Saturday, November 19, 2011

My First Cooking School

Silom Thai Cooking School
Our instructor, Nusi

There are many cooking schools here in Thailand. They are a popular tourist attraction but also a great way to learn what you are eating and how to prepare it. I recently took a class with the Silom Thai Cooking School. It is run by an adorable couple in the upstairs portion of there home in the middle of busy Bangkok.

We met them early in the morning to first go to the large morning market. This was the market that all the vendors would come to to buy all their supplies for the day. There was live seafood, live chickens and hens and any kind of vegetable you can image. I saw so many things I had never seen before and was being taught about all the different types of food around. I learned that Thai’s have 3 types of basil: sweet basil, spicy basil and lime basil. Thai’s also have 2 types of cilantro: the regular kind we are used to and a long think weed like cilantro that has and much more potent taste. They also have 3 kinds of ginger: normal ginger, galangal ginger, which is much more earthy and turmeric ginger, which is rich with an orange color. This culture also has 2 types of limes: normal limes and Kaffir limes which are a staple to the taste and smell of Thai food. Thai’s have many different kinds of most of the food that we are used to. I think this is what makes their food so amazing and so tasty. They focus on the freshness of the food and the different elements a dish can bring. Thai’s want their food to be spicy, sweet and sour. All of these things mixed make for a great dish. We first learned how to make sticky rice and make our own Thai coconut milk. Both of which are staples and necessary for this food.

Tom Yum Soup
The first dish that we prepared was a very popular Thai dish, Tom Yum Soup (Tom Yum Koong). This is a sweet and spicy soup with shrimp. This soup has a distinct milky red color from the coconut milk and the spicy chili paste. It also has Kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, fish sauce, galangal ginger and many different vegetables. This soup is beaming with flavor. Its tastes are so strong and so defined that it is hard to not like. I could eat this soup with every meal, assuming that it is made well. Some restaurants try to take shortcuts which is easily noticeable and not the way to go. I also had this dish when I went to the Grand Palace, the King’s palace. It was also very good there and one of my first, most memorable meals. This is a soup that cannot be challenged nor can it be changed.

Pad Thai
The second dish that we made is a dish that everyone is familiar with: Pad Thai (Pad Thai Sai Kai). A good Pad Thai needs tamarind, fish sauce, garlic, and palm sugar. The mix between the  tamarind and the sweet palm sugar makes the rice noodles taste great. It was such a simple dish. Just cut the vegetables, put in the spices and stir-fry the noodles. I finished the noodles with some shrimp,dried chilies, peanuts and lime. This was such an easy dish, which seems to be a similar pattern that I am leaning with Thai cooking. It’s all about the ingredients and the freshness of what you are putting in the dish.

Laab or Chicken Salad
The third dish we made was a type of laab, or cold salad (Laab Gui). We made a Thai style chicken salad, that is available anywhere you go. We took boiled minced chicken and mixed it with mint, Thai cilantro, fish sauce, lime, dried chilies and shallots. After adding some green onions at the end we mixed it all together and put it on the plate. Again this dish was so simple yet so complex. It takes the normal chicken salad that Americans are so used and puts it to shame. It was served with sticky rice and enjoyed cold.

Green curry paste
Our fourth dish we made was Thai green curry past and green curry with chicken (Nam Prik Gaeng Khaeo Wan). Most curry that we find in the States is premade and processed with many preservatives. This curry was made fresh and tasted the way it should.  Any curry requires many different ingredients and a lot of hard work. First, we chopped all of the ingredients: green chilies, birds eye red and green chilies, lemon grass, galangal ginger, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, garlic, coriander root, turmeric ginger, cumin seeds peppercorns and shrimp paste. All of these are necessary for a good green curry. We mixed all of these things in a mortar and pestle making the mixture nice and smooth. This took almost a half an hour and a lot of muscle work. We then took the curry paste mixed it with coconut milk, sweet basil, and more kaffir lime leaves, ginger, palm sugar and fish sauce. Many people think that curry should be of a watery consistency but it should not. We mixed the curry on a high fire for quite some time until it became nice and thick, coating the chicken that was boiled in the mixture. The curry was served with white and brown jasmine rice. It was so flavorful and without a doubt the best curry I have ever had in my life. I loved this curry so much.
Green Curry and white and black jasmine rice

Rubies in Coconut Milk
Our last dish was a typical Thai style dessert: Rubies in coconut milk (Tub Tim Brob). We took turnip, cut them into small cubes and soaked half of them in water and half of them in red food coloring, just for the color. After that, we coated the cubes in tapioca flour and then boiled them in hot water until they floated. The tapioca flour makes a thick jelly like coating on the outside for the turnip. We then took sweetened coconut water, which was warmed and placed the “rubies” in the milk. This is such a typical dessert in Thailand. They love their “jelly like” sweets, which are a textural thing; many of them don’t really have much flavor. This dish was very different from what I am used to but also very good.

This experience is one that I will never forget and something that I will be able to use in my later life. I learned so much from this school. I am so grateful that Thailand gives these great opportunities and plan of taking advantage of what they have to offer. With my knowledge from this school I now am confident that I can some cook thai food, and cook it well. 
Thai rices

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