Cooking in Chiang Mai
It's been a while since I last took a cooking class on this trip; but today, the great tradition was finally revived. And revived Thai style, no less. This morning I was picked up from my new guesthouse (Yourhouse — better than the original dump that I stayed in), and taken to meet my 10 fellow classmates for today's lesson. The cooking school that I signed up with is run by two brothers: I was picked up by one brother; but he's taking a break today, and the lesson was conducted by his bigger, funnier second brother. We commenced with an eyebrow-raising tour of one of Chiang Mai's food markets, and then drove over to the school's private kitchen for the main event.
Our crazy teacher showing us around the market.
The food market tour was a good laugh, and was quite informative as well. We became acquainted with a dizzying spectrum of foods, from vegetables to raw seafoods, and from eggs to grains of rice. It's always a good eye-opener, visiting the food markets in developing countries — none of the packaging, hygiene or precautions that you'll see back home; here, it's all in your face, and it's all straight off the tree or straight out of the slaughterhouse, and shoved fresh and unadulterated into the stalls.
Fresh mushrooms for sale.
Many different grains of rice. Here in Thailand, rice can either be white or brown, and can also be either plain or sticky.
Bizarre pink eggs with jelly inside, along with regular white hen eggs. According to our teacher, the way to check an egg's ripeness is to shake it next to your ear: "if egg make no noise, is good; if make liquid noise, is bad; if make other noise, is baby." :P
Endless varieties of curry powder for sale.
From the market, we were driven about 15 minutes out of town, to the school's private class kitchen; and once there, the cooking began. They have a very nice setup here: each student gets their own clean little bench (arranged in a horse-shoe), fully-equipped with a modern stove and with the necessary utensils. We started with the Tom Yum Gai, and then moved on to the Pad Thai, the Green Curry Chicken, the Spring Rolls, and finally the Sweet Sticky Rice. For each dish, our crazy teacher gave us an in-depth demonstration, along with thorough instructions and additional tidbits along the way. All the ingredients were prepared and largely chopped-up for us beforehand — so all we had to do was the actual, fun cooking. And best of all, we didn't even have to clean up: the kitchen staff spoiled us rotten, by taking all our dirty dishes, and by serving us like we were kings and queens. Now, this is what I call cooking :P.
Each person gets their own workbench.
Chopping up some chili peppers.
Being shown how to cook Pad Thai.
When we were cooking the Pad Thai, our teacher showed us a little trick that I don't recommend trying at home. The secret of the trick is to hold the frying pan half off the gas flame, when the pan is full of oil and sauce, and just before you throw in the vegies and the other ingredients. Then, when the vegies go in, the gas flame shoots up to an enormous height, and you've got yourself a 2-second bonfire! Just be careful — as our teacher told us: "sometime people do this trick, finish with free haircut."
The flame trick: quite scary, and extremely hot! Don't try this at home, kids.
After we were done cooking, we reached the best part of the whole show: the eating part. And boy, did we have a lot to eat. We'd each cooked five different dishes, and each of us had all of these dishes to gobble up by ourselves. Piece of advice for anyone considering doing a Thai cooking class: skip breakfast, and save your appetite. It was a tough and gruelling endeavour — and I must admit, at times my morale slipped down — but in the end, I successfully rose to the occasion, and managed to devour everything on my many plates. In true Aussie bloke fashion, I ate whatever was in front of me; and today, what was in front of me was a lot.
After Thai cooking comes Thai banquet.
Everyone digging in.