May 25, 2012

Culinary Enlightenment in Chiang Mai

Enjoying some self made som tom.
Urban dictionary defines “foodie” as a douchebag who likes food.  I prefer to think the correct definition of foodie is a person who really likes good food and likes to eat a lot. The latter description best describes me. I don’t think I ever evolved from Freud’s oral fixation stage. After spending much time in Thailand and sampling countless dishes over 6 months, I decided to enroll in Baan Thai Cookery School in Chiang Mai for a day of cooking lessons in order to bring my love of Thai food home to my own kitchen.

The full day of cooking began at 9am when “Apple” our instructor directed us to choose which meals we wanted to prepare. The menu consisted of 5 courses with 3 options and each person chooses whichever dish they prefer from the selection.  The table holds nine students of whom were from all corners of the world and one instructor. Once everyone introduced him or herself and chose their cuisine choices, the group headed out to the local market to purchase the necessary ingredients. Although I have been to numerous markets, there are still many questionable veggies, spices, and hanging meat that I don’t know. Luckily, Apple cleared up all the unidentifiable ingredients with an explanation and crash course into Thai veggies, herbs, and spices. With baskets of fresh components in hand, we headed back to Baan Thai excited to create the first concoction.

Menu of our selections.
I chose green curry, fried cashew nuts and chicken, seafood soup in coconut milk, papaya salad, and mango and sticky rice.

Apple explaining the different Thai vegetables flavors and tastes.

My first dish was stir fried cashew nuts and chicken. Nuts are definitely not used enough in American dishes. Our table and another group who selected a certain dish break off into their designated kitchen where an instructor has necessary materials set up at your own station and gives a demonstration on how to prepare the dish.
Instructor giving a demonstration for preparing the dish.

With oil splashing everywhere, I managed to fry cashews, cook chicken and add my veggies and spices together to recreate one of my favorite meals and it turned out great! Once you finished preparing your dish, you take it to the table and chow down. This is a great time for the novice chefs to get into a multi-cultural conversation while enjoying their self prepared dishes. After only a few moments of digestion, it’s time for the next course. The cycle repeats itself until each person has cooked and consumed 5 courses. By 4 o’clock, if you’re not in a food coma, you’re ready for a serious nap at the table. You’re already sitting on the floor so it’s difficult to resist sprawling out.
Some of the crew eating their Thai concoctions. 

After the course, each member keeps their own recipe book with all dishes, even the ones you didn’t prepare, as well as an explanation and full color picture for every vegetable, spice, and ingredient that is used in Thai cooking. If you love Thai food, you should take a cooking course. It’s a great way to meet some folks and bring your skills home to impress your friends.

Me with the mortar and pestle grinding up chilis. 
My som tom (papaya salad). Nice and spicy.

My decent green curry. I'll have to work on this one because it's my favorite.