May 07, 2013

Vegan Thai food | visiting a school in Thailand | cooking with kids | dinner and a show

The weather in Seattle has been uncharacteristically gorgeous the past week — yesterday we had the highest temperature of any city in the U.S. It was 87˚ and sunny with blue skies and a gentle breeze! Today it started out cloudy but is now sunny, and the forecast for the week looks the same — sunny and 70s. Who can sit at a computer and write blog posts under these circumstances? Nope. It's gardening, walking, reading on the porch weather. I'm making an exception today before I go out and plant strawberries because it's been so long since I posted and I want to finish my travelog so I can start posting current doings.

As I was processing the photos for the post, I was reliving some fabulous eating experiences and wishing I could taste some of the foods again, especially the spring rolls you see in the above photo. They were made by the owner and principal of a school we visited, and were the best (best, best, best) spring rolls I've ever tasted. Period.

On our last day in Thailand we were driven to Ban Bueng district to visit a school owned and operated by the mother of two of our host's former and current doctoral students, who also work at the school with their mother. Ban Bueng is near the city of Chonburi, on the Gulf of Thailand about 100 km east of Bangkok. The school's curriculum is based on the King's plan for children's education, which I understand includes an emphasis on life skills and self-sufficiency as well as basic academic subjects.

We observed the children practicing cooking skills. The teachers explained that the children were learning how to use products that were abundant in the area. The knowledge was shared with parents, who could then create more products they could sell. We saw the children making preserved duck eggs which we politely declined to sample, and in the photo above, we saw them learning to make rice paper packets filled with garlic scapes, also known as green garlic. The garlic scapes had been chopped and sautéed with a small amount of oil. A dampened rice paper square (about a 4" square) was placed onto a hand, topped with garlic scapes, and folded into a packet. The packets were then steamed for about five minutes, at which point we got to sample them. Delicious! And easy to recreate at home.

My favorite child-made treat was khanom krok, a delectable coconut and rice flour confection. I've never seen young children allowed to get so close to a super hot surface before, and it sure made me nervous, but they handled it without mishap.

The can held a heat source and the khanom krok pan was sizzling hot. There are two batters that go into the pan — a thick bottom layer and a thin top layer.  When the bottom is crispy and the top set, the cakes are removed — pried out is probably a more accurate description — and set out to cool a bit before being eaten. They are usually stacked in pairs but eaten separately. My husband tried to bite into both of them at once and they spurted all over his shirt. They firm up as they cool and his were probably still too hot.

These are so good. One of my sons actually owns the special pan needed to make khanom krok so I may try this. In the meantime, I found two links to recipes if you're curious. (The ones we ate didn't have green onions added.) Link #1.  Link #2.

After watching the kids cook, it was time for our lunch. The omnivores were at one table and the vegans at another! The school owner/principal and one of the staff sat with us veggie types. The school owner made all of our food and it was the very best food of the entire trip. Sensational.

Because there were so many specifically Thai ingredients that I was unfamiliar with, I can't tell you what exactly made each dish special. This one is green beans over noodles ganished with peanuts and ... something.

On the left is a vegetable dish with snow peas, carrots, zucchini and pepper, and on the right? Beats me.

While we were eating I was asked why I was vegan. I don't usually like to discuss veganism over food, but since all the food at our table was plant-based, and I wouldn't really have an opportunity to talk with our lunch mates again, I gave a brief explanation of why I don't eat animals. It was just a basic animal rights, environment, health thing delivered as politely as possible.

My plate.
Can you hear the crispy spring rolls crying, "Eat me! Eat me!"? I can.

Here's a closer look at the best spring rolls ever. I couldn't stop eating them even though I was stuffed. I want more. I want more.

If you've been following my blog, you know I've highlighted some very odd desserts. I think there were some at this lunch as well, but we also had sticky rice and khanom krok (see the children making it near the top of the post), and these were desserts I was happy to indulge in, even though I could barely breathe after all I'd already eaten. The rice is greenish because it's flavored with pandan, a sweet plant that plays heavily as a flavoring and sweetening agent in Thai beverages and desserts.

After lunch we observed more of the school activities, including the children learning about gardening.

After watching them work with seedlings, we went out into the garden where the children were harvesting fruits and vegetables with their teachers.

We also observed a lesson in meditation.

This was pretty much how I felt.

There were three lucky dogs living at the school. All had been rescued from the streets outside the school, and nursed back to health. The largest dog was a little skittish around strangers but the two little ones were as thrilled to meet me as I was to meet them.

After our day at the school, we were hustled into a limo and driven some distance to a huge shopping center because our hosts decided we needed a Thai spa experience. I was given a mani-pedi and my husband received a full-body massage. Too bad I didn't take any photos of my newly pedicured and polished feet, since they're all back to normal now. I didn't get polish on my fingernails because I knew it would start chipping too fast and would drive me crazy.

Our drive back to Bangkok at the end of a very long, very hot day, passed by The Ancient City (from my first Thailand post) and we stopped there for dinner and a show.

