Ever since I was a little monster, and boy was I a monster (was / is, whatever), my mom has been making this insanely flavorful (msg), super spicy, perfectly sour papaya salad. She would bust out her giant mortar and pestle and I would hear her make it probably 5 times a week, scraping the coarse sides with a metal spoon as she sat on the ground with a towel and just pounded the shit out of it.

As you know, I went to Thailand to go to this amazing cooking school that they have across the Chao Phraya River at the Mandarin Oriental. Hotel cooking schools or classes can be really…bleh, time wasters for couples usually, but this one is 9 – 1 pm, and the instructor is just amazing. My class consisted of  5 Japanese chefs, sent by their own hotel in Japan to study and learn the flavors of Thai cuisine. A french woman, and my mom and I. There was also wonderful couple from Montana that I think will be my mom’s friends for life.

Besides learning, in a condensed experience, soooo much about Thai food, I got to have a peek at what my mom must have been like in school. She literally is so open and fun — she makes friends quickly and people want to be around her. We made kind of a complicated dessert the first day, and the odd flours and use of this fragrant cooking candle (seriously fucking amazing, will blog!!) really threw everyone off. Everyone wannnnnted to make this dish, but didn’t know where on earth they would acquire these odd ingredients. Sure enough my mom came to class the next morning with enough sticky rice flour and candles for everyone.

On these trips to Thailand, I always get to hear random stories from my dad (who is also awesome) about my mom. One of my favorite being the story when my mom was first coming to America with my dad — first time on a plane and long trip. Back in the days when a pretty tasty steak was served in coach (now I believe it is an olive and a piece of scrap metal) my dad looked over and saw my mom had finished hers quickly. She looked up and asked,”what about mushroom is there mushroom?”. My dad was like, gee that’s weird, she thinks this is like a restaurant…but he asked the flight attendant anyway. She of course said there were no mushrooms and my mom sighed heavily and sank back into her seat.

HOURS later, we’re talking many hours, my mom looked at my dad again and said “I REALLY NEED TO USE THE MUSHROOM”.

Then he got it. She had though “bathroom” was “mushroom”. She was ready to piss her pants and thought there was no bathroom on this 15 hour flight.

My mom is awesome. I can’t even put together the words to describe how awesome she is. So here she is, in a 3-part series, making her famous (in her neighborhood) papaya salad: