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 Asia 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 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 crepe 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 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 Bahn 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.

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.

Tom Yum Melodies with Khlong Toey Music Program

Tom Yum Melodies with Khlong Toey Music Program

The kitchen is a special classroom, where students can be given the power to create, collaborate, and thrive! We believe this to the core, we preach it, and try to live by it. But we are also quick to admit the kitchen isn’t the only place children can express themselves, and learn new skills. In a recent Saturday cooking and jam session, our Courageous Kitchen students welcomed children from the Khlong Toey Music Program (KTMP) for a memorable afternoon.

Khlong Toey Music Program Motto: “Playing for Change”

If you’re unfamiliar, the KTMP music program is named for one the most infamous slums in Bangkok, Khlong Toey. Despite the rough surroundings, there’s important work happening in their community, and KTMP is part of the change that’s happening in this overlooked area of Bangkok. With a similar ethos to Courageous Kitchen, KTMP believes children deserve a safe place to learn, especially because of the pernicious nature of the cycle of poverty. Instead of proselytizing the way of the wok and other culinary arts like us, their program teaches guitar, drums, and several other instruments, adding English and other extracurriculars as often as possible. Each time the students have an opportunity to perform, they earn new fans across the city of Bangkok and online!

Still kids, even the ones gaining fans each week through their music on facebook and youtube, get nervous meeting other children. For this reason, we didn’t jump right into learning to play music when our two student groups came together. First we had to get to know each other. So to kick things off, we began the day with fun ice breaking games. The games required the students to interact with one another, learning each other’s names, and teaming up to identify vocabulary words faster than other teams.

The kids begin learning about the instruments they’re most interested in playing from students their own age.

The instruments made an appearance after we got to know each other and whoa did it get noisy! The students and teachers dispersed themselves around the room teaching the same melody, with a different instrument in each group. There was an entire section dedicated to our mini percussionists, the singers and ukulele players claimed the center of the room, and the electric and acoustic guitar fans filled the gap on the other side. I’d compare the sound and fury of the activity to having a baby elephant dancing in your kitchen. But despite what it did to our eardrums, looking around at the excitement on all the children’s faces as the instrument workshop began, was incredibly rewarding.

Low thuds, random strings, and excited voices filled the room as the students began to get the hang of the instruments. The KTMP teachers encouraged the children to change groups once they had the melody down, much to the excitement of the girls torn between playing the drums, and switching into guitar hero mode on KTMP’s shiny electric guitars. Knowing the kids would be working up an appetite, our kitchen team was rendering the fat off a kilo of shrimp. They would go on to use the fatty oils from cooking the shrimp, to toss egg noodles before serving.

The guitars were the most popular instruments of the day!
These crinkly yellow noodles are popular with everyone in Thailand!
If you love tom yum soup, you should try it with a shrimp laced instant noodles!

Days before this event, we held meetings to debate what to serve our new friends at KTMP. On such a fun day, we wanted to serve familiar food that the kids would gobble down, but with a Courageous Kitchen twist. Cooking up ‘mama’ noodles easily won by popular vote. Named for the most popular brand of instant noodles in Thailand, mama noodles are popular in the low key street food stalls all over the country. The noodles are well known as a nostalgic childhood snack. However, instead of making a broth full of the msg filled flavoring packets, we made our own giant pot of creamy tom yum broth to serve our hungry little musicians.

As the scent of shrimp tinged egg noodles, and lemongrass broth began to fill the house, full bars of notes were beginning to tumble out as well. The practice was paying off, and the students were becoming more confident playing the song. Soon they would play it together, Thai, refugee, and migrant kids, all strumming to the same rhythm. For the finale, the KTMP youth performed a few more songs, before everyone agreed it was time to eat. The noodles were ready to eat, but the kids quickly organized into teams, some making spring rolls to eat with their noodles, while the others were ready for a cooling dessert snack.

Courageous Kitchen meet KTMP in Bangkok, Thailand
Thank you for visiting us Khlong Toey Music Program!

There’s more you should know about the special students from KTMP. They didn’t just show up for tom yum noodles. They have been hearing about Courageous Kitchen for weeks, selecting us as the charity they most wanted interact with and help. In the lead up to meeting each other, they used the power of their music, performing and spreading awareness to raise money for us. In a few short weeks the students, supported by their tireless teachers, raised and donated nearly 14,000 baht (about $440) to help children in our program!

Our entire team feels really privileged to find such a great organization with a similar mission. You can visit Khlong Toey Music Program on their website, and donate to fund more fun future collaborations. We hope they enjoyed our harmonizing in the kitchen, as much as we enjoyed jamming with their instruments!

