Learning to Cook Thai Food

One of the fun things to do when visiting a country is to learn how to cook their food. Since we love Thai food, we were looking forward to taking a Thai cooking class. Chiang Mai Thailand was a perfect place to do so. After some research, we decided to take a class with Basil Thai Cookery School (www.Basilcookery.com). A strong reason why was that the company allowed each student to design their own menus. That let us each choose different dishes to learn and try as many dishes as possible:

  • Joyce selected minced chicken salad, hot and sour soup with prawns, Pad Thai, Pa-nang curry, chicken in coconut milk soup, stir-fried prawn with tamarind, and sweet sticky rice with mango; and
  • Tom chose papaya salad, hot and sour soup with prawns, drunken noodle, curry paste (as ingredient), red curry with bamboo shoot, fried cashew nut with chicken, and deep-fried banana.

The classes are small and only one other couple joined us. They choose similar dishes except for a spring roll and stir-fried minced pork with holy basil.

The class began with a trip to the market to shop for ingredients. We learned  the differences among and when to use different types of basil, eggplant, basil, garlic, rice and even sugars and cooking oils. Thais have access to so many different varieties of common ingredients, with each having their own preferred uses for specific dishes. I mean, how many different types of rice can one have? And eggplant? And basil? It was mind boggling.

Then of course, we had to buy the right turmeric (our new favorite spice!), shrimp paste, coconut cream (and how to make our own coconut milk from cream, rather than buying already made coconut cream). We learned not only the differences among the rice used in Thai cooking (jasmine, sticky, red and black), but the different ages of jasmine rice, the number of months it should be held for different dishes and which ones should be boiled and which steamed. I’d try to put it in here, but can’t remember all of the details. But sticky rice is better young versus old  as it loses its glutinous ability that makes it sticky. Oter rice is better aged.  We learned how to prepare rice noodles for cooking and how to cook and cool them. And that was before we even began cooking.

The cooking experience was seamless and well coordinated. The staff of three had washed and laid out the amount of ingredients and utensils that each of us needed for our dishes and guided us through the preparation of each dish simultaneously, while tailoring the spicing to our individual tastes. We began and completed each course at the same time, allowing us to eat our creations, course-by-course together. It was an amazing orchestration.

As for the food, other than for individual spicing preferences, we enjoyed every dish we had. So much so, in fact, that we would be hard pressed to even try to rate them. The taste, combined with the relative ease and speed of preparing each of the dishes, provides a great incentive to try making  each dish at home (with the help of the mini-cookbooks we received of all of possible dishes we could have chosen from). This being said, we are likely to take two shortcuts. First,we will almost certainly buy,rather than take the 15+ minutes required to pound our own chili paste. Second, we will toast the coconut for the black sticky rice pudding in a toaster oven, rather than continually stirring it in a wok.

In all, five hours and 1,000 baht ($33) per person very, very well spent.

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