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Thai Home Cooking Classes
In Thailand, cooking can be a metaphor for life. So be careful who is watching when you grind the chillies but you will learn how to cook great Thai meals in a Thai Cooking Class.
AS luck would have it, l’m not cut out to be a good cook. My son on the other hand is a natural. This gender role switch comes to us as we pound lemongrass and chili while wearing matching aprons.
We’ve enrolled in a private Thai cooking class in Bangkok and our teacher, Angsana, praises his mortar and pestle prowess while admonishing mine.
Time To Cook Thai Food
“Bang, bang, bang! Hit it,” she says. According to Thai folklore, a woman’s – ahem – banging skills in the kitchen will tell a suitor whether she’s marriage material.
Someone who pounds ingredients slowly, methodically and with suitable force will bring the same patience and order to a marriage. That would be The Boy.
Someone who haphazardly hits at the ingredients in the vain hope that they will eventually resemble what they’re supposed to will bring chaos, disorder and a trail of wet towels to the home. Surprisingly, it sums up our living arrangement pretty well.
As part of our eating odyssey through Thailand, we thought it would be good to learn how to make some of our favourite Thai dishes.
We meet Angsana at On Nut station, a few skytrain stops from the centre of Bangkok. She has had more than 10 years of experience educating westerners on the difference between ginger and galangal.
As part of the half-day class, not only do you get to cook your dishes, you also get to go shopping for the ingredients — which is where the fun begins.
Thai Food Markets
Angsana takes us to a nearby market, where she rifles through piles of prawns for the freshest ones – we learn that if the head is firm and clear, it’s fresh.
Each district has its own market and, because most houses in Bangkok have small kitchens, shopping is a daily ritual. Mornings are peak periods, as it is cooler and that is when the meat is fresher.
The covered outdoor market is split into three sections: seafood, meat and vegetables. The seafood section features everything from live turtles – for releasing into the river for good luck we’re told, not for eating – to river fish such as eel, catfish and snake head fish.
Fresh carcasses, hung and proudly displayed in the meat section, are cut to order while pushy vegetable sellers try to offload older produce while Angsana pushes back and picks the freshest offerings. As she carefully scrutinises, sniffs and squeezes limes she tells us that she’s looking for the softest ones, as they have more juice.
Back at Angsana’s we swap our shoes for kitchen slippers as we step into the outdoor kitchen. An outdoor kitchen is the norm in larger Thai households, because it allows the heat, smoke and chilli smells to escape.
Most of Angsana’s students are Australian and US tourists, with the top dishes being pad Thai, tom yum goong and green curry. We go with the first two and a red duck curry.
It turns out that pad Thai isn’t a local dish, rather something that panders to tourists’ tastes.
Pad see ew with gai lan is the local’s preferred noodle choice, which is why, Angsana tells us, it can be hard to get a good pad Thai in Thailand.
Angsana guides us through all three dishes, serving up instructions and letting us do all the work from peeling the prawns and reserving the heads for the soup to dissolving the tamarind paste with palm sugar for the pad Thai.
Thai cooking is a fiddly, labour-intensive process, requiring a lot of steps and ingredients. Our dream of ditching the takeaway flyers for authentic home-cooked meals is evaporating as quickly as the tom yum is bubbling.
Even Angsana admits that she only cooks Thai food a few times a week and the culture of women spending a day in the kitchen is slowly changing.
A traditional Thai meal with soup, salad, noodles and curry takes an entire afternoon to prepare.
With more Thai women working and an abundance of street food vendors selling cheap meals on most street corners, even the locals are turning to takeaway.
Time To Eat
After spending two hours slicing, peeling, pounding and stirring to make three dishes I’m inclined to agree with her. But then it’s time to eat and suddenly all that work is made worthwhile.
It might not be as good as a street vendor’s, but it’s a damn sight better than some of the dodgier local Thai joints at home. Maybe we will ditch those flyers after all.
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