Archive for Chef Brian Culinary Exchange

The U.K. … The first stop before I start my life in Thailand

As you may recall from my last post, I mentioned how while working in Thailand last fall I did a lot of work with UK traders. I realized how little I actually knew about the UK market. This needed to be remedied before I went back to Thailand so I made a quick stop in England to gain a little more knowledge on the subject.

LondonI was met in London by one of my assistants, Khun Joob and the New Product Development Manager, Khun Young. We had meetings set up with our marketing team and Chef to discuss current food trends found in the UK and do a food tour in Leeds near Newly Weds Foods European headquarters.

One thing I will say is that the food I had in mind was nothing compared to what I actually experienced. When you think of great food countries you think of Italy, France, India, Thailand, Greece, Mexico, US and Japan. When I think of England, all I think of are Meat Pies, Mushy Peas and English breakfast. What I don’t think of is healthy gourmet foods and innovation in retail. However, the week in England proved my perceptions wrong and changed my perspective on the English market.

Tea timeFor the first leg of our trip we took a train from London to Leeds to take a tour of Newly Weds Foods facilities and do some training on market trends. Leeds was a very interesting town, not at all like London. It was more of a blue collar city with many similarities to a smaller version of my hometown, Chicago. We stayed at a very English hotel, Oulton Hall in West Yorkshire. It was an old eighteenth-century house that was once home to a WWI and WWII hospital for soldiers and then later turned into an insane asylum. It was big and beautiful and I think the best part was having proper English tea that was served with scones, finger sandwiches, and puddings.

We did tours of all of the major food retailers like Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, and Tesco. It was similar to the US markets but slightly different. They were more focused on convenience and ready to eat foods that were fresh not frozen. The main aisles were lined with refrigerated coolers and had pre packaged lunches, dinners, snacks, and desserts. There were also many healthy options. With all of the government restrictions in Europe and the UK, I got the idea that the food had a little more love and care built into it. For the most part the physical stores were also similar to the US but with small variations. It was still good to get out and see what the UK had to offer.

Later in the day we took a food tour of the city center of Leeds near Greek Street and Trinity Shopping Center. It had loads of dining options from quick service restaurants to fine dining. We hit all of the QSRs and looked over the menus and wandered in and out of various restaurant concepts. It was easy for me to tell this was a college town. It had many young hip and trendy restaurants mixed with coffee shops and plenty of shopping.

We had dinner at Meat Liquors, a hipster burger joint with punk music and fun drinks. It looked like we were eating in a punk rock grandma’s basement decked out with wood panel walls, old juke box, retro furniture and graffiti everywhere . This place was amazing and I loved the burger I ordered, called the “Dead Hippie” which to me was a doppelganger to a gourmet In & Out Burger. Leeds showed me how off I was in my thinking about the English food scene. The next few days we did more market research and then headed back down to London to finish up the week.

We took the train back down and stayed in the Kings Cross area of London. I met up with an English mate of mine to get a local tour of the gastropubs and the very trendy area of Covent Garden. We finished the night off with some amazing Indian cuisine. Due to the large Indian population, that food style is quite popular in London.

The next day we decided to mix some work with pleasure, and found our way onto the big red double deck tour buses that took us all over the city. We stopped at a few street markets and saw many food vendors and artisan foods. My favorites were Boroughs Market and Leather Lane.

Boroughs Market is a wholesale and retail food market in Southwark, Central London, England. It is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London, and sells a large variety of foods from all over the world. After a few hours of browsing all it had to offer we made stops at the London tower for tea and then to see the Crown Jewels, then saw the London Eye, Big Ben, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace.

HHK foodFor our last night Chef Chris made reservations for us at HKK . We had an amazing 10 course prefix menu by Chef Tong Chee Hwee. It was a menu that was created in celebration of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Sheep, with a culinary journey through China. He served the most influential of the eight Chinese regional cuisines, pairing them with teas and fresh juices.

