits in Thailand!

Durian

Durian is the most infamous of fruits on this list. Unlike the unanimously loved queen of the fruits above, this King of the Fruits isn’t for everyone. That’s because the extremely creamy texture, gym sock funky smell, and the mix of sweet and savory this fruit can offer can be off putting.

Durian is unique and delicious, but often misunderstood. Give it a try when you visit Bangkok!

However, along with tourists gagging on youtube, there are also videos of devotees who swear by the fruit as a sweet, and filling source of natural fat. The breed and quality of durian can vary, so take a Thai friend to your local vendor to help you get what you’re looking for in the $6-10 treat, and write us a comment to let us know whether you’d love it or leave it. 

Tried rambutan fruit yet? This is definitely one of the most exotic looking fruits!

Rambutan

Although there’s some stiff competition, to me rambutan is one of the strangest looking fruits. You’ll know when you’ve spotted them in the market because the appearance is more similar to a multicolored nerf ball, than the juicy fruit you’d expect.

You won’t find rambutan this fresh outside of the tropics!

Once the colors on the outside nodes of the rambutan begin to dim, the fruit has started to rapidly ripen. When you’re shopping in Bangkok’s markets, grab the brightest ones and gently squeeze, pulling from both sides until the hull splits somewhere in the middle.

When you enjoy the fruit, be sure to be careful of the scratchy seed on the inside which can pull away with the flesh of fruit and be unpleasant to eat. Buy $3 of this fruit and you may already have more than you can carry!

Mangoes are an obvious favorite for Thais and foreigners alike, but you may not know what an incredible variety of these fruits exist in Thailand!

Mango

Mango needs no introduction. The tropical delicacy is idolized in places whose frigid climates could never support their cultivation. Many of our guests also complain that where they live the quality of the imported mangoes isn’t high and they can be bland or difficult to eat.


A popular way to enjoy mango is along with coconut milk soaked sticky rice.

In Thailand, there are more than 200 hundred types of mangoes. Thais eat them both green, sour, crunchy, and unripe, as well as sweet, succulent, and ripe and juicy. With quality mangoes going for $1-$2 per kilo, this splurge is definitely in your budget when you visit the local Thai market. 

Strange looking, but dragonfruit is mildly flavored, by makes a great rehydrating snack.

Dragonfruit

Think of this as a jumbo, bland kiwi. You don’t really get the idea behind the name unless you see them when they’re small at the end of their stems, over looking the rest of the plant with its unique dragon-resembling shape. These fruits are best served chilled and should be mildly sweet. In other countries they can be downright bland, so you can also jazz them up with a simple squeeze of lime. 

Dragonfruit can occasionally be found with a dark magenta colored flesh as well, beautiful!

The Best Bangkok Markets to Visit:

Where are the best places to try fruit in Bangkok? Here’s a short list you should add to you itinerary if you’re staying near them on your visit. If not, dig around for the nearest fresh market near your hotel or airbnb, and you should still be able to find an abundance of fresh fruit for cheap!

For the freshest and cheapest Thai fruit, visit Bangkok’s local markets.

Or Tor Kor Market

Easily on of Bangkok’s nicest markets, the well lit and organized spot, offers a soft landing to tourists. When you visit, you won’t be able to miss the large corridor where many of the vendors are selling fruit, but look around other spots in the market to spot the odd fruit vendor as well. Don’t forget to stop in the Royal Project Shop on the premises for organic produce as well.

Reach Or Tor Kor Market on public transportation, using the MRT Kampaengphet and BTS Mor Chit Stations. Open 8am-6pm, daily.

Khlong Toey Market

The largest and craziest of Bangkok’s markets, is located quite near the city center. The key to this market having so many ingredients is the strategic location of the nearby ports. If you visit the market above to ease into Bangkok, you visit this market to fully experience the chaos and calamity that a busy Thai market can offer. Renovations have made finding your way around the market easier, but don’t underestimate the crowd, and be aware of vendors who may not like you photographing or touching fruit that you don’t intend to buy.

The closest public transportation to Khlong Toey Market, is the Queen Sirikit MRT Station. Open daily, 24 hours, but for the best produce visit early morning.

Samrong Market

Walk through aisles and aisles of fruit in Samrong market, which is easily accessible by skytrain for people living in Eastern Bangkok. The large and stretching market has large fruit vendors, but be on the lookout for the mom and pop vendors who may sell more exotic fruit than what you can source from industrial farms.

Conveniently, the expansive Samrong Market is located just a short walk from the BTS Skytrain Samrong Station. Open 6am-8pm, daily.

