Story by Jody Robbins
BANGKOK, THAILAND — According to a Thai proverb, ladle charms keep the husband infatuated for life. If that’s the case, my recent attempt at mastering this popular Southeast Asian cuisine should keep me in good standing with the spouse for the foreseeable future.
I’m a firm believer that the fastest ways to explore a culture is through your stomach. If you’re bound for Bangkok, there’s no better way to flavour your stay than by learning the secrets of Thai cooking at Amita Thai Cooking Class.
Drift Off to Thai Cooking School
Run by spunky mama-san Tam Juntrupon, this culinary tour of Thailand takes place at her family’s property along a quiet canal in the west-bank area of Thonburi. The journey to this cooking school is as savoury as the intoxicating dishes you learn to create. After being whisked from the hotel and driven through old Bangkok, it’s onto a private boat for a cruise along the Chao Praya River, past Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn and royal Grand Palace. From there, it’s a peaceful side trip through the city’s murky canals, before reaching the Juntrupon family grounds.
“Meet our lazy staff,” welcomes Tam, motioning towards a hen and rooster, aptly named Sesame and Soy. I’ve just stepped off the dock and into the verdant family garden flanking the canal. A refreshing glass of cool lemongrass juice is pressed into my hands as I’m invited to join my classmates in this lush, urban oasis.
We begin plucking the freshest ingredients straight out of the garden, as we learn about how these herbs and vegetables are best used in Thai cooking. Tam snips off bits for us to smell and taste as she guides us through her botanical gem. Glancing at my limp locks, Tam heads over to a kaffir lime tree and hands me several leaves.
“Used in soup and curry,” she says; “but will also make your hair shiny and slippery,” she advises while giving me a knowing look.
Hitting the Sauce near Bangkok
Gathering our prized possessions, we head to the outdoor kitchen where 10 purpose-built cooking stations await our bounty. Tam slips behind a central counter to demonstrate how to make our first dish — Pad Thai.
Now you may have had this prawn and egg stir fry before, but making it with ingredients you’ve foraged for yourself, produces something incomparable to the limp noodle concoction we so often find swimming in sugary sauce, under the weight of salty peanuts.
As Tam dives deep into the importance of each ingredient, we learn the balancing act of blending sweet, spicy, salty and sour tastes — so essential in Thai cooking, and French cooking, for that matter.
“We use the radish,” she says, holding up the small, pickled root for all to revere, “to add punchiness to your mouth.”
After watching Tam dice, fry and toss together the tantalizing ingredients, it’s up to us to recreate the dish on our own. Heading back to our individual cooking stations, we’re followed by a slew of aunties who guide us step-by-step through the recipe, and thankfully, whoosh in to save the day when we’re not swift enough with our ladles.
In addition to Pad Thai, we whip up an apple salad, made from the edible fuchsia blossoms off Tam’s Malay apple tree and Gai Phat Met Muang Himmaphan, a chicken stir fry with cashews that contains an alarming number of red chilies. Tam encourages us to kick it up a notch and be more liberal with our chilies, seeing as how we’re in Bangkok and all that. Fortunately, they are milder than their North American counterparts, adding a pleasant warm hit to the dish.
Then the comes the best part: Sitting down together on the Thai-style verandah overlooking the canal, to enjoy the fruits of our labours. Shaded by mango, star fruit and rose apple trees, we dig into our feast, revelling in the complexity of the flavours and the simplicity gleaned from dining al fresco.
I definitely got the hang of Thai cooking during this delightful half-day class. But enough to keep the husband infatuated for life? Only time will tell. Fortunately, I also learned a thing or two about how to turn up the heat.
More About Amita Thai Cooking Class
Location: 162/17 Soi Wutthakat 14, Wutthakat Road, Thonburi, Bangkok. 10600
Contact: Telephone from Canada, 011-66-2-466-8966; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cost for Class: 3,000 Baht (approximately $100), which includes pick-up and drop-off services for locations in central Bangkok.
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