My favorite dish was the last one; a sheep’s mouse dessert. I was again very impressed by the different food I discovered in England and have a completely different concept of what English cuisine really is. With our trip coming to an end and our bellies full we packed up all of our new knowledge and hit the airport to return to my new home, Bangkok.

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Back to Bangkok

The move is on…heading back to Bangkok was my next mission. You would think it sounds simple when you break it down. You sell the car, you pack, and sort out all the little things. It’s not simple.

Cake and friendsYou don’t realize how many attachments you have to things until you start to break free from them. Small things like what to do with my favorite plants and remembering to cancel everything or making sure you have all of the right paper work in order for visas. Luckily it was the beginning of the year and it was somewhat slow in the office and my amazing culinary team helped me out during this transition. As a surprise, the team threw me a going away party. It was SO nice! The party consisted of all my favorite foods with a special cake donning the Chicago flag. It was a great send-off but it was sad to be leaving the people who I’ve known for 10 years.

I only had a month and a half to pack up and get ready for the move. Of course there were a few going away parties with family and friends so I could see everyone that was important to me. I think the hardest part of this was leaving my mom and dad behind. I got in as much quality time as I could with them and also spent some time with my fiancé and her family, but not as much since she and my dog will be in the States a while longer before their big journey begins…with starting our new life together in Thailand.

I took the last week off before my move to pack and have the movers put everything in to storage. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. The hardest part was deciding what is going to come with and what is going to stay. I had two duffel bags, a back pack, and a carryon case. I was impressed with myself that I could fit my whole life into these four small bags.

three bagsSimplifying your life in to only the bare essentials is quite freeing and exhilarating. Removing the clutter from our lives lets us be more open to fill that void with more meaningful things. With everything sorted out and packed up I was ready to head to my new home. With all of my other things in storage and my plants given to friends for safe keeping, I headed to O’Hare airport with my family and fiancé.

With tearful eyes and big hugs we didn’t say goodbye, rather we said our see-you-laters. Before I can go to Bangkok and get settled in though, I needed to make a somewhat quick visit to our UK offices. I was on my way to participate in some market research and insights activity with our UK Chef, Chris Moxon. We deal with many UK traders in Thailand and I needed a better understanding of what the food scene is like in London and other parts of England. After a week in the UK learning some of the finer points of food preferences in that country, I’ll be heading to Thailand and ready to start my new life.

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Home at last…for the moment

It was bitter sweet leaving Bangkok, but it felt good to be heading home for the holidays. The flight seemed to take forever. I’d love to have been able to fall asleep, but smashed in between three other people in a tiny row for over 17 hours…it’s just impossible.  I made the most of it with the inflight movie and getting up to stretch my legs as often as would not be rude to my fellow row mates. Touching down in Chicago never felt so good.

Photo by Brian Brindza

Photo by Brian Brindza

I was excited to get back and see my family and friends. I landed early morning on a Wednesday and was greeted at the airport by my dad. He drove me home to see my fiancé and dog. All I wanted to do was immediately hit the couch, but first things first, right? My dog greeted me at the door with excited barks and a wagging tail. My fiancé was just as excited to see me, although for her it had not been as long as the pup.

Finally with all my hello’s and greetings said I headed straight to my beloved couch and that’s when the jet lag set in. I passed out for a few hours and when I got up, the grumbling coming from my stomach meant it was time to get some food.

I sprang up and went to the corner fast food joint. I knew exactly what I wanted…what I’d been missing for the last few months. I immediately ordered an Italian beef and a (real) Chicago hot dog. With a full belly of my favorite food, I felt much better.

The adjustment was much more difficult on the return trip. It took me a few days to get acclimated to the time change and shake off the fog.  It was time to get into the holiday spirit so my first weekend back I did most of my Christmas shopping and went to get our Christmas tree.  After a good week back I was all settled in and ready to take it easy and enjoy the holidays. It was nice to see the whole family, and have a very traditional Christmas after being abroad for so long.

