Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Starting the New Year off right

Yesterday - the first day of the new year - Colleen and I got up early. We were tired, but we had an appointment to make. We had a class at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School. This place had been recommended to me by my friend Maureen, and we had signed up for one of their courses the day before.

We went to their office, where there were about 25 others waiting to take the course. Everyone piled into three vans and we drove out to the school's training facility, about 20 minutes out of town. There we were met by the school's owner, Sompon, who began our training. The focus of yesterday's class was on making your own curries, starting with curry paste. Sompon walked us all through the various ingredients that we'd be using, then he made a paste. Then we went off to individual cooking stations and made our own, smashing chilies and garlic and spices and shrimp paste all together in our mortars. We followed that pattern all day, with an instructor showing us how to make the dish, then us preparing it ourselves, then sitting down to eat it.

We next made Panaeng Curry with Pork, which is a northern Thai curry that is slightly thicker than I'm used to. We used our freshly prepared curry paste to make this dish, which was kind of fun. It turned out great, although a little spicy. Next up was fried fish with Chili and Basil. Delicious. The sauce was so tasty that you could eat it on its own, then regret it as the spices set your mouth on fire. Next was Chiang Mai Curry with Chicken, which was set aside while we made another dish, Sweet and Sour Vegetables, to go with the curry. We sat down to eat those last two dishes with rice and beers. Then we made a Spicy Glass Noodle Salad and followed it up with Black Sticky Rice Pudding. The last item tasting a little like blueberries, and far better than I'd expected. Unfortunately, we didn't get a photo of it.

Every item we made throughout the day, with the exception of the pudding, had chilies in it. We were given the option of how many chilies to put in. I'd often go to the high side. Colleen tended to the low end. But regardless, everything we made had a lot of heat to it.

Our training day over, and all of us feeling a little gross after having eaten so much spicy food, we boarded our vans back into town. Upon reaching the school's offices we immediately signed up for today's class, then went back to our guesthouse to lie down and moan. We didn't even have dinner last night. We just grabbed a coffee in the evening and read, avoiding any extraneous movement.

Today followed much the same pattern, except we started the day with a trip to a local market to learn how to buy our ingredients. Having an instructor made the markets far less intimidating, and we got to poke around and ask lots of dumb questions. (Stefan - "What's this exotic looking fruit?" Answer - "Papaya.")

The first dish that we learned today was Tom Kha Gai, or Chicken in Coconut Milk Soup. I think this is Colleen's favourite Thai dish, and it's a large part of the reason why we took the class today. She and I made ours with very different amounts of chilies, and she added a lot more coconut milk to hers, which made them come out very differently. Mine was spicy and hers was smooth and sweet. Both were delicious.

Next up was red curry with fish. The trick here was to mix the fish in and not have it break up, as well as not having it taste too fishy. (No photo.) Then we did Fried Mixed Mushrooms with Baby Corn, which was set aside so that we could prepare Fried Big Noodles with Thick Sauce and Pork. We sat down to eat those last two dishes together, with rice. I think we were a little more judicious with the amounts we consumed of each of our dishes today, following last night's belly aches. Next we made a Banana Cake, cooked in a leaf bowl, which went into the steamer while we made a Papaya Salad. The salad had a bite to it due to the chilies that were crushed in a mortar during the making of the dressing. The banana cake was so simple and delicious. It was a wonderful way to end the day.

We're now back in Chiang Mai again, trying not to move. For anyone who is thinking of coming to Thailand, this was a great way to spend a couple of days. I just hope I don't forget my technique before I get home and get to try my new skills out on friends and family.

p.s. In a posting several days ago I mentioned that we were going to go to Sukhothai after Lop Buri. If you're wondering what happened, we canceled that plan after deciding that we'd seen enough temples, and we wanted to make sure we had time for other things, like Bangkok and beaches.


Cdizzle said...

The cooking school sounds very cool, but with my weak stomache, it sounds like trouble!

Your vacation sounds great... hope you are having a blast.

Maybe when my Seahawks defeat your lowly Redskins by 3.5 points, you can buy me $20 worth of souveniers!

Take care, Nick

Maureen said...

Ahhh! Wonderful, hey? I love the photos! It looks like you guys had a lot of fun and your dishes look fantastic! I think the instructor that took you to the market was our instructor... he kept wanting to "smash" the garlic...

Safe travels!