Thai Cooking Class
It’s no secret that one of the reasons I wanted to come to Thailand was because I love Thai food. My colleague Maria and I go to this wonderful Thai restaurant in Grand Rapids called Thai Express about once a week. We’re such regulars that unless we specifically ask for them we’re never given menus. In Thailand the food is so good and so cheap that it’s hard to imagine wanting to spend the time creating it oneself. Noodles run $1 or $2 USD. For a good curry add another $1 or so. But I know I won’t always be fortunate enough to have this luxury, so we decided to take a full day Thai Cooking Class with Asia Scenic, so that I can replicate all this deliciousness at home!
They picked us up at our hotel in the morning, and we headed to their kitchen downtown Chiang Mai. We all introduced ourselves and found that our group consisted of Brian and myself, a couple from California Tim and Sarah as well as another couple from Brazil Danielle and Carlos. Our instructor Meow (pronounced just like a cat’s Meow) passed out menus, and we all could craft our very own 6-course feast made up of a stir-fry, soup, salad, curry, dessert, and a spring roll. I chose the pad see ew, coconut milk soup, papaya salad, panang curry, and sticky rice with mango.
With that out of the way we were off to the local market to pick up fresh ingredients. Meow showed us around and explained all the local foods. There was a guy making coconut cream using a machine to squeeze everything out which was really interesting to watch. Apparently Asian stores at home will carry coconut cream, so I’ll be able to skip the laborious manual process. I bought a bag of fruit to enjoy between meals and then we were off again to the farm.
It was about a 20 minute drive, but when we arrived it was in stark contrast to Chiang Mai: a 1.6 acre estate with modern architecture and furnishings, a man-made stream trickling down to a fish-filled pond, and a lush garden filled with all kinds of wonderful smelling plants. We donned classical rice paddy farming hats and Meow took us on a stroll explaining the plants we’d be using and letting us smell (and taste samples). My favorite was the kaffir lime which looks like a normal lime except the outside is shriveled and it doesn’t produce much juice.
We came back to the table to find that a welcome snack called miang kham had been prepared. We made our own little scoops from the following: folded up betel leaves, sliced kaffir lime with the (somewhat) bitter skin still on, shallots, ginger, roasted peanut, toasted coconut, and a palm sugar syrup drizzled over top (chilies were optional…and I passed because I’m weak). You pop the entire thing into your mouth and suddenly a cacophony of flavors explodes because all five types of taste are immediately activated simultaneously: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. And then you repeat that euphoria all over again and again.
Once those were gone we moved on to our stir fry dish. Meow made pad thai as an example because it’s the most difficult. We followed along with our own woks and with her careful instruction my delicious pad see ew was born.
Next up was papaya salad. We were told to “cook with emotion” and my emotions told me to add extra peanuts. I was really happy with the way it turned out: it was light and fresh and the perfect encore to the heavier stir-fry.
After a quick break we were back and making spring rolls. The base is really easy to put together and once you get the right idea about rolling everything up you’re good to go.
We then moved onto the curry paste. This was hard work, and we traded off as we ground everything up in a mortar and pestle. We had to be careful not to splash any of the green curry in our faces as the peppers like to squirt juice up when they’re being mashed. After the red curry paste was done we split it up and then added peanuts to turn it into a panang paste.
We took those over to our woks and began by seasoning the coconut milk with ginger. Just mixing this in throws off this overwhelming aroma which immediately intensifies one’s hunger. We mixed in some of the paste along with all the other ingredients per Meow’s instructions and tips. I found it interesting how Thai foods balance each other out: sugar to counter the spiciness of the curry or salt to counter sweetness. My emotions were guiding me to use less curry and more sugar (I already admitted that I’m weak). The result was a delicious panang curry that was perfectly seasoned for me! One of the waitresses at Thai Express had told me that I wouldn’t be able to find a peanut curry in Thailand the way they make it, but what they failed to predict was me making it myself.
The coconut soup seemed relatively easy, but it seemed like something was still missing. Tom Ka is my favorite type of Thai soup, so perhaps I’ll have to continue experimenting. It did look delicious though!
Mango sticky rice also isn’t all that difficult, it just takes patience to keep mixing the rice so that the rice doesn’t break down and become mushy. Meow used a flower in the garden to turn the coconut cream a purplish color which gave it a really cool effect.
After chowing down it was back to the city. I slept on the way back, and then after I got back to the hotel crashed for a nice 5 hour nap while everything digested.
This experience certainly helped me appreciate how much work goes into making a good meal. Now whenever I order something I taste it with intention to try and pick out all the different ingredients.