Christy Teaches Thai Food at Airbnb Headquarters!

Christy Teaches Thai Food at Airbnb Headquarters!

A special invite has our US based team hanging out in the Bay area recently, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to share how we brought Courageous Kitchen vibes to employees at Airbnb headquarters!

Courageous Kitchen larb and papaya salad stations in the kitchen at Airbnb Headquarters.

One of the most important ways we raise funds is by hosting tourists for food related experiences in Bangkok and San Diego. Much of this entrepreneurial arm of our charity is possible because of programs like Airbnb Experiences, where Courageous Kitchen is featured as a Social Impact activity. The designation refers to recognized charities who host on the platform to bolster their causes, and has all commission fees waived by Airbnb. Not only is Courageous Kitchen one of only 400 such experiences worldwide, we are the first and only social impact experience in Bangkok.

We’re proud to be working with Airbnb, and most recently Christy was invited to teach a Thai food workshop at their renowned headquarters in San Francisco’s hip SoMa district. Along with longtime volunteer, Beatriz, they taught members of the Airbnb Experiences team how to make traditional Thai iced tea, papaya salad (aka somtam), and a Lao style minced meat salad full of herbs and chilies (aka larb). If you’re unfamiliar with these dishes, lovers of Thai food can tell you that along with some sticky rice, they quickly become one of the most sought after meals you can get in Thailand.

Christy greeting Airbnb employees with a traditional “wai.” A polite Thai gesture when you meet or part from one another.

To start off their class, Beatriz showed the group of nearly 30 guests how to make their own Thai tea. She then shared her story of how she became involved with Courageous Kitchen, stemming mostly from her own familial ties to refugees. Her grandparents were spies for the United States Army, and fled Indonesia sometime in the 1950s to avoid being caught by the local government. Next, Christy demonstrated two of her favorite Thai and Lao salads which are staples in her Laotian household. Christy’s background not only provides the cultural context to work with our students, but her own story resonates with theirs deeply. Her parents, who escaped Laos in the early 1980’s lived and worked in a refugee camp in Thailand before resettling to the US where she was born.

The narratives of the people behind the food, are just as important as the food we serve, in helping others understand our mission and vision. By sharing our personal stories with our guests, we realize just how much our own paths are connected with those of our Courageous Kitchen families as well. As Social Impact hosts on Airbnb, we want the customers in our cooking classes and street food tours to understand where their dollars are being spent, and be able to walk away with both satisfied bellies and hearts, knowing they helped a noble cause.

In our short time taking over the jumbo kitchen in Airbnb Headquarters, we attempted to give employees who visited, a mini taste of what we offer each and every guest. That’s a quick serving of friendship paired with cold drinks, spicy bites, and a bold brand of courage that leads us to fight for the most marginalized.

Stephanie, Beatriz, and Christy pose with some of the Airbnb staff

Our team is grateful for the continued support from Airbnb and the entire Experiences community. We’ve met and partnered with some amazing entrepreneurs in California and hope to forge more friendships with likeminded organizations in the future.

We look forward to sharing our story in a kitchen near you!

Special Thanks and hugs to Stephanie H. of Airbnb, for the invite and support every step of the way!

Teaching Sustainable Straws and Bowls to International Schools

Teaching Sustainable Straws and Bowls to International Schools

Sustainability has becoming a much larger global conversation, and we’ve been thoughtful about how to be more friendly to the environment in our cooking classes, reduce waste, and encourage others to do the same. Bangkok’s International Schools have also been a part of pushing discourse and action to protect the environment, and we’re proud to be in partnership with schools encouraging students to make a difference. Most recently we have been doing workshops and demos in schools to teach youth practical ways they can reduce waste in and around the kitchen.

Thailand is one of the world’s worst plastic polluting countries, creating about 2 million tons of plastic and growing each year. The single-use plastic is especially egregious and has been the focus of many of the awareness campaigns in the past few years. This has been encouraging people to use last plastic, especially plastic bags, straws and other utensils, and even hygiene items such as toothbrushes.

Cooling butterfly pea juice served with a natural morning glory straw in our cooking classes.

When we have an opportunity to do outreach with students, generating discussion is usually our first task. The majority of students we meet in international schools have already seen the viral videos of animals suffering or dead from swallowing too much plastic. In fact some of the current initiatives to influence retailers to use less plastic, have been started by the students themselves. This makes getting students to speak up about how to make changes easy.

