Sunday, March 04, 2012

Thailand ~ Day 1

It was a traveling miracle, after 21 hours in the air, running to catch a connection, and getting in at one in the morning Thai-time, I woke up at 7am on Saturday refreshed and ready to go!

We spent the night in the Lub.d Hostel in Bangkok. The building was as awesome mix of concrete and plywood ~ it looked sleek and modern, but was so hard to capture on camera. For US$30, you can sleep in a "railway twin"; it's a private room with two beds {Sarah's the lump sleeping on the top bunk}::
Turning around, this is the rest of the room:: There are shared bathrooms on each floor, a bar downstairs, free wifi, and plenty of little lounge areas to relax and meet other travelers. A fantastic deal for anyone traveling on a budget!

And in the lobby you can examine an elephant's finer side::

Apparently the view's better from the inside looking out...

Leaving the elephant behind, we spent the morning in Bangkok's large market where we picked up breakfast, and enough t-shirts and sunglasses to outfit a small army, and then it was off to cooking school!

There are a few different cooking schools in Bangkok, we attended Course 2 of the Silom Thai Cooking School.

The class begins at a local market where our teacher, Oliver, reviews key Thai ingredients:: Ginger, basil, chili peppers, lime, lemongrass, and coconut are all staples of Thai cuisine, providing aroma and spice. The rest of the ingredients are either proteins {chicken, been, tofu, shrimp, fish} or vegetables that they refer to as "fillers" {tomatoes, eggplant, carrots, corn, baby corn}.

Back at the cooking school, there was a bit of prep work to be done before we started the lessons. Sarah and I helped one of the teaching assistants prepare the proteins, deveining shrimp and cutting up the chicken.

All lessons were taught on the floor. We sat in a circle around the ingredients. Oliver would discuss the dish were about to make, reviewing the key ingredients and discussing preparation techniques. In some cases we would prepare the ingredients and dishes individually, in other cases we would prepare one dish that was then divided among the group.

After preparing the ingredients, we would go out to the porch where we each student operated their own wok... We were the only Americans in the group with included a woman from Ireland and a bunch from Norway. Halfway into the first dish, Sarah and I decided that we have to add woks to our Christmas list this year! What surprised me was the way the dishes were cooked. I would have thought that the soups and curries were cooked in stages {first the meat, then the hard veggies like carrots and onions, then the more tender ingredients}. The cooking was not like that at all ~ we would add all ingredients to the wok at the same time, and it would all cook for the same amount of time.

We would sit down and eat each dish as soon as it was finished and before beginning the next dish. This may have been the most challenging part of the day ~ eating your piping hot dish without burning your tongue, but fast enough to keep up with the group.

Our menu included seven dishes:

Dish 1: Chicken Galangal Coconut Soup The key aromatic ingredients for this dish were coconut milk, lemongrass, lime, chilies, and ginger. Of course you can easily buy coconut milk in cans, and this is what most Thais do, but we learned how to make it from scratch. You shred the meat of a brown {old} coconut, pour warm water over it, mash it with your hands, and then strain out the pulp. After the first round, you have coconut cream. If you pour more warm water over the pulp, mash it, and strain it again, you produce coconut milk. The filler ingredients for this dish were tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and scallions.

Dish 2: Fried Cashew Nuts with Chicken
This dish got a lot of its flavor from the chiles, Thai garlic {cooked with the skins on}, fish sauce, and oyster sauce. Fillers included scallions, two types of mushrooms, baby corn, and onions::

Dish 3: Glass Noodle Salad with Shrimp This was a "group dish", we prepared the ingredients, and our teacher assembled the salad in one big bowl. A leaf of lettuce was topped with the shrimp, glass noodles, onions, and tomatoes covered in a dressing of fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, and chilies.

Dish 4: Fish cakes... I was too busy licking my fingers to take a picture. As we ate the fish cakes, we worked on the red curry paste.

Dish 5: Red Curry Paste All ingredients including chilies, cumin, peppercorns, Thai garlic, among other things were put into a big mortar and pestle. The mortar was passed around the circle for pounding, and after about 15 minutes, we had our paste.

Dish 6: Red Curry Chicken
This is an example of how all ingredients are added to the wok in one step. The dish's aromatic ingredients included curry paste, ginger, and lime leaves. Carrots and pea-eggplants {those pea-shaped veggies} where the dish's fillers, and it was accompanied by a side of brown basmati rice.

Dish 6: Bananas in Coconut Milk. This was another group preparation dish ~ small, finger bananas were simmered in coconut milk for 15 minutes, and then topped with a sprinkling of rice before serving. You can see the final product sitting on the table above our red curry chicken.

And where does all of that chicken meat come from? We're not sure, but these chickens in the alley behind the school may be involved...

With our bellies full, we boarded a bus for a long nap and a ride to Chonburi.

1 comment:

lynn said...

These photos are amazing- What a wonderful adventure - can't wait to see more! Safe travels.