If you recall, the Ancient City is owned and operated by our host's brother and nephew, and we were scheduled to eat at the hotel and watch a traditional Thai evening outdoor performance. We had been warned to expect lots of mosquitoes but fortunately there was a good breeze and none appeared.

After the performance, members of the audience were invited up to the stage to have their photos taken with the cast. I had my picture taken, too, but every photo of me taken on our trip came out blurred.

My dinner plate. Too tired to shoot the other 97 plates of food.

When we finished taking photos, we walked to the hotel for dinner. I was still full from lunch but what could I do? In Thailand finishing all the food on your plate is rude and a signal to your host that there wasn't enough food provided. I was more worried about eating enough so they would know we liked the dinner. Let me just say that the food was so good that we managed to eat a substantial amount.

As we dined overlooking the canal, the performances continued both on the water and on a stage across the water.

We couldn't understand a word of the performance which was probably just as well in the opinion of our host. She said it was shockingly raunchy and she seemed very surprised.

When the performances ended, vendors in boats  passed by selling various souvenirs, foods and drinks.It was a very unique evening, to say the least.

Just before we headed back to Bangkok I spied a colorful bus in the parking lot; Thailand is a very color-intensive country, and even the buses are likely to be vibrant.

Back at our hotel, we had a few hours to sleep before being picked up at 3:30 a.m. to head to the airport, but before signing off on Thailand, I want to show you one more thing — the bathroom. In Thailand, as in other countries I've visited, the sewage system cannot handle toilet paper. Our hotel and bathroom were very modern, but the sign is clear.

You can see the little can on the bottom right, but the situation is not as grim as it seems, because the bathrooms are equipped with a handy little spray hose next to the toilet which you use before blotting dry with the toilet paper. When I returned home, one of the things I missed was the hose. I know there are bidets, but I really liked the efficiency of the hose. I want one.

More posts about our trip to Thailand:
Thailand post #1  
Thailand post #2  
Thailand post #3  
Thailand post #4
Thailand post #5


  1. Sounds and looks like a fabulous last day in Thailand. I'm part Thai, so you'd think I'd be able to help you identify some of those dishes, but I can't :-P. All I know is that it all looks delicious. My mom is Thai and when I went vegan, she always made sure to make me nice home made vegan Thai dishes when I came home from college. I think I need to badger her for some recipes :-)

    I love that there are rescued pups that live at the school too. The kids and the pups are all adorable.

    1. You should definitely get some recipes from your mom — or watch her as she cooks! The food we ate in Thailand was really good, especially the homemade food on our last day.

      It was wonderful to see the three dogs who had found a home at the school after seeing so many homeless ones on the streets. The dogs seemed very happy to be there.

  2. What a stunning post; I don't want your trip to be over, but I'm sure you're happy to be back on the same continent as Miss E and Callie.

    That school sounds incredibly practical and compassionate (saving the dogs!)- things that seem to be missing in our public system.

    I can't help but to say that I'm eying that toilet hose with the same wariness I generally reserve for the communal hot sauces in restaurants. Not everyone knows to keep it a respectable distance from their food, if you know what I'm saying.

    1. Thank you! The school was such a calm place — the teachers were all quiet-spoken and the kids involved and focused. A lot of the activities took place outdoors and I was VERY hot and wondering how everyone could be so relaxed.

      I get your drift about the toilet hose, and I hadn't thought of that. I feel that way about water fountains, especially after watching children and dogs drink. I should tell you that the force of the water was great, and close proximity would have been a bit, shall we say, painful. But I suppose not everyone knows that. Still, I'd like one in MY bathroom.

    2. A private one doesn't sound half bad!

    3. That's what I had in mind.

  3. Wow, what an epic series of posts! Whew. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. I love the focus on the children. And finally, vegan food for you, yay! I spotted tofu, I'm sure, at last. You've got me so intrigued about those spring rolls; now I want some, too. And, how cool is it that your son has that pan? I can hardly wait for your post on that! :-) Ah, the toilet. Aren't foreign bathrooms fun? What about hooking up your garden hose for a spritz? Ha ha!

    1. Thank you. I didn't mean to imply that we never had tofu, but that I was surprised how often we just had vegetables. I guess there isn't much use of beans in Thailand because I don't recall seeing any, so tofu when it was available, was the main protein we were offered.

      I wonder why my son has a kharom krok cooker. I have to talk to him more about that.

  4. I think this might be my favourite Thai post yet - what a cute bunch of kids. And cute kids that can cook too! Reckon you could make the kranan krok without that pan?

    1. Thanks! As for the Khanom Krok, I think it needs to be cooked on a very hot surface such as cast iron. I used to have cast iron muffin pans that might work, but I'm not sure how you'd get any other kind of pan hot enough. Of course, I don't really know. :)

  5. Wow, what a great ending to your trip! and the kids are so cute! It's a bit like Montessori school where kids do stuff themselves. The food looks awesome - I can hear the crunch of those spring rolls. :-)

    1. Thank you. The school was a lot like Montessori in that it was very hands-on. I wish I could have been in the kitchen to help cook the meal so I could recreate it again at home. Best food of the trip.

