Our second day in Chiang Mai was also to be out last, but we damn well made the most of it. Mum and I signed up for a Thai cooking class with the persuasion of two of our Irish group members Michael and Catherine. We started the experience by walking around the local food market with our instructing chef. Ou chef was Yuui, a very young-looking 20-year-old uni student who learnt to cook Thai food the same way she learnt English – a mix of just figuring it out and YouTube.
We wandered the markets while Yuui told us about all the difference ingredients and let us smell lots of herbs. We saw many interesting things that weren’t at your ordinary market in Australia.
After a little while of market-perusing, we jumped in a tuk tuk for a short ride to the cooking school. Yuui took us out the back fo the school to a lovely little kitchen set up outside. We had plenty of space and weren’t interrupted by anyone outside our small group of four. At the markets we had selected what dishes we wanted to make on a piece of paper. I chose Pad Thai (because I love to eat it and would love to be able to make it), chicken and coconut soup (with tofu as a substitute), red curry (I was never a huge fan of curry but had to choose between red and green) and mango with sticky rice (for dessert). Mum tried to make some different things to me so that we had a broader repertoire to take home so swapped Pad Thai for chicken with cashew nuts, green curry instead of red and banana in coconut milk for dessert (she kept the coconut milk soup because the alternative was full of prawns).
Yuui instructed and we followed. We used fabulous ingredients that explain why Thai food is so good. Everything was full of lemongrass, Thai lime, Thai ginger. After making the Pad Thai we set it aside and started on the coconut soup. You would think it would just be coconut milk and some tofu, but the spices and herbs we put into that white stuff explains wh it tasted like magic. Michael had ordered something similar the night before and spent a long time chewing on all the stuff floating in his soup. He asked Yuui if that was how you eat it and she suppressed a chuckle and replied with no. Micheal had been chewing on lemongrass stalks, ginger root and lime leaves – ingredients added to excrete flavour but no to be eaten (I mean you don’t die if you eat them, they’re just a bit tough).
We took our first two courses (the soup and stirfry options) back to the restaurant area and ate up. Not to blow my own horn, but the food was AMAZING! It was so fresh, and because we had used all exciting and wonderful ingredients it had a wonderous depth of flavours. With only a little time to let all that good food settle we headed back out to the kitchen area to make out second endeavour – the curries. Now, as I mentioned, I’d always avoided curry, but Yuui assured me red wasn’t too spicy. We chopped up lots of yummy ingredients and took them over to the stoves. Yuui gave us a dollop of red curry paste (which we would have handmade if we had done the full-day course) and we put it in the wok. The smell was surprisingly beautiful. The control the spiciness of our curries we had done different things to our little green chillies (the hottest ones). Milk was on hit with the side of a knife (my choice), medium was two hits, and hot was three hits so all the seeds were exposed. Mum was peer-pressured by Michael to give it three hits, even though she hates spicy foods and finds even mild things hot.
We left our curries to sit while we made dessert.
Thai food is big on palm sugar. We added a heaped teaspoon of it to our sticky rice (which had to be left out to soak the night before – it’s not normal rice) and to the coconut milk for the bananas. Palm sugar is so yum. It tastes almost like extra sweet honey. It’s good I wasn’t left alone with it and a spoon.
Dessert was much easier to make than the mains (mainly because the sticky rice had been mostly prepared for us) and we were soon back in the restaurant enjoying the efforts of our toil.
My red curry was one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten. My mouth is watering now thinking about it. It was fragrant, with lots of different dimensions of flavour and just the perfect hit on spice. Mum’s was too spicy (and I learned I don’t like green as much as red). The desserts were winners on all accounts though, and the palm sugar in the coconut milk was superb. After a fabulous four course lunch (the price of the lunch and the lesson was about AU$20, so damn good value), we headed back to our hotel for a long drive to our next destination. Our tour guide let us stop at 7-11 again for lunch to stock up on chips and chocolate. While the other tour people complained of not-so-nice service station food, we all sat back with our bellies full of fantastic Thai food and smiled.