But Bangkok would not let me go that easy. Shortly after my arrival home, I got an email with the offer to come work in Thailand with Newly Weds Foods Asia Pacific in a more permanent capacity. This was something that we had been discussing while I was out there and something I’ve been seriously debating. With much thought and many discussions with my fiancé and family, I have decided that it would be crazy for me to turn down this great opportunity and an adventure of a life time.

It looks like I will be setting sail once again for the Far East. I had the chance to spend the holidays with family and friends and now I have to sell, pack or give away everything I own and head back to Bangkok. Thankfully a lot of things worked out in my favor and I’ll get to take my fiancé and my dog with me!

Looking back on the day I got on the flight to Bangkok I would have never guessed that I would be transplanting my life to a country on the other side of the world. I will confess that I’m somewhat scared to leave the place that I’ve called home for so many years and start a new life. But fear and uncertainty many times indicates that we are moving in the right direction, out of the safe confines of our comfort zone, and in the direction of our true purpose and progress. The one thing I can take out of this life lesson is that one must face their fears head on to take on the road less traveled.

The only certainty right now is that I will be making my way back to Thailand by the end of February and look to resume this blog post covering my adventures in food and life, exploring every inch of Thailand and Asia.

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One last long weekend, before home

So it’s my last few weeks in Thailand. My fiancé has headed home and I need to wrap up a few loose ends before leaving my place of residence for the past several months.

Photo by Brian Brindza

Photo by Brian Brindza

After a somewhat crazy work week I wanted a little time to relax and see a last little bit of Thailand before returning to the states. We had another extended weekend due to the Kings birthday and some of the Thai sales team asked me to go on a camping trip with them to Kanchanaburi, a province in west Thailand. They described it as a very beautiful area with huge lakes and giant waterfalls, so it should be perfect place for my final adventure. We headed out and after getting lost for an hour, found the camp grounds. Since it was the Kings birthday and a prime time of year to be camping, the place was packed.

This was unlike any camping I’ve ever done. The campsite was next to an amazing waterfall with unbelievable views of the lakes and mountains below. Everyone wanted to camp in one central location so it became a little cramped, like being at Banaroo or any other music festival they allow you to camp at. The landscape and scenery made the cramped quarters all worth it though. The night was dedicated to honoring the King on his 87th birthday with everyone wearing yellow and singing the Kings songs as well as the national anthem.

Rama IX has been King for almost 70 years and is beloved by his people. It is very interesting to experience the differences in how the U.S. as a nation views the person in our position of president versus the way Thailand views their King. This man is truly and universally loved. There is a very united front when it comes to the King of Thailand.

After a night of celebrating and cooking out we got some rest for the next day. We enjoyed some time in nature and found a few waterfalls to go swimming in and even one that we could jump off of!

After a full day of fun in the sun we packed up and headed to the town of Kanchanaburi, the capital of the province. Luckily they were having the River Kwai Bridge Festival. It’s this huge event with street food, shows and carnival rides. The highlight of the festival is the sound and light show that tells the history of the Death Railway, the Hellfire Pass and the Bridge on the River Kwai. It was a very interesting history lesson in the how the bridge was used in WWII to transport POWs. Although it was a very theatrical presentation of what is really a somber story, it was a great end to a full and experiential weekend.

We headed back to Bangkok so I could have time to pack up and get ready to head home to Chicago. Leaving Bangkok will be bitter sweet. I get to go home and see friends and family but I’m also leaving this amazing country that I’ve grown to love.

My time spent in Asia has been transformational and moving in so many ways. I’ve grown up a little and found out a few things about myself on this trip that make me a stronger person. Fumbling my way through a foreign country all alone has been an eye opener to me; it has shown me humility and respect, for culture and life. I’m sad to be leaving but I know some day I’ll be back. Who knows maybe I’ll come live and work here some day? Maybe?!

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Thai Cooking Classes

Now that I’ve been a resident of Bangkok for awhile, I decided that I need to learn how to cook like a Thai. With a little research I found Amita Thai Cooking Classes.  It had the best reviews and it was just what I was looking for.

