Oregon native Austin Bush enjoyed his first taste of northern Thai food while studying in a Thai language programme at Chiang Mai University in 1999. Hooked on the region as well as the cuisine, Austin found himself spending more time in northern Thailand when he began updating guidebooks for Lonely Planet in 2005. After shooting hundreds of photos for the Australian publisher as well as other travel publications, he established his own photo website, out of which grew a popular blog (www.austinbushphotography.com/blog) dedicated to Thai cuisine. More recently, Austin provided images for American chef Andy Ricker’s best-selling Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand.
In February, stylish urban resort Tamarind Village Chiang Mai sponsored “Ancient Roots, Culinary Crossroads: The Food of Northern Thailand,” an inspiring exhibition of colourful and informative images from Austin’s personal photo collection.
The exhibition’s comprehensive coverage of northern Thai cuisine mirrors the region’s remarkable diversity, bringing together images and creatively assembled displays that introduce the unique dishes, ingredients, personalities, and cooking techniques of northern Thailand, along with the rich cultural and geographical roots that have shaped them.
Austin’s vibrant photography and substantial written narratives introduce viewers to emblematic northern Thai dishes such as laap muang (spicy, raw, minced-meat salads laced with dried spices and pungent herbs) and nam phrik (chili-based dips eaten with balls of glutinous rice). Nam phrik in particular reflect the simplicity of a cuisine which, for centuries, has been based on rice, fish, vegetables, and herbs.
Northern Thailand’s celebrated khao soy, a chickenor beef-based curry broth served with wheat-and-egg noodles and sides of lime, pickled vegetables, and shallots, also receives ample coverage, along with less commonly known dishes prepared by the Akha tribes of the North. The exhibition also explores the significant influence of neighbouring cuisines in China and Myanmar.
“Ancient Roots, Culinary Crossroads: The Food of Northern Thailand” continues until May 31. During that time, the resort’s Ruen Tamarind Restaurant is offering a special Kong Gin Bon Doi (Food on the Mountain) menu consisting of a selection of northern Thai nam phrik served with local vegetables and sticky rice.
Tamarind Village Chiang Mai
50/1 Ratchadamnoen Rd, Chiang Mai, 0 5341 8896. tamarindvillage.com