Posted by: adventuressetravels | March 20, 2012

Tantalizing Thai

Sweet, Sour, Salty, and Bitter.  These are the flavors in Thai cuisine

I love Thai food.  Pad Thai, curries, mee krob… it’s some of my favorite and when I bought the plane ticket to Bangkok I couldn’t wait to learn how to cook Thai food.

To my delight there were Thai cooking schools everywhere in Bangkok, and there were even more in Chiang Mai.  But they were a little pricey, at least for Thailand.  To my horror, the least expensive were around 900 Thai bhat, around $30 USD.  Wasn’t Thailand supposed to be cheap?

Being a frugal traveler, I wrestled with the price; surely it would be more authentic to couchsurf with someone and learn real Thai cooking.  But after agonizing for a bit I decided that it really would be good to take the course and get an overview of Thai cooking.  It would give me a good basis if I were to learn dishes in Thai’s homes.

After talking to some other travelers who had raved about their experience, I decided on the Smart Cook Thai Cookery School.  The class was based on an organic farm and went through the process of picking fresh ingredients, cooking everything, and visiting a market.  It gave an introduction to Thai herbs, spices, and the basics of Thai cooking.  Better yet, you could choose what dishes you made from a variety offered.   You could choose from a list of four options one stir-fry, one soup, one appetizer, one curry paste, one curry, and one dessert.

The van picked me up at my hostel at 8:30 in the morning.  I was the only student from my hostel, and the first in the van, but there were many stops to go.  When the large white van with its hard benches in the back and the last of the students we headed for the train station.

A short ride later we were at Lamphun, a farm village near Chiang Mai, our guide ushered us all off of the train and led us to a line of waiting bicycles.  We would ride bikes to the farm.  Though the other girls seemed delighted at the opportunity to pedal down the picturesque country lanes of Thailand, I was slightly apprehensive.  After all, I’d only just learned to ride a bike earlier that year.  Was I up to the challenge?

To my great relief it was like well, riding a bike.  Though I was a bit shaky, I managed to keep up with everyone with no problems.  I was beyond thankful that I had taken the time to learn.

We cycled past fields with Thai women harvesting plants, visited Buddhist churches, and at last peddled down the lane to the farm.  The place was idyllic, with fruit trees, vegetables and herbs growing, and a large, modern building where the cooking classes were held.

Our instructor and guide, Meiling, an outgoing Thai woman spoke excellent English, distributed baskets and taught us about the herbs, fruits, and vegetables used in Thai cooking.  Lemon grass, kefir lime, Thai basil, Thai eggplant… it was a whole new world.  We walked around the farm picking, sampling, leaves, cutting lemon grass, and learning how and when the main vegetables and herbs grow, what they look like, and how they are harvested.

 

Then it was time to prepare the ingredients.  Meiling stood at the head of a long table.  She taught us how to chop the vegetables and what size, to crush the lemon grass, to de-stem the kefir lime.  She instructed us on crushing the ingredients to make our own curry, pounding the chilies and spices into a thick paste.

When we had prepared the ingredients for each of our dishes we moved to the cooking station.  Here she instructed us on the intricacies of cooking.   She showed us how to properly steam rice, both jasmine and sticky varieties. She demonstrated how to stir-fry our pad Thai just so, what to cook first, when to add the dry rice noodles, how to push the veggies aside and fry the egg before mixing everything together.

Though we each were preparing the dishes we chose we also learned the other dishes as our fellow students prepared them.

The dishes I chose were:

Tom Yum (hot and sour prawn soup)

Tom Yum soup is one of my favorites, and I wasn’t in the mood for a coconut milk soup that day so I chose to make this delectable Thai soup.  I’m glad I did – kefir lime leaves and lemon grass make the basis for the broth and it is one of the least complicated things that we made.

Pad Thai

You can get Pad Thai on practically every street corner in Thailand, and it is universally loved.  But I still wanted to learn how to make it myself.  Surprisingly it is much more complicated than I had imagined.  With a list of ingredients a mile long and every step of the stir fry process precise.

Papaya salad

Papaya salad is a delicious spicy salad that I adore in Thailand, but since it is made with green papayas it is difficult to find outside of the tropics, and even harder to make.  I’ve never seen a green papaya in a US grocery store!  To my surprise and delight our finding green mangos outside of the tropics is almost impossible, we told our teacher.

Not to worry, we could use carrots or cucumbers as a substitute.  Though I may not do everything authentically, mixing and muddling ingredients with a large mortar and pestle, I definitely want to try to make the papaya salad with carrots.

Red Curry Paste

I am so happy I can say that I made my own curry once.  I don’t ever need to do it again.  Crushing the chilies and spices into a paste is above

Sweet sticky rice with mango

It is unquestionably my favorite Thai dessert, and probably one of my favorite desserts.  Sweet sticky rice with a mixture of coconut milk, sugar, and salt mixed in and then topped with slices of ripe juicy mango.  It is like sweet, salty, chewy, heaven.

I didn’t think that it would be terribly difficult to make and thankfully it isn’t.  Just make sticky rice, cook the coconut milk with sugar and salt, and then mix them together and top with slices of mango.  I’m glad I but I would never have known that salt were an ingredient if I hadn’t taken the cooking class

 

The last stop was visiting a Thai market in Lamphun.  The vendors must have been used to the cooking school bringing westerners because they barely batted an eye at the 25 westerners gawking at their wares.  We gaped at the make-shift fans to keep the flies away from the whole chickens they sold and marveled at the piles of vegetables we had just learned names for.  The market wasn’t terribly large though, and soon we were at the end.

I joined several girls congregating around one booth at the end of the market their gaze fixed to the vendor’s wares:  huge mounds of limp cricket corpses.

“I’ll eat one if someone else will,” said the petite social worker from LA.

That was all the motivation I needed and quickly volunteered to eat one.  Soon we the entire group was sampling steamed cricket.  It didn’t taste bad, like boiled chicken, the others pronounced.  I can’t vouch, as I haven’t eaten chicken in years.

I probably won’t incorporate cricket in my regular diet, but I’m happy that I at least gave it a chance and it does make sense for people to eat more insects.  After all, insects are an untapped resource with fantastic qualities.  They are easily renewable, high-protein, and don’t taste terrible.  I guess squeamishness is a pretty big obstacle for many people.

I came back to my guest house with an arsenal of new knowledge.  I will probably still buy the pad Thai paste and curry mixes, but I can make more authentic Thai food, and have crossed eating a cricket off of my list of things to do.

If you’re in Chiang Mai try and spend a day learning to cook on an organic farm.  It is a fantastic way to learn about a delectable cuisine and how to cook it yourself.

http://www.chiangmaismartcook.com

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