Photo by Brian Brindza

Photo by Brian Brindza

My trip to class started at the Shangri La Hotel. I walked behind the hotel and made my way down to the docks on the Chao Phraya River. I was greeted by a water taxi driver named Nut, which was fitting because he was a little nutty. About half way along our journey he asked me to drive so he could have a beer. I honestly thought he was joking until I was behind the wheel and he was in the back seat having a beer!

Travelling down the river we passed many beautiful Wats (Temples) and The Royal Palace. We turned off in to one of the smaller canals and saw some of the Thai family’s that live on the canals and use the water way as a road. After a short ride we found ourselves pulling up to this beautiful house with an entrance to match.

Greetings came from a small smiling Thai lady who took me to a gorgeously decorated back yard garden full of fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruits. There I was seated at a table and was greeted by Khun Tam, another older Thai woman with a huge smile. She would be the instructor for the day.

I was surrounded by Thai grandmas! This couldn’t get any better!

Photo by Brian Brindza

Photo by Brian Brindza

She gave me a tour and long history of her home and life followed by a tour of her garden and the ingredients we would be using to cook that day. I had really hit the jack pot of home Thai cookery.

We headed to the amazing outdoor kitchen where she gave me my recipe cards and walked me through each recipe. We made Moo Satay (tasty strips of grilled marinated pork served with spicy peanut sauce), Kang Keaw Wan Gai (green curry chicken in coconut milk), Khao Man Som Tam, (coconut rice and papaya salad with chili lemon sauce) and Khao Niew Mamuang (mango sticky rice).

The dishes  were amazing and very authentic, from the fresh made coconut milk, to the home made curry.  As a chef you think you have a clue about how to cook certain types of cuisine but you realize how far off you are until you immerse yourself in that culture. The ingredients alone are just very different. We took our cooked lunches and sat in her garden and ate and discussed more Thai culture and food.

My belly now full, I was sent on my way home with a few small gifts from Tam and a grin on my face. This is a place I’ll be going back to for sure!

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Chef Brindza: Engaged

Let’s just say this may have been the best two weeks of my life. My girlfriend was fortunate enough to get a full month off to come and visit me here.  I’m very excited to see her after being apart for a couple months, so I woke up early to meet her at the airport. I couldn’t wait to see how she would react to experiencing Bangkok for the first time. After a nap to get her internal clock set to the right time she was up and ready to go.

Photo by Brian Brindza

Photo by Brian Brindza

The whole week was filled with new street foods, rooftop bars with amazing views, crazy shopping centers, temples, the grand palace, Chinatown, Khao San road, riding in tuk tuks, and dealing with horrible taxi drivers. She loved it. Well, everything except for the occasional insect or rodent that would scurry past on some of the more dirty streets. She loved the food and the smells and all the new sights. I even got her to eat that fish stomach soup from a previous post.

I was teaching her about the different foods and how to speak some basic Thai in preparation for a mini vacation that I planned for us. I had a week off to either go back home or travel around Thailand and decided to stay here with my girlfriend and head down to the southern islands of Thailand. A nine day trip to island hop and adventure all over the Andaman Sea seemed like a great way to spend the time.

IMG_0492I planned this trip because it was going to be amazing fun, but I also had mustered up the courage to propose to my girlfriend. We flew out of Don Muang airport to Phuket early on Saturday morning. Phuket is one of the southern island provinces of Thailand with beautiful beaches, mountains and palm trees. We headed to the town of Patong where we would spend our first two nights.

The views of the ocean were amazing so we decided to get to the beach as fast as we could and soak up as much sun as possible before it set. We watched the sun melt in to the sea and then headed back to see the main nightlife spots.

The next day we rented a scooter and cruised around the island to some of the other beaches and hit a few waterfalls. I will say that driving a scooter in Thailand is extremely dangerous but incredibly fun.

After two days in Phuket we were off to the next island. A mini bus picked us up and took us to the pier for a ferry ride to our next stop that included the islands of Ko Phi Phi Don and Ko Phi Phi Lee. They are located about a two hour ride from Phuket.