8 Tips for Enjoying Thai Fruit

  1. Enjoy with friends – With the fruit so cheap and abundant, you’ll want some friends for backup while enjoying these healthy and delicious treats. A few dollars in Thailand can buy more fruit than you may be able to carry alone.
  2. Peel fruit like a local – If you have a Thai friend, bring them along for your market adventure. Be sure to follow their instructions on how to open your fruit, to keep from getting it all over your clothes! For jumbo fruit like jackfruit and durian, leave it to the local experts, please.
  3. If it’s funky, spit it out – Just like tasting fruit anywhere, occasionally some of the fruit has spoiled or gone bad. If you detect any sores or discoloration on the fruit, or odd smells and tastes, don’t feel pressured to consume it.
  4. If exposed, wash it – Just like you would at home, you want to wash any fruit with edible or porous skin. For fruits with a significant husk, be on the lookout for other pests like ants that may be on the outside, and rinse away dirt to keep in from contaminating other parts of the fruit when peeling.
  5. Be adventurous – Be brave! If the fruit in front of you doesn’t look like something you would normally love, try it anyway. Don’t like the first bite of durian? Try another bite. This isn’t to contradict advice about safety, but to remind you that you have to be adventurous to make the most of the wide range of exotic Thai fruit.
  6. When possible, enjoy chilled – Bangkok is hot and the markets are our favorite places, but they can become sweltering as well. Stay hydrated, and get that fruit back to your fridge where you can chill it and enjoy it even more.
  7. Store properly – If you’re buying fruit you expect to ripen over a few days, take the advice of the vendors on how to store it. For proper maturation, many fruits do not need to be refrigerated. Others, however, may spoil before you have a chance to eat them, if not properly stored.
  8. Dip to enhance flavor – We recommend for your first time trying fruit on its own. However, many Thais enjoy their fruit with tangy, spicy, or sweet condiment sauces. These may range from a fishy sauce for dipping sour mangoes, to sugar-chili mixes for enjoying popular fruit like guava, rose apple, and pineapple.
Beyond this list, there are plenty of other Thai fruits to discover!

Consider this a beginner’s guide to a few Thai fruit! There is much more to discover when you’re in Thailand, and we hope this article has helped to stoke your appetite for fruit and foodie adventures.

Thanks for visiting Courageous Kitchen! If you found this information helpful, help us continue our mission by making a contribution on our donate page.

Bangkok’s First Plastic Free Cooking Class!

Bangkok’s First Plastic Free Cooking Class!

We’re proud to announce our Bangkok cooking classes have banned the use of single use plastic. Thailand is among the worst plastic polluters in the world, and we hope being the first cooking class to go plastic free will challenge other businesses and people to do the same.

The signs of global climate change can be felt in Bangkok. The temperatures are rising, the city is sinking, and flooding becomes worse every year. The climate crisis is just the backdrop to a culture wide preference for cheap plastics used for on the go food, especially street food, of which Bangkok is known world wide. In fact, we’re still recovering from our cooking class space being flooded last month. This is a problem that can feel overwhelming, so the key is making small changes that can empower us to rethink our impact, and inspire others at the same time.

Herbal butterfly pea teas served in our Bangkok cooking class with sustainable straws.

It started with straws…

We have been weening off of single use plastic for the past year. If you’ve attended our class then you know, we’ve never served plastic straws since our cooking classes started in 2017. Instead guests drink their cooling herbal teas through morning glory (a water spinach that has mostly hollow stems) straws that we provide. They’re not only a better alternative than plastic straws, but have a better mouthfeel than the metal ones, and can be stir fried or thrown in a soup in a pinch. The edible straws have gotten good feedback from our guests as well, and we’ve been building off of this enthusiasm in our war on plastic. We’ve even been bringing our green straws to teach about sustainability in Bangkok’s international schools.

When you learn to make pomelo salad, you plate your creation in the pomelo itself!
Don’t throw that watermelon out too quickly!

From straws we moved to bowls, probably the most important plate-ware in a Thai household. Here we use a variety of solutions from plain ol’ regular bowls to biodegradable palm wood bowls, and as often as possible plating your food in a natural bowl. This means that pineapple fried rice is served in, well, a pineapple. Your pomelo salad? Dished up in the beautiful carved pomelo bowl. From everything we’ve observed, Thai culture already has the local knowledge to use less plastic. Part of our job is recognizing this wisdom, and turning back the clock to bring some of these trends, such as cooking and packaging food in banana leaves, to our classes and outreach.

thai cooking class bkk-2
Using biodegradable plating, like this areca palm plate, is one the more expensive alternatives we have explored for our cooking classes.

