Monday, June 13, 2011

Thai cooking 101

Thai cooking class

It's no mystery, everyone knows I love to cook and that food would be a popular topic on this blog. So, when I saw that Thai cooking classes were almost as popular as massage parlors in Chiang Mai, I knew this was the place for me.
When I arrived in Chiang Mai I picked up every brochure the hostel had for cooking classes. I poured over them, agonized which was the best (and cheapest). Do I do 1, 2, or 3 day class? Finally I decided that the 3 day organic farm school was the one for me. I got a discount for taking all 3 days, they picked me up from my hostel, and let us bring left overs home (hello dinner!).
Every day they would collect me and my fellow chefs-for-the day and take us to the market for a little tutorial in Thai rice, curry, and sauce. Next we would travel about 25 minutes outside of the city to the farm. Just minutes outside the city the lush mountains ringed by clouds became the backdrop to rice paddies, farm land, and animals. My fellow chefs and I donned our aprons and hats and headed into the gardens for a lesson in Thai herbs, vegetables, and plants. The gorgeous smells of kaffir lime, Thai ginger, and holy basil tickled my olfactory senses till I was dizzy (then again it may have been the heat and lack of food...)
It was finally time to get down to business and cook! I learned to pound and grind my curry paste into a spicy aromatic glowing glue from the depths of my mortar and pestle. Pound harder! Big muscles! the teachers would shout to egg us on. The room was filled with the sounds of eager students pounding the daylights out of lime, lemongrass, turmeric, garlic, and chilies into brightly hued pastes.  I delighted in the simplicity of rubbing salt between my fingers again. I happily moved into the occupied bliss of slicing and chopping.
 What did I do with my paste you might be wondering? I made curry of course! Delicious and spicy green, yellow, and Massaman curries that were so delightfully complex in flavor you could cry. This also may have been all the chilies, I'm trying to build my tolerance! Thai smiling or Thai crying? Next, we made soup, trying to find the right balance of the 4 S's in Thai cooking: sweet, salty, spicy, and sour. The Thais combine many things that most people would cringe at, to find this balance. Fruit vendors line the street selling cut up mango, pineapple, and melons that you get with little bags of sour or spicy sugar. It's an unexpected and yummy combination. I digress! Back to class! After soup making was completed we moved on to chicken with cashew, chicken with basil, or papaya salad. Once our three course lunch was done, it was time to eat!
Can we say rice coma? So much delicious and amazing food. Everyone literally ate themselves silly, it was so yummy. After the first day I learned that you could take it home with you, so I always saved something for dinner.
A little rest and then it was back to the kitchen for lessons in spring roll assembling and pad Thai. These were always promptly placed in bags to be taken home, because nobody could fathom eating another morsel. Plus, we still had dessert to make! Eye on the prize people, eye on the prize! Mangoes with sticky rice, banana or pumpkin in creamy coconut milk finished off some of the best Thai food I've had since coming to the country. Granted, I might be a little biased since I made it myself, but hey, can you blame me?

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