We got to Ko Phi Phi Don and headed straight to a boat in Maya Bay. This boat would be our home for the next few days. Maya Bay is a stunningly beautiful beach that’s sheltered by huge cliffs on three sides and situated on the island Ko Phi Phi Lee. This is the smaller of the two islands and right next to Ko Phi Phi Don, this bay was made famous by the movie The Beach.

IMG_0493We took our luggage to drop off at the tour guides office and just packed small overnight bags for this part of the trip. This was the highlight of the whole trip as we not only got to spend the night in Maya Bay, but I was going to propose at sunset on the beach. We headed back to the pier to get on Krabi Konnect, the boat we would be staying on. There would be about 25 other travelers that we would be spending the night with on the boat so my first order of business was to claim the sleeping spot on the roof of the boat so I could sleep under the stars.

This was the best move ever!

We headed to the beaches right before sunset and I was getting a little nervous because this was where I was going to pop the question. After spending some time walking around the island we went for a swim in the water and it started to feel like the right time to ask her.

With some mumbled words and maybe a stutter the words came out. “Will you spend the rest of your life with me?” At first she was stunned and maybe a little shocked but in the end she said YES! We headed back to the group and had an amazing dinner on the beach which included several buckets of mixed rum drinks. The whole group really had a great time playing games and singing by the campfire and celebrating our engagement with us.

We had a late night of fun but still had one last activity before we heading back to the boat to sleep. We got to swim in the deep waters with bioluminescent plankton. It was like a million little fire flies swimming around your body. It’s hard to describe, and really only something you can experience. After that we got our sleeping bags and pillows and headed to the top of the boat to fall asleep under the stars.

Photo by Brian Brindza

Photo by Brian Brindza

The next morning we woke up had some breakfast, did some more snorkeling and took a few more pictures of the beach. Then we headed back to Phi Phi Don, to spend another day. It was a very chill, small village with no cars and small tiny streets full of cats and backpackers.  We spent the night and did some trekking to the top of one of the peaks to get a great view of the tiny island.

Our next location was Krabi, another southern province full of amazing beaches and tiny islands. We stayed in a small beach town called Ao Nang. The last three days would be spent here so we decided to go big.

The first day we did some island hopping and hit six different beaches in one day on a speed boat. The second day we went on a jungle adventure and elephant trekking. We went swimming in natural thermal pools and did some jungle hikes. The last stop for the day was one of Southern Thailand’s most famous and interesting forest temples, Wat Tham Seua. Monks live, meditate, and worship within this maze of natural caves in a jungle valley.

We climbed the 1,237 steps to visit “the footprint of Buddha” embedded in the rock in the temple on top of the mountain. There were monkeys galore. One monkey even tried unzipping my back pack and taking things out!

The last day was a pool side day to relax and reflect on the amazing adventure we just experienced. I would recommend getting down to southern Thailand if anyone ever visits. After a long week we headed to Krabi airport and the trip back to Bangkok.

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Hunting for a Chicago Style Hot Dog in Thailand

Life in Thailand has been a roller coaster of emotions, sights, tastes, smells and feelings.  I’ve been exploring every corner of the city and trying to make the most of every free moment I have and try to go somewhere new every weekend.

Photo by Brian Brindza

Photo by Brian Brindza

But everyone needs a break now and again, and this week was shaping up to be exactly that. Work has been very busy and the Thai team is trying to utilize me as much as they can while I’m available. One great thing to come out of all this is our upcoming chance to do a Kitchencounters presentation with one of our customers in Thailand. With the help of our marketing team and Brian McKinney in Memphis we will be presenting “Global Chicken Cuisine”.  This is the focus of our Kitchencounters program. We want to bring our global reach in trends and knowledge to our clients worldwide.

