Sexy Soup and Passionfruit in Thailand: A Conversation with Jessica Vogelsang
Tell us about yourself! What do you do when you’re not traveling the world? Where do you live? What made you decide to travel to Thailand?
I live in San Diego and I keep busy both as a mother to two young kids and as a veterinarian. I got the travel bug just about five years ago, and I’ve found just the most incredible family in this small but intrepid group of adventuring animal lovers who go around the world working on animal projects. I’ve worked with dogs and horses in Central and South America, donkeys in Tanzania, and most recently, with elephants in Thailand.
My most recent trip to Chiang Mai took place with a group called World Vets, and we were spending a week at the Elephant Nature Park, which is this amazing elephant sanctuary up in the mountains.
What kind of cooking class did you take? How long was it, and where was it held?
On one of our free days, a group of five of us decided to do a full day Thai cooking class. They are hugely popular in Chiang Mai, and we thought it would be a great way to not only get a more immersive experience into local culture, but it would help us be better prepared to share some of the amazing food we had there once we got back. We specifically chose a class that was out on a farm and was family-run, so we got to get out of the city and really feel like we were out in the community. We got picked up at 9 am and returned to our hotel at 4 pm, so it was an all-day event.
Did the cooking class include any extra activities, such as a visit to a marketplace or a restaurant?
On our way to the farm, we stopped at a local market. Unlike the more touristy markets in the city, this one felt like the locals really shopped there. The stalls were piled with noodles and curry pastes and the most amazing fruit. We ended up filling our bags with these incredible passionfruits and lychees to munch on all week.
What did you learn? What were your most memorable experiences? What were the biggest disappointments?
I learned that it was well worth the risk to be adventurous. Our instructor gave us a lot of opportunity to individualize our cooking class. We selected from different options for each course, and we could put in as much or as little spice as we wanted. We also had a vegetarian and a vegan in our class and the teacher was prepared for both. Our teacher was so funny: she kept trying to encourage us to up the spice level by calling it “sexy.” “So who wants to make the sexy soup?” If she thought we were underutilizing oyster sauce in a dish, she’d tell us it needed more passion. She totally got me to do it, too.
It was incredible to see these ten people with screaming hot woks trying to keep our noodles from burning, and this woman calmly keeping it all straight in her head, as we had usually three different recipes going at the same time. She needs her own cooking show.
I only had two disappointments: 1. It’s been a little more challenging than I had hoped to recreate the dishes at home because some of the ingredients are really hard to come by. My soup is definitely less sexy. And 2. The durian we bought actually smelled and tasted really good. I guess that shouldn’t be a disappointment, really. We lucked out.
I was initially disappointed that there were other people in our group besides our five, because I was hoping it would be just us. But after we got going I really loved having other people there. We were joined by a group of four university roommates from Ireland, and a man from Switzerland who was travelling throughout all of Southeast Asia for a few months. It really drove home this concept that food is a community event, it brings people together.
What do you wish you knew before you went?
I wish I had skipped breakfast. We ate so much. Like, all day.
Would you recommend other women travellers take this cooking class?
I would absolutely recommend this class to individuals or to groups. It was definitely one of the highlights of my stay, and this is a trip that included baby elephants, so you know it must have been great to stand out. You’ll have fun no matter what, even if you don’t make the sexy soup.