Let me let you on a secret: I am never allowed inside my home’s kitchen ALONE for more than 10 minutes. With an intuitive time clock built into her system, the missus of the family will come check on me to see if I have something up my sleeves when the time is up.
I have never burnt down a kitchen before. It’s just that I never had the habit of cleaning up the kitchen after a meal. One cook, the other cleans up? The universal law of the home kitchen, no? In the missus’ book, you cook, you clean up.
So in my recent trip to Chiang Mai, I found myself with some time on my hands and decided it was time to jump in head first to an idea I’d been thinking about: Including culinary journeys on my blog. Hence I did a search for a cooking school that in the vicinity and decided to check out Asia Scenic Cooking School, located only a few minutes walk from Tha Pae Gate in the old city of Chiang Mai.
Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School has one mission: to teach the art of cooking. It’s one of the top choices in Chiang Mai for learning about authentic Thai cuisine. Cooking and culture are greatly intertwined here, evidenced by their slogan: “All Thai people can cook, but not all Thai people can teach you how to cook.”
I can’t wait to get started.
Our instructor for the day is Pare, who had just graduated from university and started working here as a full-time instructor six months ago. She spoke in fluent English and brought us a tour of the mini farm garden within the premise of the cooking school where we were taught the different types of ingredients used in cooking thai food. Joining the class were nine others from Ireland, Spain, and the Netherlands.
Was amazed to see that this little garden has so many varieties – from chillies (red, green, yellow) to gingers (lemongrass, galangal, turmeric) and basil leaves (hot, sweet and lemon).
Next we went to the local market – 5 minutes walk away from the school. It was very lively and colorful market with wide varieties of fruits and vegetables laid out. We learnt about difference types of rice and noodles; and were also introduced to sauces that are used in food preparation.
After an informative and eventful walk, its back to the school and our cooking classes commences. Each had their individual food preparation area and cooking stations.
Thai food is probably more famous than the historical sights or amazing beaches that the nation has to offer. What makes it so popular the world over? It’s because Thai cuisine is a perfect blend of the East meeting the West.
The traditional forms of Thai cooking involve stewing and grilling. China brought in stir-frying techniques. As more people from around the world discovered the beauty of Thailand, the food culture began adapting the best components of each culture. That’s why you’ll see some French techniques, Japanese sophistication, and Dutch wholesomeness combined in a uniquely Thai fashion.
It’s time to begin cooking!
Pad Thai is a famous staple of Thai cuisine. Most commonly found in local Thai eateries and street stalls, Pad Thai has become a dish that the locals know and love and that tourists seek out on their visits to Thailand. The dish is made up of rice noodles that are stir-fried with eggs, firm tofu and occasionally different meats and seafood.
It is often flavored with various condiments including fish sauce, garlic, onions, red chili pepper and palm sugar. It almost always comes with a garnish of a lime wedge, beans sprouts, and coriander. During World War II it became one of the country’s national dishes and is often featured in the media as one of the world’s top dishes to try.
I simply love this dish and usually prefers the street hawkers’ version over what they serve in the higher-end restaurants… maybe it’s the price tag. 50B vs 250B? Or maybe I prefer eating in a more relaxed atmosphere. I find that the hawkers’ wok up a more scrumptious meal than the restaurants that are often much mellowed in their taste. As I’m looking at my Pad Thai attempt, I secretly wished that the end results would match a hawker over a Michelin chef.
Thai Spring Rolls
Known as Po Pia or Poh Pia Sod in Thai, these spring rolls come mostly fried and have origins that trace back to China. This item typically appears on Thai menus as appetizers and most often consists of an egg roll wrapper around sliced cabbage, ear mushroom, minced pork, bean sprouts, glass noodles and cucumber.
The filling varies greatly across the country and within different restaurants, but seafood and chicken are the most common players. Fried spring rolls are best dipped in sweet chili sauce and fresh rolls are dipped in a spicy and sour sauce. They are seemingly loved by everyone as they are easy to eat, delicious and are usually not very spicy.
Forget about the fried spring rolls that you find displaying in a stall. You don’t know how long those have been sitting there. If they’ve been out there for a while, chances are you’ll get them lukewarm with hardened skins that are difficult to bite through. The best spring rolls that one can taste are the ones fresh from the wok. The crunchy sound as it enters your mouth and hot flavors within the roll is one potent combination!
I learned the art of rolling a spring roll (also illustrated in Asia Scenic’s cookbook) and to prepare one that looks palatable on the dining plate. I can’t help but feel just a tinge of pride in the end results. It’s simple, yet beautiful.
Translating literally to sweet green curry in Thai, the name is derived from its green chili given color. The color is so specific that the “sweet” in the title refers to the particular shade of color in the dish and not the actual taste of the curry itself.
With a coconut milk base, this curry tends to be more aromatic and milder than others. The primary protein in this dish is typically meat, fish or fish balls, and other ingredients include green curry paste, fish sauce, palm sugar, vegetables, and Thai eggplants.
The curry paste plays a vital role in the dish and this generally consists of salt, shrimp paste, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, red turmeric, kaffir lime, garlic, roasted cilantro, galangal, white peppercorns, roasted cilantro leaves, and cumin seeds. When cooking green curry, the paste must be fried with the coconut cream before the rest of the ingredients are added to the dish.
After everything has been cooked, it is garnished with Thai basil and fresh kaffir lime leaves. Green curry is usually eaten with a side of white rice but when it is made to be thicker, it can be served with a side of roti as well.
Each of us was given a choice to prepare the type of curry we wished to consume. Out of the 10 participants, I was surprised that I was the only one who chose green curry – the other choices were Red Curry, Panang Curry, and Khaw Soi Curry. Perhaps those foreigners associated curry with red chilies and having something served in green looked weird to them.
By the time we each had prepared our curries, the rich aroma of the coconut curry permeates through each nose of my fellow mates. Everyone came over and just had to have a try of my green curry.
I have been discovering lately; a culinary journey is just as important as reaching a summit for sunrise or enjoying an evening with friends around a campfire. Food is a statement about who we are as individuals, as a community, and even as a culture.
There is so much conflict in the world today. We are so concerned about who is right and who is wrong that we forget that we have so much in common. Even if it is just through food, we can be ambassadors every day through our culinary journeys. Our differences always seem to go away when there is something amazing in front of us.
Come join us in the coming weeks and months for new culinary paths to explore. If you’ve had an amazing culinary experience, please feel free to share it with us. It’s been said that a cord of three strands is not easily broken – with food, perhaps we can add a fourth strand to our relationships.
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