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A Day at a Thai Cooking Class

Published 21 April 2016

Round the World Experts blogger Helen Winter

Helen Winter

Cooking is something I detest. Being in the kitchen is a chore for me, and I often find myself buddying up with people who can cook as means of survival. This was all going through my head on the morning of my Thai cooking class which I had surprised myself by signing up for but, unbeknown to me, today I wasn’t only going to cook one great meal, but four amazing dishes. Miracles can happen after all.

Learning about food at a Thai market

image: Helen Winter

Learning about our ingredients

Waiting nervously in my hotel lobby and still wondering what on earth I had got myself into, my fears soon disappeared as a cheerful Thai lady walked in wearing a green ‘Thai Farm Cooking School’ T-shirt.  She introduced herself as MB, which she said stood for ‘Most Beautiful’, and today she was going to be my cooking teacher. I let out a sigh of relief, although I hoped not too loudly.

The rest of Thai-chef-wannabes and I headed towards a local market just outside Chiang Mai, where I was staying. Before the market though, we had to choose what we were cooking. We were each given a form and I chose the chicken Thai green curry, shrimp tom yum soup, vegetable spring rolls – which just won over Pad Thai – and a banana and coconut milk dessert.

After handing our forms in, we pulled up to the local market. Mounds of fresh vegetables and fruit were stacked around us, with hot dishes and spices filling the air with exotic aromas. The only shoppers here were the locals, so I knew we’d been taken to a secret spot in Chiang Mai away from the tourists.

MB took us to a stall selling spices and sauces to teach us about the seasonings used in Thai cooking. She showed us oyster sauce, chilli sauce and a Thai favourite, fish sauce, which she informed us is made from anchovies which have been fermenting for a year – not particularly appetising but very flavoursome. Next we were taken to another stall to learn about the various types of noodles and rice. It really is amazing how many different variations there are, and each is prepared and cooked in different ways. Coconut is another ingredient featuring heavily in Thai deserts so we were given a chance to try it freshly grated, which tastes so much fresher than the desiccated coconut I’m used to from the shops back home.

Thai herb garden

image: Helen Winter

Tasting the ingredients

After having time to wander around, it was back to the minibus to head into the Chiang Mai countryside and to the cooking school’s own organic farm. We pulled up among beautiful green fields where a large wooden house stood filled with stoves and worktops, and a shaded outside area where pestles and mortars were lined up ready to make curry paste. Before cooking though, MB said it was important for us to learn about and taste the vegetable and herbs we would be cooking with. With straw hats on to protect ourselves from the intense sun, MB joyfully took us around the farm, plucking herbs from the ground and passing them around to smell and taste. [image:98685]image: Helen Winter

One interesting ingredient we tried was a plum-mango, a green ripe plum MB picked from a small tree; cutting it in half, she revealed a bright purple seed inside, pulled it out and passed around segments of the plums for us to dip into a chilli sauce and eat, which made for a surprisingly delicious snack.

Making Thai green curry paste

image: Helen Winter

Preparing our ingredients

Next it was time to get cooking, and that's when my apprehension increased. Sitting down at the table, MB got us to pass around the ingredients for the curry we were going to make. After chopping the vegetables, we added them to the mortar and started churning but MB wasn’t satisfied until we were all standing and working our arms off to make a smooth paste. Although my arm ached I was distracted by MB’s hilarious jokes; I think that she must moonlight as a comedian as she had a great sense of humour and an even more infectious laugh.

Cooking ingredients

image: Helen Winter

Cooking the dishes

After a dramatic episode of getting chilli in my eye after not covering my mortar properly, it was time to distract myself from the mild burning sensation by actually making my curry. We each lined up in front of a stove and work surface we were given a knife, chopping board, salt and sugar, and all of our ingredients already measured out. It was actually surprising how few ingredients were needed for each dish, which showed me that cooking doesn’t have to be complicated to be good. Standing in the middle, MB yelled out what ingredient was needed for each recipe as other people were also making red or yellow curry, then told us how to cut the herbs and vegetables, and when and how to add them into our pan.

Thai green curry

image: Helen Winter

I was amazed that in less than 20 minutes I was serving up a curry that not only had I made, but it actually looked and smelt good. The surprises continued when we all sat down to eat and my green curry tasted fantastic; in fact it was the best food I’d had in Thailand and I had cooked it! My nerves about cooking for the rest of the day instantly subsided and I was excited to try my hand at more dishes.

Helen cooking

image: Helen Winter

Using a wok

After our worktops had been cleaned by the kitchen staff, it was time to learn how to cook with a wok so that the ingredients won’t burn in the high heat. After making a sweet and sour chicken which was another hit, it was time to make veggie spring rolls, my favourite appetiser in Thailand.

Thai Spring Rolls

image: Helen Winter

I was most nervous about this dish, but it was incredibly easy. Under MB’s watchful eye I cooked my rice noodles and vegetables in the wok, seasoned with sauces and chilli, and then laid it down onto the thin pastry. MB took over slightly here to show me how to fold the first roll correctly – a bit like an envelope it turns out – but then made me do the second all by myself and it looked exactly like MB’s. Again, it was full of flavour and crunch after being deep fried.

Banana in coconut milk

image: Helen Winter

Dessert

At the end of all the food and with my appetite more than satisfied, it was time for just one more dish: a simple desert of banana in coconut milk. We  boiled a banana in coconut milk, added palm sugar and pandan leaves for a hint of vanilla flavour, then sprinkled it with toasted sesame seeds. The other people in my group opted for mango and sticky rice but the banana and coconut milk was a sumptuous light desert to finish with.

Just before the minibus returned to pick us up again after a full day of cooking, we were each given a recipe book to take home. Suffice to say, I’m already considering filling in my application for Come Dine With Me.


If you fancy cooking your own Thai meal, take a look at our Temples, Palaces & Villages Journey which includes a cookery class in Chiang Mai.


You might also like:

An Expat's Expert Guide to Chiang Mai

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