Thai Cooking School

Last Saturday, Toddy and I toddled off to cooking school. For Christmas, Todd gave me a gift certificate for a Thai cooking class – Todd is aware that his wife digs calories, and this gift was spot on. After 2 weeks of Indian curry, we were ready for a bit of the Thai variety.

Before the cooking school photos, though, I have to show you one of the more bizarre houses in Bangkok – a replica of the White House. We visited the presidential grounds on Friday night.

Complete with a Statue of Liberty fountain

Our friends rent the former servants’ quarters behind the house, and we hung out on their roof on Friday night. The roof offers a good place to view the replicas of Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower on the roof of the White House.

You’d never guess that the owner was influenced by Western culture…

Anyway, on with the food. The cooking course began on Saturday afternoon when the cooking instructors met us at the BTS (sky train) station, and escorted us to a local market. They spent half an hour describing the varieties of vegetables that were for sale.

Showing us a kaffir lime

Taken shortly after the biggest rat that I have ever seen ran/stumbled across the floor

Then it was time to head to the school to start our afternoon of coconut cream bliss. The menu for the afternoon included Massaman curry paste, Massaman curry, Tom Yum soup, chicken with cashews, and mango sticky rice. I was already hungry when we began cooking, and it required a lot of discipline not to eat the raw ingredients.

First up was the Massaman curry paste. It included a laundry list of ingredients: chilli, garlic, onion, ginger, coriander, lemon grass, shrimp paste, salt, and many more. We had to pound it until it resembled a paste. Apparently, it doesn’t taste the same if you use a food processor. Not sure if this farang could taste the difference, but I went with it.

Trying to work up a calorie deficit to compensate for what he’s about to eat

Next up was the Massaman curry itself. As with Indian food, I am always surprised to see the raw ingredients that go into Thai dishes – they seem so basic, but taste so sublime in curry. We simply prepped the ingredients, as we were going to cook all the dishes at the same time.

We then prepped the ingredients for the Tom Yum soup. The instructors passed us dishes of beautifully arranged ingredients, and our “prepping” consisted of chopping several of the ingredients into smaller pieces – “look, Mommy! I helping!” I hadn’t realized how simple the ingredients for Tom Yum are – no complex curry paste as used for the Massaman curry. It is seasoned with fresh herbs, sugar, chilli, and fish sauce.

Prepping for the cashews and chicken also involved cutting already cut vegetables into smaller pieces. Whatever – we got the gist of it. Far more entertaining was trying to decide whether one of our instructors was a ladyboy (Todd’s not sure, but I am 100% positive).

Ready to re-prep ingredients

Then it was time to cook! This part of the class was most informative for me. Now I know why I end up with blobs of curry paste in my vegetables when I try to make curry; how much coconut cream actually goes into curries; what the vague stench of Thai food comes from (fish sauce and shrimp paste); and that Thai cooking really does contain as much sugar and oil as I thought. The instructors were almost too helpful – please let me add my own ingredients to the pot!

I warned you! 

But I put such thoughts out of my mind when I saw this trio (plus rice!) of goodness in front of me. I’m such a good cook! And an even better eater…

Clockwise from left: Tom Yum soup, Massaman curry, cashews and chicken

Feeling simultaneously accomplished and ravenous

Last but not least was the mango sticky rice. It would have been too complicated to make our own rice, so the instructors demonstrated the process for us. Nothing like a good mixture of sugar and fat! So tasty.

So tasty that I forgot to snap a photo before I started eating

I was holding my stomach when we finally left. Good present, T-bone!

A Week of Indian Food: Day 5 – Trekking grub

When we were in Jaisalmer (our first destination, after Delhi), T-bone and I had the opportunity to go on an overnight camel trek. I’d gone on one years ago, and the romance of it was still emblazoned on my brain. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten how painful it was (like riding a horse x 10), and we spent the trip gimping around bow-leg style. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful trip, and included some interesting food.

No, not these camels. Wouldn’t eat these garbage sacks if I was starving to death.

We were served 4 meals on the trip – two breakfasts, one lunch, and one dinner. The breakfasts were identical, and the lunch and dinner were variations on a theme. Our first breakfast was served in our camel driver’s hut.

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The second was served in the dunes.

Feelin’ a little groggy before the massive sugar hit kicked in.

Anything tastes good when you’re out in the cold, but I have to confess that the breakfast combo was a little biased towards the carbohydrate end of the spectrum. On both days, we received no less than an entire loaf of toasted white bread, a package of cookies, fruit, fake jam, and sugar-bomb chai. Oh, and cracked-wheat porridge. Good thing I’m a pretty lazy soul to begin with, or this combo would have had me bouncing off the walls/dunes.

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Bam!

Lunch included chappatis, a cauliflower/cabbage curry, and pickle (a spicy chutney).

This was the first plate. Our camel driver apparently forgot that he only had two clients, and cooked enough to feed six people. He force-fed us the leftovers.

Dinner was a beefed up (oops – shouldn’t mention beef and India in the same sentence) version of lunch. We had chappatis, vegetable curry, dhal, rice, and pickle. Our camel drivers cooked the meal over an open fire, where we all huddled against the cold.

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Todd demonstrating a facial huddle.

The camels also had some tasty treats, including a sack of grain, twigs, and, when their buddies got too close, camel butt. Apparently, there’s nothing like a mouth full of filthy hair and faeces.

