In true Peterberger fashion, we signed up for a Thai cooking school in Bangkok as soon as we arrived. We researched cooking schools in Bangkok on the interwebs as well as asking some friends about different options.
We decided on the Silom Cooking School because it had good reviews, was relatively inexpensive, had a menu we both liked and was within walking distance (10km) of our lodging. As seems to be common to most cooking schools we have experienced, we were first taken to a local food market. I love this because the markets that the cooking schools use are usually well off the beaten tourist track.
Sure enough, the only folks shopping at the street market this morning were locals. Here we were each given a basket into which all the ingredients for the course were placed as we went from stall to stall.
Our chef, Aot, spoke English well. He was very knowledgeable about food, food science and Thai culture. He also had a good sense of humor – which always goes a long way. There were eight of us in this class representing, the US, UK, Ireland, Singapore, Philippines and Germany. Although there were four classes going on at the same time, the school ran the whole affair very efficiently with a good attention to detail and individual student learning.
The classroom and kitchen are located in a lime green four story building down the end of a long alley. There is a dining/sitting area where we first gathered to get the lay of the land. Then we were directed to the classroom to do all the food prep. We all sat on the floor in a traditional Thai style. We were given some cushions to sit on – but all the prep work was done on the floor.
Aot walked us through the preparation of the spices, meat, “fillers” and main “key” ingredients one dish at time. Fillers are usually vegetables which, according to Aot, do not contribute to the taste of the dish, so you can add them in or leave them out. Typical fillers used in many Thai dishes include mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers, aubergine (egg plant), baby corn, cabbage, bok choy, etc. So leave them out or add them, the choice is yours.
There are several ingredients that form the essence of Thai cooking: lime, kaffir lime leaves (this is the ingredient Jay and I have been missing in our laab), lemon grass, Thai garlic (with the skin on), tamarind, galangal ginger just to name a few. The key ingredients depend on the dish you are cooking. For example, if you are looking for a Tom Yum taste, then you need kaffir lime, lemon grass and galangal ginger. Then you have Tom Yum. If you leave out any one of these ingredients, “then you’re not making Tom Yum, your making something else, something you made up”.
After we finished preparing the ingredients we went to the patio where the stoves are lined up against the wall. We were instructed to turn the flame on full, “knob to nine o’clock” and added the ingredients in the order suggested by Aot. For the Tom Yum soup we used water in the wok, for the two curries and Pad Thai we used soy bean oil. Thai’s do no use olive oil in their cooking because it burns at too low a temperature and they like to cook on a full flame.
Most dishes took about five minutes to cook. This explains how and why there are so many street food vendors- all they need to do is a bit of prep work, have a hot stove ready, turn the heat to high and your meal is ready in five minutes. Yum.
Once our food was cooked and the sauce adequately reduced, we served ourselves (“presentation, don’t forget to give a nice presentation”) and sat together to eat each course in the dining/seating area.
The Silom Cooking school is worth the cost (right around $30.00) – for this price you get cooking instruction, a five course meal that you prepare, a market tour and recipe and reference book. Not bad, right? The school is well organized, they have lots of sous chefs helping with prep and clean up. The facilities are very clean, tidy and well kept. Magic drinking water is provided (and encouraged).
Our menu for this Thursday morning class:
- Tom Yum Goong (Hot and sour soup with shrimp)
- Pad Thai (Rice noodles and peanuts with shrimp)
- Phanaeng Curry (Red curry with chicken and beans)
- Kang khaio wan gai (Green curry with chicken)
- Mango Sticky Rice.
The portions sizes we made were reasonable. However, it was still way too much food for one person. Even though rice was only served with the green curry, the red curry was treated as more of an appetizer. We had a fantastic experience learning some of the basics of Thai cooking and meeting new friends. We are looking forward to experimenting with Thai food when we get back into a kitchen!
We highly recommend the Silom Cooking School for anyone who is in Bangkok, wants to take a half day cooking class but doesn’t want to spend a boat load of cash. You won’t be disappointed!