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Thailand | Ruth Tshin

Food culture of resource-poor communities in northern Thailand

I’m exhibiting a few photographs from food research trips conducted in northern Thailand while I was working with ECHO Asia Regional Impact Center.  They will be displayed at the Canadian Association for Food Studies Exploration Gallery at Brock University, try St. Catharines, see Ontario from May 24-27, viagra as part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences (a nation-wide meeting of academia and practitioners).

Preparing a stew made with vegetables harvested year-round in the surrounding forests.  Stewing, grilling and boiling or steaming are common methods for preparing vegetables throughout mountain communities in Southeast Asia, reflecting simple culinary techniques developed in the absence of expensive inputs like cooking oil, soy or fish sauces more readily available in lowland communities.   A simple stew highlights the astonishing flavours of whatever vegetables are seasonally available and incorporated: sweetness from fishtail palm heart; sour from tamarind leaves or local tomatoes; bitter from rattan shoots or snowflake tree flowers.  Seasoning staples include chili peppers, salt, wild herbs, and fermented soy beans to add a savoury dimension.

Preparing a stew made with vegetables harvested year-round in the surrounding forests. Stewing, grilling and boiling or steaming are common methods for preparing vegetables throughout mountain communities in Southeast Asia, reflecting simple culinary techniques developed in the absence of expensive inputs like cooking oil, soy or fish sauces more readily available in lowland communities. A simple stew highlights the astonishing flavours of whatever vegetables are seasonally available and incorporated: sweetness from fishtail palm heart; sour from tamarind leaves or local tomatoes; bitter from rattan shoots or snowflake tree flowers. Seasoning staples include chili peppers, salt, wild herbs, and fermented soy beans to add a savoury dimension.

I lived and worked for 5 years in community with people from ethnic minority communities in Chiang Mai province while setting up a centre producing open-pollinated seeds of culturally-significant plants for farmers seeking to be more self-reliant in their practices.  These photographs represent the daily meals and hours of food preparation with colleagues thrust me into an astonishing food culture beyond typical Thai food.  This rich food culture is a way for my colleagues to celebrate their cultural identity, using diverse, seasonal ingredients sourced from nearby forests and using methods reflecting dependence on the surrounding environment.

You can see  what I exhibited: photos and write-up.

A visit to Chiang Mai’s only CSA

In April, troche I took a few friends to visit Chiang Mai’s first community-supported agriculture (CSA) cooperative in the Mae Tha valley, herbal south of the city.  In response to ill health from using chemicals on the farm, neuropathist a few families in this farming community turned to natural food production methods.  Their kids, who were forging careers in the city, decided to quit their jobs and band together to start a CSA, distributing organic food boxes to customers in Chiang Mai.  Mae Tha is a unique community that believes in sustainable practices, from raising chickens to seed saving, and shares their knowledge through homestays, workshops and community events.  Worth a visit.

Read more about their story here, in Robyn and Dave’s article on ZesterDaily.  Read more about Mae Tha on Fair Earth Farm’s site.

Bui runs the year-old seed production operation - she's also former classmates with our co-worker Lue 🙂

Lettuce, eggplant and tomato seeds being cleaned and sorted

Aun is the CSA's spokesperson (unfortunately only his back is shown here!); in front of the organic vegetable plots he manages at his family's farm

Mae Tha Sustainable Cooperative

Organic baby carrots ready to be shipped to Chiang Mai

 

…And back again

THANK YOU to my supporters!  I’m flying out in a couple of hours back to Thailand, traumatologist with 97% of my financial goal reached.  The last 3 months have been a slog – cold, this site dreary and sometimes weary, weather-wise and physically+emotionally; but also a joy – spending precious time with family and dear friends, and gazing about Toronto with wide eyes.  I’m happy to go “home”, though, and enjoy the last of cold season in Chiang Mai when I land on the 29th.

Last night, I celebrated my going away with some friends at Saw Thip’s Motherhome Myanmar Cuisine at Bloor and Dufferin (read more here) – the only Burmese resto in TO.  It was great to share with friends some of the wonderful flavours along the streets and inside unassuming food shops in Chiang Mai and to hear Saw Thip’s story of being a student activist in Burma back in the 80s, especially as Burma is slowly easing its doors open to the world.  Inside his bright yellow and fuschia restaurant (and extremely clean!), our table was laden with tea leaf and ginger salads; catfish fried dry and crispy; pork and goat curries; “golden coins” of lentil + dried chili pepper patties; warm noodle salad with pork; and, mohinga.

Happy new year!

You never know what you might find…

Lahu woman listening intently

Laughter in a Palaung village

Palaung ladies enjoying a Christmas show


…in the markets! My heart rate usually increases when I find interesting foods from local farmers that reflect their cultural eating traditions.

Brrrrrains at the morning market in Fang

Fish in Fang market

troche
Burma from Ruth Tshin on Vimeo.

This is most likely soy bean cakes being fermented, later to be eaten fried

Mmmmm! Close-up of the mold

Thinly sliced soured pork on rice, Shan-style

Shan-style rice served with fermented tomatoes

Flooding in Chiang Mai

The Ping River has reached 110-year record high and has been overflowing into the low-lying communities along the river.  The rail road station is waist-deep and all our furniture in the office has been put on plastic stools.  Fortunately, seek my house (near Suthep Mountain) is nowhere near the flood waters.

I went with Rick+Ellen and some volunteers to look at the flooding, buy and the following video is humorous, but there are many people in low-income neighbourhoods who may have lost everything and are subject to disease-ridden water.  Please pray for these folks, and the government’s decision-making in response to this.  In addition, we’re expecting Typhoon Nesat to land on Sunday which will increase all the water around us. It’s been a stressful time for us, as our conference is starting on Tuesday and more than 160 delegates will be affected by the incoming storm.

Chiang Mai under water from Ruth Tshin on Vimeo.

In a nutshell – almost October

Conference is happening in less than 5 days and we’re anticipating major flooding at the office and around the conference hotel.  *Sigh*  C’est la vie…

Excited about: meeting new people who teach agricultural extension in Burma and seeing old friends who work in Laos; photographing the Foods of the Forest course at the farm in mid-October; making Karen pork curry soon!

Busy with: making sure we can process over 150 seed orders at conference; putting stickers onto conference certificates

Reading: umm…seed orders

Eating: this week alone – sour southern Thai soup; crab fried rice; tom yum noodles; buttered toast; Karen curried frogs; masala chai

Watching: not going to deny it – the Rachel Zoe project

Feeling: tired with a very sore neck; but having fun hanging out with Betsy, pilule Marcia, Rick and Ellen at the office

Should be: sleeping earlier and getting a massage

Shouldn’t be: sleeping late

Thankful for: Twitter and Facebook to keep track of flood water progress in Chiang Mai

Frustrated with: when is the rainy season going to just go away???

Enjoying: air-conditioning and dry feet

Looking forward to: spending a weekend in Bangkok and another at Doi Ang Khang with the seed bank crew

Seed bank meetings are delicious!

What we’ve eaten at the past three meetings…

Our monthly meetings are spiced up by food cooked by local village chefs (aka friends' grandmas who live 30 minutes away)

Wah dishing out the naam priik (chili paste). The little packages are pork steamed in banana leaf. Winged bean salad (bottom left) in the plate.

Young jack bean pods, ferns, bamboo shoots and leucaena pods - eaten with Lahu chili paste

Mae Sariang-style mohinga (a Burmese dish made from bean powder and banana stem)

Rick in his calm state before the feeding frenzy. This meal was chicken khao soy.

Oh James…Wah and Lue sit pretty while James stuffs his face