Camel butt? Where?!

When we left the dessert, protein was the first thing on the agenda.

A Week of Indian Food: Day 4 – Indian breakfasts

I was a little remiss in my breakfast duties, and didn’t properly document the range of Indian options. However, I think I have enough to give you an idea of the available options. Everywhere you go (in tourist areas, at least), there is the inevitable toast and omelette option.

T-bone eating: it’s inevitable

The standard version is a two-egg masala (in this case, a mixture of tomato, onion, cilantro, and chilli) omelette accompanied by four slices of white toast, butter, tea, and fake jam. I’m not sure what it is about India, but for a country that does so many culinary things right, they really do jam wrong. Unless you get the real (ie: expensive stuff), it tastes like rotten jello.

Anyway, on to more interesting foods. A typical northern Indian option is aloo puri. Aloo refers to a potato curry, and puri is a deep-fried flat bread. The combo is delicious, but man, is it a load of fat first thing in the morning. I only ordered this once. Ok, maybe twice.

Accompanied by no fewer than three drinks – chai, lassi, and juice

A typical southern Indian option is dosa, a rice-flour pancake. Other south Indian favourites include idli, uttapam, and vada, and they are all based on the same idea – fermented rice dough, formed into various shapes. It sounds weird, but it’s delicious. In the photo below, I am eating a paper masala dosa. The dosa is the crispy pancake, while (as far as I can tell) “paper” means that it is 5 times the size of a usual dosa, and masala refers to a potato curry in the middle of the dosa. The dosa is accompanied by coconut chutney, and sambar (spicy lentil soup).

Oops. It’s half devoured already. That’s awkward.

 

Eating so fast you can’t even see my hand.

Nothing like getting your day started right!

A Week of Indian Food: Day 2 – the Thali

Like chai, the thali is a long-standing Indian tradition. Thali means “plate” in Hindi, and what a plate it is. Essentially, it’s comprised of a mound of rice on a steel plate surrounded by a variety of dishes. Depending on the region and the price, it could include any number of things. A cheap northern thali might include a few chappati (flat bread), some dhal (lentil stew), and a cooked vegetable. Southern thalis are more likely to include rice, sambar (spicy lentil/tomato soup), and coconut-based curries.

We ate several thalis in India, but unfortunately I only took photos of one. Todd ordered this in a Jaipur restaurant, and it is on the fancier end of the thali spectrum.

Taadaa!

Taadaa!

It includes rice, naan, roti (flat bread), dhal, malai kofta (potato-cheese dumpling), a paneer (soft-cheese) curry, pappadum (a lentil crisp), raita (yogurt and cucumber), a vat of salty, spicy pickle, and gulab jamun (deep-fried milk ball soaked in syrup). Oh, and intriguingly enough, an entire bowl of purple onions.

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Some restaurants will continue re-filling your dishes until you beg them to stop, but at this particular joint, Todd had to make do with the original portions. Poor boy. He really didn’t get enough food.

Foodie Friday: Fish Food

I think I’ve found my new favourite street food. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. I have many favourite street foods, but most of them are calorie bombs that threaten to clog my arteries for life (hello, deep-fried bananas). Let’s call this my new favourite (reasonably) healthy street food. Introducing the whole roast fish, complete with eyeballs sockets and scales. These fishy fellows are conveniently available at the end of our street, but to my eternal regret, it took us almost 4 months to sample them.

So convenient that you don’t even have to get off your bike.

There was a good reason for our delay – we were concerned that they were scooped out of the local khlong, and frankly, nothing would induce me to sample critters that came out of that swamp. Fortunately, one of our health-conscious friends at school (thanks, Erin) assured us that the fish did not crawl out of the muck, and furthermore, they came with wicked-awesome sauce.*

She’s telling the truth, right guys?

We decided to make our first foray into fish paradise one evening. The cute couple that runs the fish stand seemed pleased and surprised that the farangs had popped in for some of their wares.

What took you fools so long?

The fish are jammed onto metal skewers, and slowly roasted over a charcoal fire. When you order the fish, the vendor asks you to choose the one you want (kind of pointless, because they are all the same size). He then uses a knife to gently ease your prize off the prongs and into a Styrofoam box. His adorable wife adds a bag of wicked-awesome sauce, a bag of fresh veggies, and a bag of rice noodles. Haul it all home, and dive into your prize.

Our fish overlooks the khlong behind our house – that wasn’t your former home, was it?

The whole haul.

To access the fish goodness, simply peel back the skin. Don’t throw it away, though, because it is covered in delicious coarse smoked salt that is perfect with the tender fish flesh.

Hmmm. This is a little creepy. Sort of like Body Worlds.

The fish is stuffed with an herb mixture – mostly lemon grass, I think.

Can’t decide if this visual crosses the line between delicious and disgusting.

There is an important method to eating this meal. First, flatten a large cabbage or lettuce leaf, and prepare to fill it with goodness. Layer rice/noodles, fish, herbs, and sauce on top of the leaf, roll it up, and mow down.

We usually substitute brown rice for the rice noodles.

Take a moment to peel yourself off the floor after collapsing in a fit of ecstasy, and repeat the process. I may have missed out on a few months of fish fabulousness, but I plan to mend the error in my ways.

Best 100 Baht (3$) I’ve ever spent.

*This may or may not have been her exact phrase.