Living the Oh-So-Affordable High Life

0 Posted by - October 11, 2011 - Life, Travel

It doesn’t take much to make me happy.  An apartment with a view, strong wifi, a kitchen and a king sized bed — and I’m blissed out.  In the lap of luxury.  After years of traveling, living in hotels, hostels and guesthouses or tiny studio apartments, I’m a little shocked at just how used to living out of a suitcase I’ve become.  So much so that our recent splurge feels like decadence: a one bedroom apartment, overlooking Chiang Mai, close to the markets, walking distance from the Saturday night walking street, and quiet, oh so very quiet.

When I saw the place, we were told that it was the last suite available.  Everything else was booked up for the season.  The price was 17,000 baht, which is way more than we’d ever normally pay, but after three months of travel, lots of work, and cheap living, we decided to treat ourselves.  I walked in and I was like, “Yes, this.”  There’s a living room and a small kitchen table.  A little kitchen area with a stove top (!), microwave and fridge.  A separate bedroom (imagine the novelty of not working where you sleep) and two baths.  There’s enough room for Cole to take out all of his toys and still be able to run around.

So yes, after a year and a half of travel, we’re taking three months off in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  It’s strange saying that, when three months in Chiang Mai is travel to some people, but for us, at the moment, it feels like being expats.  We’ve unpacked our suitcases and hidden them away.  We bought things we can’t travel with like a rice cooker, a sandwich press, big colorful plastic toys for Cole, and inflatable swimming tubes.  Yesterday, I bought flowers.  I put them in a vase.  We’re definitely not travelers right now.

It’s funny that I bought my Macbook Pro here in Thailand this time last year, and here we are, back in Thailand again.  We love it here!  We keep coming back.  Even my keyboard has the Thai alphabet on it:

Our place has decorative touches that aren’t purely functional!  There are like little statues, paintings, vases and pots in our room, just to look nice.  Oh right, people live places.  They like to make those places more pleasant.  Not everyone is wandering around the world as a nomad under strict orders to only own what they can literally carry.  Right.  Got it.

Okay and now I’m just bragging.  My room comes with cleaning service that includes twice weekly cleaned linens, towels and oh my god, white cotton robes.  (Did I mention my bar for luxury is pretty low?)  We don’t even know what to do with them.  Sometimes we’ll just wear them while we work, like, “look at me dahling, I’m working in my robe.”  Yes, we’re very fancy.

The single best part of all of this?  Having a kitchen.  I can not stress enough what it is like, for me, someone who absolutely loves to cook, to finally have a kitchen again.  I could probably fill this blog with all of the food we’ve made so far (don’t worry I won’t!) but I will share one dish I just made.

Crispy Thai Style Fish with Eggplant Basil Stir Fry and Jasmine Rice

This dish is so easy, it’s insane.  It’s also extremely cheap to make in Thailand.  We picked up everything, the fish, the veggies and the herbs for about 100 baht at the market.  That’s a little more than $3 for a huge meal for two people, plus leftovers.  If you’re not in Thailand, you can still make this dish, it’ll just cost you about $56 at Whole Foods.  (Actually you can swap out any local veggies that are cheap for the Thai versions and it’ll be just as good.  The secret?  Garlic, Basil, Lime and Spicy Chili Peppers).

This is what we started with for veggies.  Everything is cheap here, so we went overboard, big time.  But the basics: cilantro, bean sprouts, thai eggplant (those white bulbs), red and green chili peppers, carrots, bell peppers (red, green and yellow), onion, garlic, green onions, thai string beans, lime and Thai basil (it’s the same as regular basil, but has a unique flavor and the stems are purple — but regular basil will work too).

Now if you’re like me, you take all your produce and lay it out nicely on your kitchen table and take a bunch of photos while your husband sighs.

And don’t forget to do some super up close macro shots for good measure:

That’ll last only as long as your child can resist stealing things blindly from the table top. Which is to say, not long.

To make the Crispy Thai Style Fish you’ll also need a whole fish.  A smallish one like the one below.

At the market they gutted and descaled the fish and when we got home we rinsed it out with tap water.  Then we coated in salt and let it rest for five minutes (this absorbs the fishy-taste) and then rinsed it again.  The we dried it off again, because any moisture will splatter when you drop it in the oil later.

Salt, pepper the fish.  Make three slices on it’s side with a knife.  Rub smushed or chopped garlic all over it.  Heat up about an inch or two of oil (test it to make sure it’s hot by throwing in a small piece of garlic and if it bubbles up like mad, you’re in good shape), throw in the fish and let it cook 10-15 minutes total, flipping it half way through.  As the garlic cooks, browns and rises to the surface, remove it.  Otherwise you’ll have yucky charred garlic in there. That’s it.  Crispy Thai Style Fish.  Next…

For the stir fry, we just chopped a bunch of vegetables up (any of these can be substituted) we ended up using:

  • one large carrot
  • a handful of green beans
  • one white onion
  • a whole clove of garlic
  • three whole Thai chili peppers (we like it medium hot)
  • three bell peppers
  • six thai eggplants

The Thai Eggplant reacts to the air and turns brown when you slice it open (that’s normal). We put some oil in the wok, threw in the vegetables in order of time to cook (carrots, eggplant first) and kept stirring it over heat until done.  Near the end we added a bunch of basil.  A little soy sauce for salt.

Plate it with steamed jasmine rice, chopped spring onions, cilantro, bean sprouts and lime:

It was insanely good.  The fish is not overcooked but light and falls apart at the touch.  The skin is crispy and delicious.  The aromatic basil gives the stir fry that distinctive Thai flavor. The chili peppers give a warm heat.  Yum!

And the second best part of our place?  Taking a nap after lunch.

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