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Getting my Hands Dirty with Thai Cooking

I’ve always loved Thai food and especially the Thai curries, whether they are green, red or even yellow. And I know that I can cook a pretty decent curry! However I felt like I owned it to myself to learn a bit more about the Thai cooking now that I was spending more time in Chiang Mai.

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So here I was, at a cooking school, taking my small basket as we headed to the local market to get our ingredients for the day. I have been to Thai markets quite a few times, but it does help to have a local guide.

For example, we learned that there isn’t just one eggplant in Thailand; there are actually eight of those things. One of these other mystery eggplants was the pea eggplant, which unsurprisingly looks like a pea, but definitely doesn’t taste like one. And unfortunately this pea eggplant is always included in green curries in Thailand. No, not a huge fan of that particular eggplant, but then again, I haven’t met a single westerner who is.

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As we got back from the market, our little baskets full of fresh ingredients; we decided to start with a stir fry instead of an appetizer. Stir fries are of course the basic staple for Thai cuisine. While I was tempted to make the normal pad Thai (which I love), I opted for something a bit more ambitious and decided to try making stir fried prawns with curry powder.

We first prepped all the ingredients on our cutting boards before moving on to the woks, which is where all the cooking happens in Thailand. Once we turned our gas stoves on, things suddenly turned Top Chef style. “Don’t stop stirring!”, “Have you added fish sauce yet?”, “Quick, the shrimps”, “more water, it’s too dry”, “Does it need more sugar?”, “Stir faster” , … “Yes Chef!”

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Stir frying is done at a really high temperature, so everything has to happen very quickly. Even when you are adding ingredients you have to keep on stirring the wok. So it was a blurry five minutes of trying to remember what to add when, while constantly stirring the wok.

Still, the end result was impressive and tasted as if done by a professional chef – even if I say so myself!

Next we worked on an appetizer, spicy mango salad in my case. This is where the question of, how spicy do you want it, came up. Our teacher showed us one chili and said, mild; Two chilies, spicy; three chilies, very spicy. Then she took a handful and said, Thai spicy. Nice. I opted for four, confident in my ability with spicy foods.

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This, however turns out, wasn’t one of my best decisions. The salad was good, but four chilies were too damn spicy. My face was sweating as I “enjoyed” my spicy salad. And this wasn’t even Thai spicy!

Next came the curries, and instead of going for the green curry, which I actually claim to be able to cook already, I opted for the Panaeng curry. So we did our curry paste as a group effort, as we chopped some forty chillies with various other ingredients and mashed it all together with an actual stone mortar and pestle. From the base chili paste we then continued to make our own curries; I was now a bit more careful with my spices.

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For desert, I went for the Mango with sticky rice, purely on a recommendation from a girl who had described it as an orgasm that explodes in your mouth. And while I am not a huge fan of things exploding in my mouth, it still sounded pretty awesome. And it was pretty damn good; I probably wouldn’t describe it as an orgasm exploding in my mouth, but then again, maybe it’s different for girls.

Mango with sticky rice is actually pretty simple to do. The mango is just a fresh mango all cut up. And for the sticky rice, you first make your sticky rice by steaming it, and then you mix it with coconut milk and sugar and leave it to settle for few hours.

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So did I actually learn anything from this day? Yes, I think so, thou it will be a while before I get to try out my newly learned Thai cooking skills in practise. I have however already had people commit themselves to trying out my Thai dishes once I am back in the old continent. Pretty brave from them!

Have you done cooking schools when you’ve been traveling?

20 Comments

  1. Fantastic, I love Thai food. Nothing like learning how to make it from the basic, authentic ingredients. Oh, and that girls description of the mango pudding made me laugh big time.
    Sam recently posted..Salt Lake City – Mountains, Mormons & BeerMy Profile

    • Yeah, it was a good to see how to make things from fresh local ingredients. That description still makes me laugh every time I see mango with sticky rice :)

  2. Thai food… mmmm… I love Thai food. As soon as I got back from Bangkok was made a photo post about Thai food. Of course.
    hot & sour praw soup looks pretty good!!!

    Here’s my Thai food- street version. :) : http://runawayjuno.com/2011/04/20/my-bangkok-journal-food-edition/
    Juno recently posted..Dirty History of Casco Bay, Portland, MaineMy Profile

    • Thai food is so good! And I know what you mean, I think I could write whole months posts just from Thai food 😉 And your photos from Bangkok look so delicious!

  3. No, I have not done a cooking class in my travels, but more and more people seem to be doing it and I’m likely going to as well, particularly in Spain. I do love Thai food, most notably their curries because it has coconut milk (an ingredient that a lot of curries do not have). Looks like a really fun activity.
    Sherry recently posted..“Playing with Endangered Sea Turtles”My Profile

    • Yeah, I think they are becoming more popular these days; and for a reason, would be nice to be able to make some of the great dishes for your friends. I love the Thai curries, coconut milk is one of the best ingredients for cooking!

  4. We did a cooking class in Chiang Mai too and loved it. I was so stuffed though after eating everything we cooked!
    Erin recently posted..Off the Beaten Track in Northern LaosMy Profile

  5. God I miss Thai food. Unfortunately most Thai places here in Southern California don’t compare. That’s probably one of the only downsides of traveling: foreign food at home doesn’t taste as good when you’ve had authentic food from the actual country!
    Chris recently posted..You Know You’re a Backpacker If….My Profile

    • That is definitely one of the downsides of traveling, you get to taste all the great local food around, and it just isn’t the same when you are back home!

  6. I’ve done quite a few cooking classes while traveling; in Thailand, Bali and Italy. Most of them have been pretty basic, to the point where I’ve said I won’t do any more until it’s a cuisine I have no experience cooking, like Indian. But they certainly are a fun way to get to know a culture.
    Your Penang curry looks great!
    Kristina recently posted..Naples at NightMy Profile

    • I suppose there is a question of how much you can learn about cooking food from one culture in a single day. And you are right about getting more benefit from it, if it’s actually food you don’t have any idea how to even start making. I also want to learn to cook Indian food, it’s so good!

  7. I dont doubt they taste amazing but they dont have the polished look that you get with western dishes!
    Lassa recently posted..Stop your heartburnMy Profile

  8. Mmm, it all looks good! To me the little pea eggplants kind of taste like overgrown starchy peas, but they taste pretty good when they are smothered in tasty curry sauce!
    Mark Wiens recently posted..Photo Favorite: Morning Alms Collection by Buddhist MonksMy Profile

    • Almost everything tastes good when it is smothered in tasty curry sauce! :)

  9. Yum!!! Love your blog and all that thai food is making me hungry!
    Nessie recently posted..5 Trips To Get You In Shape In 2012My Profile

    • Thanks :) That is the problem with uploading photos of food to the blog, you know it’s going to make people hungry, myself included!

  10. I am curently in Tailand and am cooking eating and loving the aray of foods here. I’ll be back Thailand. See you soon.

    • The food in Thailand is simply amazing. I know I have to go there back also…

  11. I got to experience making Thai food in Chiang Mai and it was one of the highlights of my trip in Thailand. I have a new appreciation for making curry – it’s quite the process :)
    Nomadic Samuel recently posted..Teach English in Taiwan | Bamboo ButterflyMy Profile

    • Making a curry is indeed actually quite the process if you make the curry paste yourself (which you of course do if you are doing a cooking course). I think I might resort to buying ready curry paste back home 😉