Friday, June 17, 2011

Cooking In Chiang Mai

We decided that we should definitely take a cooking class while in Thailand and something about being in the more rustic North of Thailand made it the ideal setting to do such a thing.

After we returned from our trek through the jungle we returned to Terry the travel agent and told him that we wanted to do a half day cooking class and that we needed somewhere to stay in Phuket when we arrived at 2am.

Terry got on the phone and did what he does best – made our trip easy and memorable. Moments later we were booked in for a cooking class that would go from about 9am til 1:30. We debated doing a whole day class but with only one day left in Chiang Mai we were looking forward to the ability to go check out the Sunday market and just take it easy.

We spent the evening at the Night Bazaar, eating enormous helpings of mango sticky rice and looking at all the things that were available to buy.

The next morning we were awake early... well, I was. 6:30 to be exact. I don’t know what had me awake so early but I was up and ready to go. However, the boys were not and when I should have been going to get something to eat I was waiting for them. Silly me. Eventually they got moving and we went for a coffee down the road. Back to the hostel we went, gathered up our stuff and left it in the locked cupboard for the day, since we had to check out of our room but weren’t flying out until late that night.

We waited for the cooking class company to pick us up, reminiscing about the fun we’d already had and pondering what else might happen to us before we had to return to Canada. The bus arrived and we met some more people who were also doing the class. We were given a sheet to choose what food we wanted to make. We had the choice of a noodle or rice dish, a curry paste and corresponding curry dish and a meat dish. I chose to make the fried noodles with basil, penang curry and paste and the cashew chicken. Also, because we were only doing half a day we didn’t get to choose our dessert but we would get the opportunity to learn how to make fried bananas in coconut toffee syrup. Drool!!

We headed off to the market where our guide gave us a lesson on the different veggies and spices used in Thai cooking. We learned about all the different types of basil and how to tell the difference, saw the Thai Long Beans (seriously, those are some long beans! Can be like, 18-24inches long!) and were shown different types of roots etc. We also learned about the different types of oil used (pretty much everything but olive oil because it doesn’t fry well) and chillies – aka Thai Chocolates, because the Thais like chillies the way us north Americans like chocolate.

After our lessons we had time to wander around the market while the guide gathered up all the necessary foods to make the meals we had selected. Because I was still starving from the fact that I had been up since 6:30 and hadn’t eaten anything, I grabbed a fruit smoothy to tide me over. This was probably the silliest thing I could have done. But I didn’t realize that we would be eating so soon!

From the market we headed to the cooking school where we set to work almost immediately. We were divided up based on the foods we wanted to make. We were given instructions on how to chop up our foods and then directed to our own work stations with a wok. The instructors showed us what to do and we set to work cooking our meals. The first thing we made was the fried noodles. They gave us all the foods ready to go, premeasured and in little bowls. Man it must be nice to have a sous chef when cooking! We sauted the garlic put the chicken in, then the fish sauce, and other veggies, move it around the wok and voila! I know, it sounds so easy. It actually was. After our dish was done we were led into a nice air conditioned room where we could sit down with our cooking partners and taste the food we’d made. It was amazing.

After the noodles we went back out and learned how to make curry paste – from scratch. It’s not easy. It requires a mortar and pestle and a lot of brute strength. Thank god there were boys in the group that wanted to show off their skills. Once the paste was ready we were sent back to our work stations and baskets with the rest of the ingredients needed to make our curry dish appeared. We followed the instructions and all of a sudden the ingredients in front of us transformed into some amazing looking dinners.

While the curries were simmering we got to work making our second main dish. Mine was the cashew chicken. We did our chopping, and then back to the woks. Mixed up the food, again, all given to us ready to go... when done put it on a plate, grabbed our now finished curry and back into the air con’ed room where some rice was awaiting us. We tried out what we made. I fell in love with the curry. Red curry (in this case Penang red curry) is amazing. Must be the coconut milk. I’d made mine extra spicy... it was amazing.
At this point I was completely stuffed. I’m talking can’t-eat-another-bite-damn-you-Alanna-why-did-you-get-that-smoothy stuffed. Thank god the only thing left to eat was the fried bananas. The three of us were the only ones who were doing the half day, so I can’t imagine how the rest of the class was going to cope with a soup and appetizers still to come before dessert.

We got a chance to rest, which was much needed because I don’t know how I was possibly going to eat another bite. Eventually they called us over to the cooking area again and showed us how to make the fried bananas. It was actually very easy. And I could see my waistline growing before even taking a bite. Butter, coconut sugar (made from the flowers of the coconut plant, tastes a lot like maple sugar in my opinion), bananas, coconut cream. Nothing about this dessert was healthy. But man was it delicious.

Once the cooking was all finished, they presented us each with a cookbook with all the ingredients and instructions on how to make the meals we’d created that day and all the meals that were usually offered by the cooking class. All my favourites – mango sticky rice, red curry, etc, they were all there. So excited to be able to stretch my cooking skills at home.

We left the cooking school in search of something to do, but being so full the best we could come up with was sitting under a mist machine at a patio we found walking home. The heat was unbearable after eating so much so we enjoyed a few glasses of beer Chang before doing some more walking around. 

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