One activity many visitors to Thailand participate in is a cooking class. It is not that cooking a Thai dish is difficult – rather the opposite – it is more an opportunity to discover the joy of using fresh ingredients as well as learning about them, sharing an outdoor cooking experience and enjoying a wonderful meal with other travellers, all under the tutelage of a knowledgeable cook or chef. I shared the experience with my daughter, who had already done one class but agreed to go with me, as well as three others. We had a fun evening, our hostess, who runs We Cook – Thai Home Garden Cooking firstname.lastname@example.org, in Chiang Mai, was hilarious and knowledgeable.
First on our journey to Thai cooking, find a parking spot to go shopping for ingredients at a market. Everything we needed was available at this market: cilantro, various ginger roots, chillies of varying heat, fresh turmeric, lime, pea eggplant, tamarind! Some of these I have only found ground so I was already quite excited. In addition to the ingredients we were searching for there were many types of cooked fish, a bounty of vegetables: fresh, deep fried, pickled, chilli infused, barbecued, and soup form. Meat too, probably not pickled but otherwise sold in many other ways if one did not want to just take away a choice selection to cook at home. At one point my daughter disappeared – she had gone off to buy a pair of shoes, not only was food to feast on available for purchase.
Once our groceries were purchased we piled into a Songthaew for the ride to the home of our chef. The baskets of food were whisked away by an assistant, we were invited to remove our shoes and enter the home for some cold water, a bit of relaxation and conversation, before beginning our class. This was a great way to get to know each other. We were a party of a married couple and three solo, female travellers. Four countries were represented. This is what travel should include, meeting people from where we go as well as from other countries. As the world becomes less isolated, therefore more a global village, there is still a glimmer of hope for overcoming divisiveness. (Every once in a while this topi was discussed while I was on my trip)
It was time to cook! Two currys, green and red, to go with our curry selections: mine menu included Penang Curry with Chicken, Khao Soi (Chiang Mai Noodle) – I was introduced to this dish my first night in Thailand and loved it – Tom Kaa Gai (soup), Som Tam (papaya salad), Pad Thai (how could I not?), and Mango Sticky Rice for the end of the meal.
We learned that the curry pastes are nearly always made fresh every day! I was looking forward to trying this at home. We were in for some gastronomical pleasure, new flavours, tasting, smells, cooking styles. By the end of a fun evening I still could not decide which dish was my favourite.
Penang Curry was such an easy dish once the curry paste was done – best of all we controlled the level of heat from chillies in our dishes, I used to love spicy food, still do other than the tendency to go into coughing fits. This dish was an introduction to pea eggplant, tiny, round vegetable with a subtle flavour compared to the long Asian eggplant or the larger European one. I am also a fan of coconut cream and peanuts, I was extremely pleased with how is dish turned out.
Khan Soi noodles, this dish is special for its egg noodles in a rich sauce with a topping of deep fried noodles- somehow the combination of the two works marvels for the palate. A spritz of lime, a side serving of pickled cabbage, provides a delicious, shared (well, maybe) side serving or a filling lunch.
Chicken in Coconut Milk soup (Tom Kaa Gai), meant more coconut milk, so bad for me yet so marvellous. This was my introduction to galangal, a member of the ginger root family, a lighter flavour from what most of us are used to. A light soup, perfect for beginning the meal.
Papaya salad, this should be an easy dish but too often is poorly flavoured. This is when a chef might shout out, Fresh! Fresh!, Fresh! Then serve fairly soon after it has marinated just a little in the dressing – refreshing, tangy and a little heat.
Pad Thai. This was the most difficult dish for me to make. It is extremely popular and another one of those dishes that can be a full meal or a side dish. The difficult part was adding the egg, then the rice noodles without letting everything become a congealed mess. Other than needing a gas stovetop I discovered the importance of balancing my (miniature) work slightly in its side and constantly mixing.
The dessert was easy as the sticky rice was already cooked – it takes a while to make. I love mangos, there was no question about which dessert I would choose when even more coconut milk was in the offering as well as sticky rice – a favourite for me in China – along with delectable mango.
We shared dishes, we laughed, we ate, oh my did we eat. My daughter had warned me that I would put on weight in Thailand, that night she was pretty close to the truth. Best of all, at the end of the evening, all dishes had been whisked away, all we had to do was say a fond farewell to our hostess, climb aboard a Songthaew – a little more difficult perhaps – and enjoy the evening lights of Chiang Mai on the way back to our respective accommodations.