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 1 – Chai

There is just no way that I could fit the massive quantities of food that T-bone and I consumed in India into a single post. Your screens would explode and splatter your walls with calories. Instead, I’m going to do a brief post every day for a week, with each day covering a unique food group. It’s just gotta be done.

*Warning: This is in no way a definitive guide to Indian food. It’s just a selection of what I actually captured on film + our particular food fetishes.

Starting off with…chai! Chai is foundational to the Indian diet, and the average person drinks something like ten thousand cups a day. Basically, chai is a combination of tea, milk, and spices (may included cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, pepper, etc) cooked together until it boils.

Gettin' a little possessive of his chai

Gettin’ a little possessive of his chai

Oh, and let’s not forget the sugar. Similar to their regional buddies in Thailand, Indians like sweeeet drinks. If you want to have a proper cup of chai, add sugar to the milk/tea mixture until it is totally saturated. When the sugar stops dissolving, you know it’s ready to drink.

Often, the cheaper the chai, the more sugar it contains. Train chai is particularly sweet. At only 5 rupees (10 cents) per cup, you can really give yourself some cavities. It’s lucky that the cups are so small. The best part about train chai is the chai wallahs that serve it (“wallah” roughly translated means someone who performs a particular task. ie: chai seller). You can hear them before you see them. They chant “chaiiiii-yuh, chaiiiiii-yuh” in a voice that is impossible to replicate, but is totally unmistakable. New chai wallahs must receive special training, because they all sound exactly the same.

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Not impressed with this train’s chai, or its wallah

The more expensive chai served at guesthouses is often unsweetened, and comes accompanied with a sugar bowl, thus allowing unaccustomed westerners to sweeten their own brew.

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Chai was a huge blessing on our trip. Whenever we (ie: I) started feeling overwhelmed, we’d stop for a chai break. Sometimes chai breaks happened 10 or 15 times a day. You do what you gotta do.

And T-bone clearly needs a break.

And T-bone clearly needs a break.

And now we’re suffering from chai withdrawal. Suddenly having a caffeine/sugar IV drip removed from your body is a rude shock. Good thing there are 5 iced coffee vendors on our street.

Stuff Thai People Like: Sugar!

“Like” is not really an accurate or adequate descriptor of the passion that Thai people feel for sugar. They slurp it through straws, dump it on rice, pour it into drinks, and heap it on noodles. Even for a closet sugar lover like yours truly, Thailand takes it to a new and disturbing level: it’s sorta like a guilty pleasure but with double the guilt and none of the pleasure.

It’s hard to truly convey “sweet” with candid photographs , so you will once more be treated to a photo essay of me’n’T-bone.

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Ahhh. A treat holding treats.

One of the first Thai phrases that we learned was “mai waan” – “not sweet.” It basically comes in handy any time you order anything, including stir fry. Often, however, it is not adequate: when ordering an iced coffee, for example, “mai waan” simply means that the vendor won’t dump additional white sugar into the drink – it still contains a heapin’ helpin’ of sweetened condensed milk. If you ever forget to say “mai waan,” heaven help you. Your teeth will rot out of your head.

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Such as when I purchased this Strawberry drink. I don’t normally throw food away. Then again, I don’t normally drink straight high-fructose corn syrup.

Shugah-lovin’ seems to go without saying in Thai culture. When our Thai teacher taught us how to say “more,” she used the following example: “if you want more sugar in your coffee for example, just say “nam taang yuu yuu.” All of us stared blankly at her: what sudden mental illness would ever induce you to ask a Thai coffee vendor to add more sugar??

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Don’t you dare answer that question.

Even foods that are traditionally savoury often contain sugar. I have ordered noodle dishes that were so sweet that I couldn’t finish them, and this is one gal who loves a good sweet/salty/fatty combo. I have also watched Thai friends dump sugar all over their Pad Thai. Cuz maybe the MSG didn’t give it enough flavour…

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Or maybe she just wanted to support a local industry

It is strange to see an entire population of generally thin people obsessed with an eating habit that is associated with obesity and disease in the West. Based on statements I have overheard other farangs make, there is an assumption that Thai people don’t have diabetes or other related disorders. This, however, is not true – diabetes is a significant problem in Thailand. In addition, according to this study, around 50% of diabetics are undiagnosed. Given the rates of sugar consumption that I’ve observed, I wonder if the problem is even more widespread than this study suggests.*

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Stop encouraging people to eat sugar, Todd!

As someone who comes from a land of people obsessed with doughnuts and poutine, I don’t have much credibility, but come on, Thailand. Let’s get a grip on this before my teeth rot out of my head, thereby negating my braces investment.

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Or I give birth to a sugar baby

* In case anyone wants to poke holes in my argument – yes, I realize that sugar consumption is only one factor influencing diabetes rates