Category Archives: Learning

A Lot of Thai food, taking a cookery class in Chiang Mai

We really enjoyed doing a Street Food tour in Vietnam, so when we found out how many cookery schools there are in Chiang Mai it seemed natural to take a class to find out how to make some authentic Thai food. After a bit of research we picked the ‘A Lot of Thai’ cookery school and booked in for their Friday course.

‘A Lot of Thai’ is run by husband and wife team Yui and Kwan. Yui doesn’t have formal culinary training but she is passionate about Thai food (actually I suspect she’s pretty enthusiastic about all kinds of food!) and has been teaching people to cook for over ten years. There are photos of her more famous students around the classroom, including Gordon Ramsey. Her husband Kwan is a graphic designer and also handles the bookings and transport. The classroom is at the side of their house under a lean-to roof.

20140125-092253.jpgClassroom before we started cooking. We were collected and brought to the class in their classic VW camper van.

Stir-fried rice with Thai herbs

We made six dishes during the day, first up was what Yui considers to be her signature dish, fried rice with Thai herbs. Each lesson worked in a similar way, Yui would explain to the ten students a little about the dish and show us how to prepare the ingredients, we would return to our stations to do our preparation and then she would demonstrate the cooking before we went off to finish the dish. At the end we all sat together to eat our creation.

20140129-080302.jpgFried rice preparation: our ingredients plate as we received it, chopped garlic and oil in the wok, finely slicing lemongrass, ingredients plate ready for cooking

20140129-080310.jpgJulie stir-frying

20140129-080319.jpgAndrew carefully aligns his basil leaf garnish, the finished product – yum!

Papaya salad

Papaya salad is unlike anything I’ve come across in other cuisines. It’s fresh and crisp but with a fiery hot, salty and sour dressing. Traditionally made with unripe papaya, there’s also a version made with green mango, and Yui gave us substitutions that we could find at home – either green pears or Granny Smith apples!

20140129-080337.jpgYui showed us the traditional way of shredding the papaya which involved a lot of fast work with the cleaver. We prepared it the modern way with a kind of wavy vegetable peeler, I don’t suppose people going home with missing fingers would be very good for the school’s Tripadvisor ratings…

20140129-080353.jpgThe method is incredibly simple, the ingredients are pounded together in about three stages in a big pestle and mortar before being served

20140129-080401.jpgDelicious but I might have to reduce the amount of chilli I use next time (or work on upping my tolerance!)

Panaeng Curry

Thai curries are famous all over the world. I was a little disappointed that we weren’t taught how to make the curry paste although there are recipes for the various kinds in our souvenir cookbook.

20140129-080412.jpgPanaeng curry: prepared ingredients, reducing the coconut cream in the wok, stir-frying the chicken, finished curry

20140129-080424.jpgAndrew ready to tuck into his curry and rice

Visit to the market

By this stage we were getting quite full and were relieved to hear Yui announce that we were taking a break to visit the local market, Nong Hoy. We always love looking around local markets wherever we’re staying and to do so with a local guide is even better.

20140129-080435.jpgNong Hoy market, Chiang Mai

20140129-080444.jpgProduce in the market (clockwise from top left): fresh vegetables, marigold garlands, an unusual looking Thai herb, bottles of sauces

20140129-080452.jpgYui explaining the many different varieties of aubergine used in Thai cooking

Stir-fried vegetables with glass noodles

20140129-080500.jpgWe were encouraged to try Yui’s method of breaking an egg with one hand, we both managed it but I think it’ll take a bit more practice to feel natural!

20140129-080506.jpgYui demonstrating the stir-frying

20140129-080516.jpgFor each dish the sauce ingredients were set out with little labels for us to mix our own

20140129-080523.jpgAdding the egg to the wok


Stuffed cucumber soup

We were intrigued when we saw this on the menu and not quite sure what to expect. It turns out that cooked cucumber is actually pretty good! Everyone prepared and stuffed their own cucumbers, but as they were all cooked together we had to carve a distinguishing mark into the side of each piece.

20140129-080641.jpgJulie’s hollowed out cucumbers marked with a ‘J’, stuffing them with the seasoned pork mince, Andrew got a bit patriotic when marking his cucumbers, cooking the soup

20140129-080650.jpgAnyone who’s eaten in a Thai restaurant will know that dishes are often garnished with carved vegetables. We got to try our hand at making very simple carrot flowers to be cooked in the soup along with the stuffed cucumbers

Fried bananas

Naturally the final lesson of the day was dessert!

20140129-080659.jpgFried bananas (clockwise from top left): batter ingredients, Yui deep frying them, sadly this wasn’t an individual portion…

We were taken back to our apartment full, happy and keen to try out some of the recipes at home.

