Each year our head chefs Andy and Mark travel to Thailand.  To learn, cook and eat. 

Andy has recently returned from his latest trip, where he was joined by two other chefs from som saa kitchen: Orla and Xander, plus chef friends John (ex som saa sous chef) and Nud (head chef of the brilliant Breddos Tacos) who were in the region and along for the ride.   This time we were headed to rural Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces, to learn more about Northern Thailand food.   

It turned out to be was a very special trip: from foraging for wild ingredients in the jungle to eating Thai - Yunnanese specialties in the tiny boarder town of Doi Mae Salong.   For much of our time in the region were lucky enough to be hosted by Khun Ann.  Born in Chiang Mai town, Ann is an inspirational lady, who has connections with local people across the region and serious passion for Thai food.  She works tirelessly to help local communities preserve food traditions and local knowledge as the way of life in the countryside changes increasingly rapidly (there's a snap of Ann in the gallery below). 

This post (the first of three) has pictures from Pang Ma Kluay, a small village we stayed at in while in Chiang Mai province.  While there we were taken foraging by P'Dtor (Uncle Dtor) - a local guide and expert in on anything wild and edible.  From wild bitter aubergines, to edible freshwater algae, shoots, herbs leaves, roots, the fresh tender cores of banana palms, it was a an eye-opener and a serious workout for the taste buds.    

During our stay we were also lucky enough to have been cooked for by a team of local ladies.  Their warmth and hospitality was humbling, and the food was a sublime; dishes included a dry relish of smoked fish and makwaem (a relative of Sichuan pepper) a curry-soup of pork and banana palm and a warm salad of young tea leaves, sour tomatoes and fish.   To cap things off we also spent a very memorable evening cooking with our motley crew London based chefs, Khun Ann, P'Dtor and various other lovely local folk.  Northern laabs were the star of the show: fiery salads of minced meat or fish, including a not for the fainted hearted version with minced buffalo, blood, bile and offal.   

Accompanied by some beers and local Thai whiskey, it was a serious local food education and just a lot of fun!  Click through the photo gallery below for some pictures.  

Next post: staying with the La-Hoo and Ahka tribes.