A Thai food experience (by Julie French)


Julie visited Duang Tengtrirat in Thailand in July 2023 for a 10 day cooking and cultural tour.

How often do you get an invitation to be a part of a group visiting an unspoilt part of Thailand to experience an authentic taste of its food and culture, guided by a well-connected local person, passionate about her town and region? An experience that would be difficult to access otherwise because of your lack of even the most basic Thai language?

I had been to Thailand in the early 1970s and had fond memories of its fabulous food, exquisite culture and friendly people. Back then, Bangkok was a city of around 3 million, cheap and easy to get around, and a convenient base to see the rest of the country. Today Bangkok has a population of around 11 million. Whilst I did not want to spoil my memories of 50 years ago, the invitation was from a good friend [Editor: and an LFC newsletter reader and an erstwhile resident of North East Melbourne], Duang Tengtrirat, and it was too good to resist. I had heard so much about her years growing up in a village in northern Thailand, especially her stories around food and learning to cook in her mother’s kitchen.


Which is how I found myself one sweltering day foraging for produce in a flourishing permaculture garden. Some in our group had courageously volunteered to plant padi rice, but I had chosen the less heat-stressful task of searching for fern tips, snake beans, corn and okra in the relative cool of the garden.

Our group had come together from different parts of Victoria to meet up with Duang for a 10 day cooking and cultural tour of her home town of Nan, close to the Laotian border. Duang’s mother had recognised her daughter’s cooking curiosity and skill from an early age and so Duang had grown up helping her to cook and learnt by observing what and how she cooked. She has carried those skills and love of cooking throughout her life and wanted to share this with her wide circle of friends.

The tour alternated days of cooking and learning about traditional northern Thai food in Duang’s mother’s outdoor kitchen, with visits to places of interest in and around Nan: Nan’s night market, local wats (Buddhist temples), an ancient salt mine up in the hills north of Nan, villages where we met spinners and weavers of Nan’s distinct fabrics, coffee houses to try the local brew and, of course, many delightful eating experiences at local restaurants. Oh, and did I mention massages, bike rides and visits to the morning markets?

Planting rice

Our group was the second of three [Editor: the other two tours also included some LFC newsletter readers] and we were fortunate to have the permaculture farm included in our itinerary. Just a week before, Duang had met with the farmers who had been insistent that she bring us out to see their self-sufficient enterprise, and to stay to enjoy a meal made entirely from produce sourced from their fields and garden.

On arrival at the farm, the first thing that impressed me, apart from the quiet and peace, was the lush picture book garden, a mix of insect attracting flowers and food producing plants grown in swales. A pond at a lower point on the farm, supplied the family with fish; recycling of waste was evident from the large active compost pile; and power was generated by a small array of solar panels. The wet season was late so the surrounding fields were still dry, apart from one that had been flooded to enable at least some rice to be planted. Fortunately the monsoons did finally arrive, in time for the third group two weeks later!

Foraging was followed by dinner preparation, much chopping and slicing and cooking over a coal brazier, culminating in a fabulous feast of Thai salads, charcoal grilled vegetables and fish and delicious sticky rice. We were celebrating Duang’s birthday that day, and birthday cake was followed by singing, dancing and much laughter. It was hard to leave. As we drove off in the balmy warm dark we all agreed that it had been the best night yet of a fabulous tour. There was more to come, but that’s another story.

Farm garden Snake beans Food preparation Duang’s birthday cake

  2 Responses to “A Thai food experience (by Julie French)”

  1. Could you share the details of the tour so that I might also have this experience? It sounds great.

    • Hi Sonya. Duang is planning to run three more tours in July, August and September 2024. She is still finalising dates and other details, but you can email her at Nan.experience3@gmail.com to express your interest and get sent the information when it’s been finalised. Regards, Julie

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