Just like the students, we can all acknowledge we need to use less plastic, but can’t always imagine what that may mean. We have to remind students that plastic, as much as it’s a regular part of life today, wasn’t always around. What then, did people do before they were given 3 straws and two plastic bags for every drink purchase they make? We believe that asking these questions can provoke students to realize that many of the solutions they desire may already be in hand.

Using Natural Straws

One fun way to get the discussion going is to make natural straws with the students. To their shock, we grab what seems like an unimportant vase of long stemmed light green plants, and assign them to make their own straws. The plant is morning glory and the students set up cutting, pithing, and cleaning them, while discussing how they’ll use them at lunch later in the day.

Students at St. Andrews International School in Bangkok make banana leaf bowls for salad, and their own morning glory straws.

We find most students know very little about the morning glory plant, whose name in English can be used to refer to a large family of plants. In Thailand however, most discussion revolves around two edible varieties used commonly in Thai cooking. The most famous is referred to as a Chinese breed (pak boong jin or ผักบุ้งจีน), and is flash stir fried with chili and garlic. This version has skinny stems, and if you purchase it, intending to make a natural straw you will be sorely disappointed. Or maybe not, because you can still make a stellar stir fry.

Long stemmed Thai morning glory (ผักบุ้งไทย) is edible, and makes a great natural straw.

The other common variety (pak boong thai or ผักบุ้งไทย) is native to Thailand and grows much larger. Since the stems are mostly hollow on the inside, the plant can float on the water above competing species. However, the strong stems can also make the plant less desirable to eat, so this version doesn’t yet enjoy the culinary popularity of its Chinese counterpart. While tasty, the dishes you would make with this quick growing water vegetable, for example gaeng taepo (แกงเทโพ), are seldom well known by people outside of Thailand. This is because the local variety of morning glory is more likely to be cooked at home than in a restaurant.

Already the students, who are a mix of Thai and expat kids, have learned more about this native ingredient, and especially how to use it to reduce plastic waste. The plant is plentiful in the region and easy to grow. We can imagine the surprise of Thai farmers, if suddenly this ‘water weed’ becomes as valuable as other vegetables. The key is to remind the students that there are some drawbacks to using natural ingredients. The most important issue to be weary, is the ability of the plant to spread disease when not washed or cooked properly.

Cooking Thai food with natural banana leaf table and plate coverings.

Making Banana Leaf Bowls

Thais still recognize the value of the banana leaf. You can find everything from steamed seafood, to sweet snacks being wrapped in banana in strong, sturdy banana leaves for cooking. Chefs who want to give their dish a more natural look, may even use a banana leaf at the bottom of their plate to improve aesthetics. However, the banana leaf has slipped somewhat in importance due to the cheap price and ease of use of plastics and styrofoam. We think the time has come to remind everyone how spectacular these large leaves can be for culinary purposes.

Once you have your hands on some banana leaves, it’s important to know Thai cooks will toast them, before using them with food. This can be done by quickly holding the leaf over fire, or dipping them a few seconds in boiling water. This helps with the hygiene of the leaf, but is also widely down to improve the strength of the leaf, making it tear less easily. Dry and cool the leaves, and they’re ready to be manipulated into all sorts of shapes. Toothpicks can be used to hold them together, but if you’re new to banana leaf origami, you may want to start by simply stapling the leaf to help it hold shape.

A student makes a coconut snack while his friends prepare bowls made from banana leaves.

Cutting the banana leaves into spheres and putting them on plates alone, can help us reduce water usage and how much work needs to be done to wash the dishes. This is really big selling point with teenagers, and we use their sudden enthusiasm to pivot into making a snack together. The snack of choice is Thai crispy cup, filled with a mildly spicy chicken salad (with younger students we will make a Thai coconut pancake with the kids). The students mix their salad to their liking, some adding more fish sauce and palm sugar than recipe really requires. We don’t scold them much, we’re thankful they’re walking away excited about their banana leaf bowls, morning glory straws, and the tasty snack they learned to make.

This snack is pronounced kra-tong-tong (กระทงทอง) and is a crispy edible cup we can fill with a variety of ingredients.

We all have a role to play in caring for the environment and caring for people in need. Sharing this mission with kids, whether in slums or Bangkok’s fancy international schools, has been rewarding for our Courageous Kitchen team. To take our commitment to the next level this year, we’re on path to become Bangkok’s first plastic free cooking class, and hope to more cooking demos with students around the city.

Thank you for your support, and hold on to your aprons, we’ve got more to say about sustainability and making a difference in Thailand. If you have other tips for being sustainable in the kitchen please leave a comment below!