Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Thai Cooking Course

I bloody love Thai food so I had wanted to do a cooking course for quite a while in Thailand but had never found the time to do one. It was only Tommy and myself doing the cooking course as Pete had already done one in Bangkok and also was a strict Vegan so obviously didn't really want to be cooking with all the dead animals that we would be. When I booked the course I wasn't sure how long we were going to be in Chiang Mai for as our time in Asia was running out and we still had to make it to Laos. Therefore, regrettably now, I only booked a short half day cooking course. In the end we ended up moving our flight back a week which would have given me the time to have done a full day or even a 2 day course which I would have much preferred to have done. However at the time a half day is all I thought I would be able to fit in so that's what I did. The course would involve a trip to a local Thai market and then picking a number of dishes off a set menu which I would then be taught how to cook properly.

The first thing I did before I did any cooking was to have a guided tour around one of the local Thai markets. My teacher showed me all the various ingredients that were used in Thai cooking showing me some I was familiar with and some I had been eating my whole time in Thailand and didn't have a clue what they were. It was good being able to put a name to some of the tastes and smells I had been experiencing in Thailand all this time. My teacher would quiz me as I went round to see what I was remembering as well as getting me to smell and touch all the ingredients to get a better feel of them. I was then given some time to explore the market a bit more by myself seeing the things on show and asking any questions I had about the place. It wasn't me first time around a market place in Thailand, I had been to loads before, but it was good finally being able to understand what was going on and learn a bit about the place.

I was given a list of dishes I could make and told to choose 5 from that list I wanted to make. As I was doing the course with Tommy I suggest we made sure we both choose different things from the list so that even though we only got to make 5 each I could at least see how Tommy's dishes were made and vice versa. I choose to make Thai style spring rolls, a coconut milk based soup, Pad Thai, which is basically fried noodles with either meat or seafood and a peanut sauce, a red curry paste and then a Panag curry. The Panang curry was not on the actual list we were given but I asked if I could make this as I had already made a green and red curry from scratch back home so wanted to try something new. I would have learned a lot more about the green or red curries cooking it the actual Thai way, rather than from the more westernized recipes I had used but I thought I would cool to do a curry I had never done before.

Once we had chosen our dishes we were then shown what ingredients went in to them, how to prepare the ingredients and then at what stage of the cooking process each ingredient went in. The general gist of it was that all the ingredients were cut up and prepared in advance and then left on the plate in separate piles. The first thing to go in would be the coconut milk or whatever the base of the soup was going to be and then the meat. After that the vegetables and main flavors and spices would then follow either by themselves or in various combinations depending on how you wanted the dish to come out. She then explained how Thai cooking could then be modified during and after the cooking process by a number of ingredients to suit the tastes of whoever was going to be eating it. These would involve making the dish either sweeter, more or less salty and hotter (as well as a few other variations i cant remember). This could be done by adding such things as chillies, oyster sauce, sugar, fish sauce and sugar. At one point the teacher got me to taste my dish and then ask how I thought it needed to change. I suggested it needed a bit more salt, to my surprise I hit the nail on the head as she said perfect. At that point hadn't a clue what I was doing so it was just a lucky guess really.

Cooking the dishes were so simple there was literally nothing to it and it would only take a matter of minutes from start to finish. The hardest thing about the whole process is just getting the ingredients in the first place, especially as back home they wont be so widely available. The finished products were unreal and I couldn't believe I had just made them, they just seemed like the sorts of things that would be so hard to make but in reality were a piece of piss.

When we finished we were asked to sign the little visitors book, they took some photos of us and our dishes and then were given a little recipe book containing about 50 various Thai recipes. I had hoped to be given one so that I would be able to continue making proper Thai food when I get back to England, so was real pleased about that. One of the best bits about the course was that normally there are about 12 other people on the course at the same time with still just the one teacher. As we had come to Chiang Mai during the low season it meant that it was just myself and Tommy in the kitchen so we had almost one on one tuition which was a right bonus. I really enjoyed my cooking course and was quite disappointed I couldn't have done a slightly longer one. All in all though was a great experience and will defiantly be trying a few more dishes when I come home.

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