In 1975, I pursued a longtime dream of joining the Peace Corps. My two-year Peace Corps assignment was to teach English in a secondary school in Surin Province, located in Issahn or Northeastern Thailand. I went knowing pitifully little about Thailand’s history and culture, and nothing at all about Thai food and cooking. Like so many who arrived before me or journeyed to Thailand since my time there, I fell in love with everything Thai: People, culture, and food. I rented a house near my school, Thatoom Prachasermwit, and provided housing for four students who lived too far away to travel home daily. They supplied me with rice from their family’s farms, and cooked traditional meals with what I brought home from morning forays to Thatoom’s market. Unbeknownst to me, I was learning about Thailand’s cuisine by observation and consumption, a research project which continued after my return home to North Carolina in 1978 and found myself lost without the blessing and pleasure of Thai food all day, every day.
I found basic ingredients at a local Korean market and began cooking Thai food in my apartment kitchen in Greensboro, North Carolina. Subsequent moves to New York City and then to Southern California in 1985 put me within cook’s arm’s reach of Southeast Asian ingredients, Thai grocery stores and restaurants, and Thai Buddhist temples, where I always feel I’m walking on Thai soil and breathing Thai air.
I began writing about Thai cooking after taking a course on food writing through UCLA’s Extension program. My teacher, Janice Wald Henderson, gave away the magic, introducing an eager classroomful of students to the nuts and bolts of free lance writing, working with editors, research, interviewing, and the various food writing possibilities, from restaurant reviewing and cookbooks to writing for newspapers and magazines. It was a short immersion-course in journalism and the world of putting words together, researching, gathering stories, and exploring the subject of food, cooking, and how it all fits into the world.
I began teaching Thai cooking as well as writing about it, getting published in newspapers and food magazines, teaching locally in small cooking schools and then around the country and at culinary events, and in 1992, Chronicle Books published my first cookbook: Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking. It’s remained in print for twenty-two years now, with going on 100,000 copies out there in the world. To celebrate this auspicious and delightful ‘birthday’ for my beloved book, I decided to cook my way back through my own book, starting in 2012.
Here I’ll be sharing a photograph of each dish along with commentary on cooking it as well as its place in Thai cuisine. My plan is to include information on Thai ingredients, utensils, traditions and more. I also plan to cook Thai dishes which aren’t in the book, and share photos and recipes for those dishes. I also plan to introduce you to the wonderful Thai cookbooks out there, as well as cookbooks on other Asian and Southeast Asian cuisines. For the recipes from Real Thai, I hope you can get your hands on a copy of Real Thai and follow along, either in your own kitchen or as an armchair/beach chair/sofa-based virtual cook. If you’re having trouble doing that, leave me a message in the comments and we will figure that out!
Thank you for visiting me here. I feel lucky to have had the experiences I have had, and eager to share some of them with you. I look forward to hearing what you think, what you cook and how Thai food, other cuisines, home cooking, and all the pleasures of food fit into your world. I’m personally delighted to be reintroducing myself to each and every recipe in my very first book — it’s a little family reunion and I am enjoying it greatly.