Brian McKinney will be on camera doing a cooking demo from the Memphis kitchen, demonstrating how to make Southern Fried Chicken, Blackened Cajun Chicken, and Whole Smoked Chicken, while the clients here in Thailand will be able to interact with him in real time. Asking questions and getting the most possible out of the presentation, versus just watching a pre-made video session. At the end of the video conference I will serve all the food that Brian has just shown, so the client will be able to taste as well as see the food we are offering. After working with the team back home and getting to interface directly with them so easily I began thinking about home and mostly my love of my native Chicago foods. Of course I also thought of my girlfriend, family, and friends….but mostly the food. So with this in mind I decided to see if Bangkok can provide some Chicago style foods.

Photo by Brian Brindza

Photo by Brian Brindza

I thought this was going to be the hardest thing I’ve done so far in Thailand. After hitting all of the sports pubs and asking around I was sent to a pub that had Chicago Style Hot Dogs. I was shocked, excited and fearful. This could change the way I feel about Thailand. Would they destroy a food that I grew up loving and that represents my home town or would they do just an ok job? It’s common knowledge that if it’s not made in Chicago it’s not a Chicago dog.

I ordered it with an imported Miller Lite bottle…yes they had that! It’s kinda odd, right? To think of Miller Lite as an import, but that’s what it is here. It showed up and I was skeptical at first but it looked like they had the idea of what it should be. I closed my eyes and took a bite and to my surprise it was extremely good! It even had celery salt and the peppers they used tasted just like sport peppers. Sport peppers are a small, whole, hot, pickled pepper traditionally served on Chicago Hot Dogs. It looks like finding food from home wasn’t that hard after all.

My next mission is to find a deep dish pizza and an Italian beef. I’ll keep you all posted on that.  Luckily I will have a visitor from home to keep me company for a few weeks. My girlfriend is coming here to join me on my adventures in Thailand. Maybe I should ask here to bring me a beef and some deep dish pizza…

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Weekend Excursion

This was going to be a long weekend due to one of the many Thai holidays, so I decided to head up north to check out the food scene and, for hopefully a little relaxation. I had tried some “northern food” in my home city of Bangkok but, felt it necessary to get out of town to experience the real thing. I travelled up to Chiang Mai (about a 1 hour flight), but got in late. It was raining, so I stayed in and did a little reading about northern Thailand in my guide book. There were a few places mentioned not too far north of Chiang Mai that looked interesting. In planning out the next few days, I decided to visit a few smaller cities and villages. I would start in Doi Inthanon, go to Pai next, and end at Doi Suthep with small adventures in between.

weekendmapI woke early to a light misting rain and slightly overcast sky. The forecast predicted precipitation for the next few days but, decided to go up to the top of Doi Inthanon anyway and see what the tallest peak in Thailand was all about. Getting to the top was not as bad as I thought it might be. It was only a 20 minute drive from the base to an elevation of 2,565 m (8,415 ft). It’s small in comparison to other mountains in the range, as it’s technically the southernmost part of the Himalayas. Once I got to the top I felt a dramatic temperature drop from about 27°C (80°F) to about 6°C (43°F). It was the first time a chill ran through my body in a long time and it was very refreshing.  I stood at the highest peak, took some photos, and then saw a shrine on top of the mountain where people were praying. I decided to give it closer inspection.

I prayed to Buddha, asking him to make the rain stop and give me good weather for safe travel the rest of this trip. I grabbed a cup of hot chocolate to warm up and had just started to head down the mountain when, the rain and mist stopped. The sun came out and the temperature began to climb. It appears Buddha heard my prayers and was looking out for me on this trip! As I trekked down the mountain there were a few waterfalls and some great view points of the countryside to take in.

Before continuing to my next stop in this journey, Pai, I first needed to dive in to some northern Thai cuisine. One of my coworkers had provided a recommendation and I knew it was the right right spot because I was the only Farang(Thai slang for Caucasian people) in the place.

I looked for items my research had identified as authentic northern dishes. I also asked for some help from the locals when ordering. One thing I have found is that at least one person in each food establishment can speak enough English to help me out with what food to eat.