There are challenges to going green…

One misconception is about what we mean by refusing to use single use plastic products. We don’t want anyone to think you’ll come to our class and won’t see any plastic present. We do still use reusable plastic containers and plates, as many of the alternatives are considerably more expensive. This is something we want to be transparent about, because ‘plastic free’ seems to mean different things to different people. We’re anti single use plastic and strive not to even accept plastic or styrofoam from vendors in the local market. This means even on our street food tour in Bangkok, you’ll catch our staff bringing our own containers and silverware for you to use to eat!

pad thai cooking class bangkok
Pad thai in our cooking class Bangkok, beautifully wrapped in a banana blossom petal, a common pad thai condiment in Thailand.

Also, for many restaurants and food providers like us, there are real food safety concerns when switching from plastic. For example, how do you naturally clean your morning glory straws before giving them to people? These are real challenges we have to spend energy on remedying, and training our staff as we abandon plastic. The hardest thing to give up? Plastic wrap and plastic gloves! We don’t want not using them to increase the chances someone will become sick from what we’re serving. This means being thoughtful about preparing for each class, and making sure our entire team is cognizant about food safety concerns that come along with these changes.

Our mission to be more environmentally friendly isn’t over. We’re learning, growing more of our own food, and doing our best to share what we learn as well. Let’s all strive to do better together!

Why We’re Dreaming of Sticky Rice in San Diego

Why We’re Dreaming of Sticky Rice in San Diego

I remember watching my mother make sticky rice every morning. She’d be up long before the sun. The roosters crowing along to the sound of lukewarm water running through every hand full of starchy grain.

Washing, rinsing, and repeating as the cloudy water floated away.

Hot steam rises out of the traditional bamboo basket that Christy uses to make sticky rice for an event in San Diego.
Sticky rice, also known as glutinous rice, is staple for many people in South East Asia.

Soaking, sitting, steaming.

She’d do this day in, day out. Never skipping a beat, never missing a meal.

Piping hot pillowy balls of goodness.  Perfectly salted, perfectly sweet. I never realized how much I craved for something so simple. As I grew older, the annoyance of my mother’s 5am cooking call was a missed memory. I longed for the aroma of freshly steamed rice. Searched the blankets for the warm bamboo baskets she kept it in. Hiding it from my siblings and I, until it was cool enough for consumption.

Once considered a rice for poor people from the countryside, sticky rice now enjoys international acclaim thanks to dishes like mango and sticky rice.
In Thailand’s countryside, Christy examines a photo of her grandparents, who lived in Laos.

The history of this dish originates from my mothers homeland, Laos. Although you can find it in nearly every Thai market, it is one of those Issan dishes that most Lao people eat daily. Oftentimes, multiple times a day. Sticky rice is a long, white fragrant grain almost only discernible by it’s thickness, compared to traditional jasmine rice. You may find it in San Diego’s asian markets labeled ‘sweet rice’ or ‘glutinous rice’. We use it as the vessel to carry other dishes like stews, dipping sauces known as jeow, or to accompany your favorite meat. Unlike Thailand, Laotians eat almost solely with their hands. Sticky rice balls are our utensils, and you scoop your food with the rice, sharing each meal family style.

Historically Lao people ate sticky rice because it sustained them for long days on the farm. Many of them harvesting their own fields of rice as the wet lowlands provided the perfect burial ground for the coveted glutinous rice seeds. My family still harvests rice in their fields in Northern Thailand. As the days begin and end, they always include a warm Thip Khao (a traditional woven bamboo basket) full of the sticky goodness that is affectionately known as khao niew. These are the moments I now long for as an adult; family meals and shared laughter. Learning the history of how we came to be, honoring the land and our ancestors.

Ever wondered why they call it ‘sticky’ rice? This CK student has a clue!

“A single grain of rice can tip the scale. One man may be the difference between victory and defeat.”

– The Emperor in Disney’s Mulan

Take Christy’s cooking class in San Diego, or have an opportunity to taste her food when she cooks at pop up events.

Christy’s Top 5 Tips on How to Make Sticky Rice at Home

  1. Buy the correct rice. Many people don’t know that sticky rice is a species of rice, often referred to as glutinous rice.
  2. If you plan to make it often, consider investing in the bamboo basket to make it the traditional way. Other clever ways include making it in a pressure cooker with options for different types of rice grains.
  3. Don’t wait until you’re hungry to make sticky rice. The process is long. Prepare ahead, washing and soaking your rice the night before you plan to cook it.
  4. A little plastic wrap on the spoon or bowl used for scooping and molding the rice keeps the rice from sticking to it!
  5. Sticky rice is both a dinner staple and a dinner utensil. When the food is ready, this isn’t the time to be posh! Instead use your hands to ball up the sticky rice and dip it into the food you’re eating.

Thanks for reading. If you want to understand why we’re dreaming of sticky rice, you’ll have to ask about Issan food in our cooking classes or street food tours in Bangkok.

You can also find Christy, today’s author, leading our cooking classes and pop up events in sunny San Diego. We look forward to sharing a plate of sticky rice with you soon.