Friday, July 9, 2010

Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai

Our last day in Chiang Mai we enjoyed an all-day cooking class at Photos from our day of cooking class should be posted online for the next 3 months on the school's website, but were not yet posted as of the time I wrote this blog entry. Here is a video from the cooking school website that shows how the school used to look.

The garden is now filled with organic herbs and vegetables. There are 10 cooking stations in the cooking area on the side of the home and another 10 cooking stations in the cooking area in the front of the home. One section is utilized for all-day classes and the other section is utilized for half-day classes. This is a very nice cooking school.

This was the first time that Asia Scenic Thai Cooking had students as young as BeBe and Zach. The owner/instructor said she had never before had an 8 year old in class. BeBe will celebrate her 9th birthday on August 12 and Zachary will celebrate his 10th birthday on October 5. Both have parents who are very good cooks and both children are familiar with helping in the kitchen, so I figured they would enjoy taking a real cooking class. I think both Zachary and Elisabeth did great in their first adult cooking class. Our class consisted of 10 people -- 3 from Germany, 2 from Holland, 1 from Ireland, and the 4 of us from Texas. Each person had to cook 7 dishes, choosing from 3 choices of each category.

BeBe chose to cook Spring Rolls, Pad Thai (shown eating her Pad Thai in photo on right), Sweet & Sour Chicken, Tom Sab soup, Deep Fried Bananas, Penang curry paste from scratch, and finally Penang curry. Each person could cook each dish to the spiciness level of their choice. Elisabeth does not eat anything spicy (bet that will change as she ages considering her Mexican and Texan heritage), so she chose not to add any hot spices to any of the dishes she cooked. But even without adding any hot peppers, the Penang curry was still too spicy for her. My curry was at least 5 shades darker red than her pale pink curry and I thoroughly enjoyed mine, but that pale pink curry was still too hot for her. She did very well in her first cooking efforts. Her spring rolls turned out perfectly. Her favorite dishes were the fried bananas and the Pad Thai, in that order. She cooked everything shown in this photo, plus the Pad Thai she ate earlier. We were very proud of her. She did well in this adult-level cooking class.

Zach chose to cook Glass Noodle Salad, Pad Thai, Sweet & Sour Chicken, Tom Sab soup, Deep Fried Bananas, Penang curry paste and Penang curry. Zach also did very well in his first cooking efforts. Actually this wasn't the first time he has cooked. At home he cooks scrambled eggs, French toast and pancakes, as well as quesadillas and a few other simple dishes. On the boat with me he has made pancakes from scratch and also baked a cake from scratch. He enjoys cooking very much -- just like his dad. His favorite dishes were the Pad Thai and the fried bananas, in that order.

Bill surprised me by willingly participating in this cooking class. He really had no interest whatsoever in doing this, but was a good sport and came along. I wanted him to supervise one child while I concentrated on the other, and switch back and forth as needed during the day. When we cooked with the hot woks BeBe stood at the cooking station on my right and Zach on my left, with Bill on the other side of Zach. And it still required full-time concentration to oversee both kids while simultaneously cooking our own dishes. Bill chose to cook Spring Rolls, Pad Thai, Cashewnut with Chicken, Tom Sab soup, Deep Fried Bananas, Penang curry paste and Penang curry. His favorite dishes were Pad Thai and the Sweet & Sour Chicken that BeBe cooked, in that order.

I chose to cook Green Papaya Salad, Pad Thai, Sweet & Sour Chicken, Tom Sab soup, Deep Fried Bananas, Penang curry paste and Penang curry. My favorite dishes were the Penang curry (mine was redder and spicier than anyone else's) and the Pad Thai, in that order; with the Deep Fried Bananas a very close tie with the Pad Thai. Pad Thai has been my favorite dish since arriving in Thailand, but the version that we cooked lacked the spicy creamy sauce that often accompanies Pad Thai to pour on top. Also, I prefer the vegetarian version of Pad Thai rather than the chicken version that we cooked. I forgot to mention that every full-day or longer cooking school in Chiang Mai includes a visit to the local market. It was the typical markets that we are accustomed to seeing and shopping in this part of the world. As I could take no photos of myself at the cooking school, here are a few photos from our market trip with the cooking school. As you can see from the photo of the many baskets of rice for sale, rice is taken very seriously here. There are many different kinds and qualities of each variety.

The only disappointment to Zachary and me is that the school did not offer the option of learning how to cook the vegetarian Thai soup that we both have enjoyed so much. A friend who had visited Chiang Mai last month had given me the brochure of the cooking school she attended and that school offered the vegetarian soup. But our hotel did not want to book that school for us and pushed us instead to book the Asia Scenic Thai Cooking school. The hotel insisted that Asia Scenic would also offer that vegetarian soup, but that turned out not to be true. Oh well, maybe we can find the recipe somewhere online.

Although we were not afforded an opportunity to learn how to cook the vegetarian Thai soup, we would heartily recommend the Asia Scenic Thai Cooking school all-day class. We thoroughly enjoyed the day. I learned a few tips that will help me prepare more diverse Asian meals on our boat. I have a feeling that Pad Thai might become a favorite meal on our boat. Here is a video of a woman cooking Pad Thai at Asia Scenic; she makes a number of mistakes and does not cook this as we were instructed, but you get the general idea.! This video was not taken during our class. You can see the open-air cooking area of the school that is quite nice. Much better than being enclosed in a hot kitchen.

We left the school promptly at 15:00. The school van delivered us back to The Small Hotel where we collected our luggage and hailed a pick-up taxi to the train depot. Our train to Bangkok was scheduled to depart at 16:30. We arrived early enough to snack on popsicles to cool off before being the first people to board the train car and get settled into our adjoining "First Class" sleeping compartments. Taking an all-day cooking class on your final day in Chiang Mai is a good idea if you are taking the overnight train down to Bangkok.

We each gave today a thumbs up!

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