Photo by Brian Brindza

Photo by Brian Brindza

With that information, I orderd some Khao Soi, which is a Thai chicken curry soup with egg noodles, topped with fried egg noodles. Next I got some Nam Prik Noom, a Thai green chilli paste that is used as a dip for roasted squash, streamed cabbage, crispy pork skins, cucumbers, long beans, and other item you might have on the table. I would compare it to a Mexican type of green salsa that is great on anything. It was amazing!

Next, I decided to partake in some of the many sausages they make, but two in particular stood out to me. The Sai Ooua and Naem were the ones I enjoyed the most. Sai Ooua is the Chiang Mai sausage made from pork and a light curry spice, then grilled on an open flame. The next one, Naem, was a bit more exotic. It’s a pickled pork sausage made with mostly skin, fat and little bits of meat. These were scary at first but grew on me as I ate them with my Chang beer.

Last but not least, I had one of the simplest yet most amazing foods that I have ever tasted. It’s seriously changed my life. It’s the Italian bread of Thailand, Khao Niew (sticky rice).  Rolling it up and dipping it into the curries and sauces with your hand was the best part of the whole meal for me. I found myself to be a huge fan of northern cuisine and will be ordering it more often.

With a full belly I headed up to Pai. It was a “long” short trip, if that makes any sense. The road ahead was insane with crazy turns, ups, and downs. Route 1095 which connects Pai with Chiang Mai was only 50 km as the crow flies, but approximately 110 km by road with 762 curves between the two cities. After a few hours of trying to keep all of that delicious cuisine in my belly, the curves ended and opened into a beautiful valley with lush green fields and farms.

Photo by Brian Brindza

Photo by Brian Brindza

This place was like a scene from a movie. I checked into the hotel, dropped my bags and ran out of the door to start exploring. As the sun was setting I hit the main strip where people were selling goods and street food. I walked up and down grabbing a few bites from different places, trying things that were new to me. Once again, I found northern Thai food much to my liking. Finally, I settled down for a few drinks with a local artist and some backpacking hippie kids. They shared with me a few places to check out in Pai before I had to leave.

The next morning I awoke and went find the sites my new found friends had suggested. There were a few waterfalls to take and swimming areas to enjoy. And that is exactly what I did. After a long day of excursions, I headed back to Chiang Mai to get some rest and then make my way to Doi Suthep in the morning.

I got a very early start up Doi Suthep with plans to visit the temple and see some spectacular views of the city. It was a quick drive to the mountain top with beautiful scenery and steep cliff sides.  However, once there I still had a long journey to see Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the temple at the peak. From the temple base visitors can climb 309 steps with huge dragons on each side reaching up to a pagoda. Along the way you can see many little Thai children dressed up in traditional northern clothing and taking pictures with people.

I’ve seen a few temples around Bangkok but nothing like this one. I took off my shoes and entered to see all of the people praying and making merit (link to Wikipedia article).

The center houses a huge golden stupa where religious relics were kept and where worshippers were praying. The courtyard was filled with many different images of Buddha. There were even some Hindu gods and symbols represented.  The views down the mountain were amazing to say the least and this has to have been my favorite temple to visit so far. I snapped a few photos and then needed to head back down the mountain to start the trip home to Bangkok. It was a great weekend excursion and interesting how different the food and culture is between the north and south. Same country, but totally different tastes and sights. The whole trip felt culturally familiar to Bangkok yet still foreign enough to keep it interesting. I enjoyed the north and would recommend it to everyone!

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Chef Brian in “The Hangover Part 2”

After a hectic work week I was excited for the weekend. I had made plans to travel to Pattaya, a small beach town about an hour and a half south of Bangkok. It was just close enough to get away for a short weekend trip. Not sure what I was getting into, I headed down right after work and checked in to my hotel. I dropped off my bag and headed into town.

Photo by Brian Brindza

It was very busy on a Friday night so I decided to just take a look around and see what activities were available and of interest for the next day. I decided to investigate the beach front and main tourist area. It turned out to be just like Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, only with way more Thai and Russians.

