Thai food is delicious. If you’ve ever indulged in South East Asia’s most famous cuisine, then you understand the love many have for the spicy flavors and tastes of Thailand. Daniel and I love it so much that we knew we had to witness first hand how Thai food is prepared. A few weeks ago, we spent the day cooking, learning and eating at the Thai Kitchen Cookery Center in Chaing Mai.
We signed up for a course that offered lessons on how to cook 4 Thai dishes of your choice, chosen from a selection of many. Deciding on 4 dishes was a challenge. We wanted to learn how to cook every one of the Thai dishes we’d eaten day in and day out for the past month. After much chagrin, we finally decided on 4 that satisfied our cravings: Green Papaya Salad, Penang Curry with Chicken, Pad Thai with Shrimp and Tofu and Tom Yum Soup with Shrimp.
After donning ourselves in the red aprons handed to us by our friendly Thai instructors, we set off to a table with giant mortar and pestles awaiting our arrival. I’d seen these archaic contraptions being used to make Papaya Salad throughout the country and was excited at being able to finally use one myself. Our first move was to slice the raw papaya before we could begin mashing all the ingredients together. Once the slicing was done, we added the garlic, small thai chills, coconut sugar, long beans, tomato, dried shrimp, lime juice, fish sauce and peanuts and began mashing. While doing so, I began trying to devise a plan to get one of these oversized mortar and pestles home. However, with limited room in my backpack, I was forced to leave the contraption behind as Daniel and I headed to another table to eat our Papaya Salads. It was a fairly easy recipe without a ton of leg work, and just as tasty as the one’s we’ve eaten from the street stalls.
Post-papaya, we were taken to a table to prepare all the ingredients for the rest of our dishes. We spent a while chopping chills and coriander and slicing ginger and lemongrass with our fantastically animated and lively Thai cooking teacher. She told us stories of past students who’ve come back to Chaing Mai many times, always visiting the cooking school with tales of successful dinner parties, all thanks to her lessons.
After the chopping, it was time to head to the stove. We grabbed our trays of ingredients and nabbed a spot behind two stoves with woks placed atop. The wok is vital to Thai cooking, and gets plates on the table quickly. Because our cooking process would be rather speedy, our teachers wanted us to cook our dishes one after another, instead of stopping to eat after each dish was prepared. We began our stove cooking with the Pad Thai. Thai food is traditionally cooked with soy bean oil instead of olive oil because it can withstand higher heat, and high heat is the standard for Thai cooking. After heating the oil for 20 seconds and tossing in the shrimp, tofu and rice noodles, we added the remaining ingredients including garlic, lime, bean sprouts, sweet spring onion, fish sauce and soy sauce. We finished the dish off by cracking and scrambling in an egg, thus creating our second Thai meal. My pad thai was a little burnt, I think I turned my heat up too high (pictured on the left), but Daniels looked perfect (on the right).
Next up was the Penang Curry. Since we didn’t have the time to prepare it ourselves, the paste for the Penang Curry was already made for us. However, we were told that making the paste was an easy process and can be stored for one week in the refrigerator or a couple of months in the freezer, so it’s good to prepare in bulk. We fried our chicken first and then added the eggplant balls (strange, odd tasting little things), slices of large red chili, sweet basil leaves, kaffir lime leaves, curry paste and coconut cream, creating a smell that was more inviting than the look of the dish inside my wok.
And lastly, we prepared our Tom Yum Soup. Like the curry paste, the Tom Yum Soup paste was prepared before we started cooking and we were told it was also a simple recipe and could be stored. We first scooped some of the paste and a bowl of coconut cream into the wok. As we turned the heat up, we were instructed to let it boil until an aroma filed the air and we could smell a spicy ting. This smell meant the soup was ready for the next ingredients. We then added the shrimp, small thai chilis, tomatoes, mushrooms, coriander and cilantro, ginger, lemongrass and kaffier lemon leaves into the wok. As fun as the cooking had been, the smell was so inviting that I couldn’t wait to dig in.
Finally, we took our three plates of Thai food over to a table and were given some jasmine rice to eat the curry with. The meal looked daunting, there was so much food in front of us. We were skeptical that we wouldn’t be able to finish it all, but fear not-we did. And every bite was more delicious than the next. The Penang Curry was just spicy enough, the Tom Yum just hot enough and the Pad Thai (although a bit burnt) still tasted good.
At the end of our meal, we were given celebratory shots of something that tasted like lime juice mixed with tequila (not good), and two certificates with our names printed on them stating that we had successfully completed the course. I’ll probably hang mine on my wall at home, right next to my degree. And as we were walking out, full and educated, we were each handed a Thai Kitchen Cookery Center cookbook, complete with the ingredients and recipes for our four meals, as well as many other Thai dishes. So prepare yourselves for our return, friends, we’re having a Thai Dinner Party!