Reading Russian

There are plenty of tables on the internet that show the Russian Cyrillic alphabet and the pronunciation of each letter, but I find remembering lists of symbols a bit dry, so here’s a quick visual guide that’s as much to help me learn as it may be of interest to you.


At first glance, Russian looks pretty impenetrable. It has 33 letters instead of the western Latin 26, but with a little knowledge about the difference in their pronunciation, you’ll find that most words are actually either English, sound English-like, or are borrowed from other languages (just as English does). That said, there are Russian-only words, so this doesn’t work all the time!

No change needed

A a, E e, K k, M m, O o, T t – all sound the same in Russian as they do in English.

Common Russian Letters

Like most western cities, there are lots of cafes in the towns and cities. The word “cafe” looks like “кафе” (and “coffee ” looks like “кофе”) which means Ф (ф in lowercase) in Russian sounds like “f” in English.


This cafe sign gives us some context to work with. Some other non-obvious but common letter sounds in Russian are

  • С which sounds like “s”
  • Р which you can remember as an unfinished “R”. Trill it if you can, as they do in Scotland, and
  • П which looks like the symbol for Pi, and sounds like “p”

With these, we can have a stab at pronouncing the first long word in our кафе sign: “ЭСПРЕССО” becomes “some-backwards-e-thing-spresso” – ahh! espresso! The backwards-e, or Э sounds like an e (that’s easy to remember!), so we get “espresso”.

The next word on our кафе sign is “КАППУЧИНО”. We already know the first 4 letters, so lets look at the last 5, they are:

  • У (or v in lowercase) sounds like “oo”
  • Ч looks like an upside-down “h”, and sounds like “ch” when you flip it back the “right” way
  • И, together with the backwards R shouts Russian to western eyes! И sounds like “i”, and
  • Н sounds like “N” because И doesn’t sound like an “N”

Let’s pronounce the whole thing.. “КАППУЧИНО” sounds like “kappoochino”.. Cappuccino!

And the last word of the three introduces one new letter: Б (б in lowercase), which looks like the letter b and, thankfully, sounds like a “b” too! That means the next word, “БАР” is “bar”.

There’s only one word left in the sign, and that’s “ХАУЗ”, which follows the word “кофе”. Context suggests it’s probably the name of the cafe, so it might not make sense to us, but lets have a go anyway.

There are actually two new letters here.. The first is “Х”, which sounds like the “ch” at the end of the Scottish word “loch”, and the second one “З”, not to be confused with the backwards-e (Э) looks like the number 3 and sounds like “z”. (Try to remember “three.. zee”). Putting it all together gives us “chaooz”. Try saying it out loud (or quietly like you’re reading aloud to yourself in a library) but remember the “ch” is soft as in the Scottish “loch” (so more like “h”).

Therefore, “КОФЕ ХАУЗ – ЭСПРЕССО КАППУЧИНО БАР” is a place is called Coffee House, and it’s an Espresso Cappuccino Bar!

More Common Russian Letters

While we’re on the subject of bars and liquids, perhaps you’ve seen this famous brand of Russian Vodka and wondered what it says?


Let’s read it! First, you need to nip out out and grab yourself a bottle so you can play along at home or at work..

The first word is “РУССИЙ”. We already know most of these letters, so we can get “Roosski”. The accented и: й makes the “i” sound like a “y”, so we end up with “Roosskiy”. For learning another letter, take a shot from your bottle. This is a Russian word and it means “Russian” in Russian!

The second word “СТАНДАРТ”, the new letter here is “Д” which sounds like “d”. Take another shot and read aloud “standart” – close enough to the word “standard” to my ears (and to yours too after two shots).

The last word on the front is “ВОДКА” – “bodka”, obvious really that this reads “vodka”, so the “В” (в in lowercase, and also looks like a 6 in some typefaces) sounds like a “v”.

РУССИЙ СТАНДАРТ ВОДКА” is Russian Standard vodka. It’s good stuff too, especially the platinum :o)

A Few More Common Russian Letters

Now for a couple of letters that I find tricky to remember..
20130503-221024.jpgTaken in a supermarket – can you guess what it says?

  • Г sounds like “G”. This is the one I find tricky
  • Л sounds like an “L”, and not to be confused with П (“P”) – indeed, some typefaces use Λ which is easier to differentiate, but still tricky
  • Ь is a trick one – it’s essentially silent, breaking up a word if it appears in the middle

With our newfound knowledge, lets tackle the supermarket sign.. “ГРИΛЬ” sounds like “gril”.. I bet you can now see the rotisserie chickens in the background :o)

Finally, three more letters I don’t have a picture for..

  • Ц sounds like “ts”
  • Ш and Щ sound like “sh” and “shchY” respectively
  • Ж sounds like “zh”. Commonly used as the abbreviation for women’s toilets

That’s it for my list, though I haven’t covered all of the Russian alphabet, I hope it helps your Russian comprehension when you’re out and about!