This place was definitely a tourist trap and party town with a small unkempt beach. At that point in the evening I saw huge rain clouds coming in and felt some rain drops so decided to call it a night and see what kind of culture I could find the next day. I woke up early and did some digging around the internet. There I found The Sanctuary of Truth and a Big Buddha on top of a very large hill with a great view of the city. My first stop would be The Sanctuary of Truth, an all-wood building filled with sculptures based on traditional Buddhist and Hindu motifs. When walking up I was reminded of the Basílica de la Sagrada Família that I once visited in Barcelona. It had the same feelings of natural beauty and art, plus it was under construction like the Sagrada Família had been when I was in Spain.

Photo By Brian Brindza

Photo By Brian Brindza

Hand wood carving was taking place as visitors strolled around the inside looking at all of the beautiful sculptures. They also had some sacred relics of Buddha himself in the center of the temple. After snapping a few pictures and taking it all in, I headed to the viewpoint with the Big Buddha statue. It was very impressive but I was told they have even larger ones around Thailand. After that I decided to relax at the pool and then get ready for the evening.

The city came alive at night and one of the main spots to go was a beach front street called The Walking Street. It was lit up like a Christmas tree with neon signs, bars and restaurants, tattoo shops and more bars. It was a blend of Las Vegas, Bourbon Street, and Daytona Beach.  I did some bar hopping and partook of the local night life. I now understand why The Hangover 2 centered around partying in Thailand. I definitely found one of the more crazy spots in this wonderful country. After a very late and interesting night I called it quits and headed back to the hotel to get some much needed rest.

Photo by Brian Brindza

Photo by Brian Brindza

Posted in: Chef Brian Culinary Exchange

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Fish Stomach Soup

I’ve been here awhile, but I still feel I have lots of adventures ahead. There is still so much food in Bangkok I want to try. My coworkers, Joob and Parn, wanted to take me to China Town and show me all of the best spots to grab some street food and give me a quick tour of the area.

Photo by Brian Brindza

Photo by Brian Brindza

They were very helpful and excited to go show me their favorite foods. We left work and headed down to China Town just as the sun was setting. This is when all the vendors start setting up. When we pulled up you can tell this was not the same as the rest of Bangkok. All the menus were in Chinese and the atmosphere and smells were completely different than what I have become used to.

There were huge banners with dragons and neon signs lining the street. We walked up and down the streets looking at all of the small local shops selling every dried fish, meat, fruit and vegetable one can imagine. We turned down a small Soi (side street) and walked down an alley that was lined with different food stands selling a mix of Thai and Chinese street food. My coworkers and I grabbed a table and took a look at the menu. We ordered a mix of both cuisines starting with some hot plates of Kua Kai, Suki, and  Kra pao pla for the Thai portion. Next, we moved on to some Chinese soups and noodle dishes of Kuay Jab and Fish Maw (Fish Stomach Soup).

Photo by Brian Brindza

Photo by Brian Brindza

The Fish Maw was very interesting but it didn’t look appetizing at all to me. It was slimy and had what looked to be pork rinds in it. As I was moving it around I realized that is was just some tapioca starch that made it look like slime and the pork rinds were actually the dried fish stomach. I decided what doesn’t kill me makes me look adventurous! I dove in with a huge slimy bite and was pleasantly surprised. It was an amazing little treat with soft, delicious, fish stomach married with an assortment of crispy crunchy….things! I still don’t know what they were.

In any case, I was an instant fan and slurped the whole bowl down. I was getting full but not too full for dessert. After a light stroll to help digest some food we ended up sitting at a small little dessert stand that had “goodies” that didn’t look at all like anything resembling a dessert in the States. There was one that appeared to be a hot soup with vegetables and dumplings. Another one had ice cold lotus root with some additional very strange sorts of things included. They weren’t bad, just very different to me and my palate. I had a fun and very interesting time with my coworkers so, very happy to have such great guides. With our bellies full we jumped on a Tuk Tuk and headed home.

Posted in: Chef Brian Culinary Exchange

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