  6. Warms my heart to see the little ones learning about cooking and gardening. And the rescued doggies. And the nap photo--oh my goodness. And the food. Pictures make it seem so idyllic--except for the toilets.

    I've seen my fair share of the "no paper" toilets. And they are actually progressive and not-so-bad compared to some of awful "squatters" I encountered in rural China. They get the superlative award--not in a good way. (P.U.)

    1. Not only were they learning about cooking and gardening, they were focused and interested! It was a pleasure to observe.

      The toilets we encountered were all of the seat types, thank heavens. I'm not a big fan of the squatters (especially the dirty ones). Squatters are typical for Thailand, but on this trip we had mostly modern toilets — no flushing paper though.

  7. I love, love, love every single bit of this post. So awesome that kids are into cooking at such a young age! I still hated all vegetables at that point in my life. And the food itself looks incredible! Oh, if only I could go on such an adventure... Seriously inspired by your trip.

    1. Thank you! It was quite a trip. The food on the last day was the best — so fresh and delicious. It still surprises me that with all the wonderful fresh vegetables available, the people we were with in Thailand still preferred to eat mostly animal protein. Bring on the veggies!

  8. Sorry for my late response to this post. I wanted to make sure I had time to really enjoy it like I did the others. :)

    I know the feeling of wanting to taste certain foods again. That happens to us often when we start to reminisce about our past trips. There's just so much great food out there!

    I'm very impressed that they also focus on life skills & self sufficiency at that school. That's so great ! Sounds like they have some mad cooking skills already. :) I'm also impressed with the garden and dogs living there. Plus they have meditation time? Such a great school! Those are some lucky kids.

    The food in this post looks fantastic, so I can just imagine how great it tasted. I love sticky rice and really have to get some soon. It's been far too long.

    I bet that performance was fun to see. I would absolutely love to experience that. It's kind of funny that they actually got raunchy with their singing on the boats. Who would guess that? ha!

    You probably won't be surprised to hear that I love that bus. Anything fun & colorful (as well as artistic) always draws me in. :)

    I had no idea that toilets in other countries couldn't handle toilet paper. That would be strange to get used to, but that little hose would be nice!

    1. I'll never be able to really enjoy a fried spring roll again after the ones at the school. Sigh.

      I'd love to teach at the school except for the fact I don't speak Thai ... and it was 105.˚ A lot of the day was spent outdoors and after a couple of hours I was starting to fade.

      I totally thought of you when I snapped the photo of the bus because I knew you'd love it. You would probably love Thailand — it's a very colorful and highly decorated place. Nothing goes unembellished.

      The hose made the toilet paper issue seem totally fine, if you get what I'm saying.

  9. This was absolutely my favorite of your Thai trip posts! So much fun and happy and beautiful stuff going on, from abundant and delicious all-vegan food (yay!) to children learning gardening and meditation (wonderful!) to lucky rescued dogs (that last one reminded me a bit of your Callie), to beautiful Thai traditional dress (and no mosquitoes!), to a fun windmill that surprised me! (I have expected to see tulips around it!) The only thing lacking was the ability to share the taste of all that yummy-looking food with your blog readers! I want a bite of everything, and am especially curious about those spring rolls that stole your heart, and the khanom crock, which reminded me a bit of macaroons in the photo of them cooling on the leaves, but more like little pudding-like things on your plate.

    The toilet paper deal was the same in Costa Rica, no matter how modern the facilities. It's a hard habit to break (flushing the TP), but I did my best and it was second nature by the end of my visit. I didn't realize a lot of other countries have the same septic system limitation.

    Thanks for the fun virtual trip to Thailand! Too bad you couldn't bring home a ginormous doggy bag of all the food you didn't have room for while you were there! :-)

    1. You did cover all the bases - even plumbing! :-)

      Mmmm, I can tell just from your description that I'd love Khanom Krok! If they served that for dessert at every meal, I'd have offended my hosts by leaving nothing behind. :-)

      Don't you just love those oh-dark-thirty departures? UGH.

    2. I'm getting good at deleting things I don't mean to delete! I just deleted my reply to your first comment, which said, I think: Ken said I covered everything in this post — food, kids and rescued animals. (I didn't cover heat, exhaustion and the fact that we got picked up at 3:30 a.m. the next morning to go to the airport.)

      I don't think I could have brought home enough spring rolls to satisfy my cravings but it would have been fun to be able to bring back a few dozen bags of food. :)

      The khanom krok are more chewy-sticky than pudding-like when they cool. When you watch them being prepared it doesn't seem like that will be the case. They taste great! I may try to make them some day along with the rice paper pockets stuffed with garlic greens.

      Since I was waking every night about 2 a.m., it wasn't too much of a problem to be ready at 3:30. I was basically jet-lagged for two weeks.

  10. your sounds fantastic and all your posts are so detailed :) love the idea of the school. those coconut rice flour balls sound similar to uniyappam which is fermented rie batter made into balls in a aebleskiver type pan:)

    1. I'll have to take your word for the uniyappam — I don't think I've ever had any. Maybe you can do a recipe on your blog!


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