Cooking Class in Thailand

30 Jan

The first thing people seem to ask you when you get back from a vacation is “How was it? What was the best part?” Some people answer with “The people, they were just so welcoming!” or “The culture. Said country was just so rich in culture”. For me, it is always about the food. Having returned from Thailand just two weeks ago, my memories of the food are still very vivid. And how could they not be? Bold, spicy flavours tend to leave a lasting impression.

One of the highlights of my trip to Thailand was participating in a Thai cooking class. There is no shortage of opportunities to attend a cooking class in Thailand. Almost every place we visited was offering a class of some sort but the most well-known place to take a class is Chang Mai. We didn’t have enough time to visit Chang Mai so we did our class in Ko Samui at a school called SITCA (Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts). For just over $60 CAD the class, which went for about 4 hours, was well worth the money.

Dishes that we would spend the afternoon tackling were:

  • Spicy prawn salad
  • Deep fried spring rolls
  • Massaman chicken curry (including handmade curry paste)

After years of being spoilt with Massaman curry in my hometown of Darwin, it is one of the dishes that I find the hardest to replicate. My family and I chose this class mostly because we wanted to learn how to make a proper Massaman curry from scratch.

After having completed a number of cooking classes here in Vancouver, I was a little stunned when we arrived at SITCA. This is Thailand after all so health and safety requirements are definitely not on par with Canada. Health and safety red flags were:

1/ We weren’t encouraged to wash our hands before starting the class,

2/ We weren’t told to wear covered shoes (Hello?! We are cooking with hot oil!),

3/ The kitchen assistants were constantly trying to clean up around you whilst you are in the middle of chopping ingredients. I almost accidentally sliced a few hands that were getting in my way!

Hmmmm, a professional kitchen it was not but fun, it definitely was.

First up, we used a mortar and pestle to pound our own Massaman curry paste and it was a lot of work! We were told that if you use a food processor that the end result just won’t be as good – it’s the hard way, or no way! I watched the way that the instructor used the mortar and pestle and he used a rolling motion, rather than just an up-and-down motion so I copied that and it seemed to work well.

The best tip I learnt was using red peppers (not chilies) to add colour and depth to the paste, and when a Thai person says that 5 chilies makes your dish mild and 10 will make it extremely hot, don’t believe them! 3 chilies was hot enough (I stupidly added 4). Once the paste was combined we allowed it to sit for an hour or two whilst we constructed the rest of the dishes.

The next dish was the spicy prawn salad. Now this was the dish I needed when I got sick a few days earlier – this was a salad that cleansed the sinuses! The colours of the dish were so vibrant and the flavours were a salty/sour/spicy combination which is exactly what Thai cuisine is known for.

My favourite part was cooking the prawns in boiling flavoured water for exactly 20 seconds and watching them go from grey to light pink immediately. I realize now that I’ve been cooking my prawns completely wrong. No more!

Following the prawn salad, we made and fried spring rolls. Spring rolls have always been a favourite of mine so I was pretty excited to be cooking them for the first time, although I was extremely nervous of getting burnt with hot oil. Terrified, is another way I’d describe it. You would be a little nervous too if you found yourself cooking with hot oil in a sun-dress, flip-flops, and using flimsy tongs to turn your spring rolls. I made it out with no burns (thank goodness) and these spring rolls were fantastic. 

They were made from a mixture of prawn and pork mince, wood ear mushrooms, vermicelli noodles, cabbage, carrot, and a sauce mixture. We first sliced up all of the vegetables and stir-fried the vegetables with the mince, the noodles, and the sauce (which was delicious on its own) before rolling the spring rolls. In the hot oil they went and a few minutes later we had golden spring rolls to munch on (probably more than we needed but whatever!).

Finally, we used the Massaman curry paste that we had made earlier to make a chicken Massaman curry. What I learnt from this was just how fast this was to cook – 5 minutes! Wow have I been doing it all wrong! This is exactly why I do cooking classes! Lesson learnt and this was the second best Massaman dish I’ve had (still can’t beat the curry from my hometown). This was quite spicy though so when I make the paste again, I will be careful not to be too cocky.

I absolutely loved participating in this class. To know that I can create some authentic Thai dishes at home is comforting as I haven’t found much Thai food in the city to rave about (although I had a pretty good experience at Pink Elephant Thai recently). My only limitation will be sourcing proper Thai ingredients, like a really good tamarind paste and thick coconut milk. I highly recommend doing a cooking class whilst in Thailand. My only regret is not signing up to do more classes whilst I was there.


7 Responses to “Cooking Class in Thailand”

  1. Little Sis February 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    If I remember correctly, we didn’t even have flip flops on! They made us leave them at the door! Great photos.

    • greedyguts February 1, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

      Ha ha…you could be right…

  2. mango March 6, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

    We should swap notes! I did a cooking class in Chiang Mai full of goodies…need to locate the recipes though 😉

    • greedyguts March 7, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

      Absolutely! I’d have to write up my notes.


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