I’m sort of obsessed with Thai curries, and if it weren’t for that I’d be more obsessed with other Thai dishes. I love the balance of bitter, salty, spicy, and sweet, and I’m always trying to guess which ingredient in each dish supplies one of those four elements.
I’ve never had the budget to attend a Thai cooking school (which are everywhere in Thailand), but I made it a point on my recent two-week trip to the country to allow for one. Since I was spending close to a week on Ko Chang, I chose the class at Blue Lagoon on Khlong Prao, because I’d stayed at the guesthouse on my Lonely Planet research trip last year and loved it. The food was always spot-on, with most of the produce coming from an organic garden, and made even better by the ambiance of small eating pavilions that hover over the lagoon. Friendly staff rounded out the offerings, so I booked a 1200-baht (about $35USD), five-hour class.A staff of four instructed and prepped for our class of seven. As a group we decided which dishes to prepare (tom yum, tom kha, curry, pad thai, chicken with cashews, and mangoes with sticky rice and coconut milk). Two staff prepped the dishes, making sure we had the proper ingredients and portions, while the other two instructed us on how to chop vegetables, when to add stuff to the wok, how to extract coconut milk from the flesh of the fruit (it’s not the juice inside, by the way), and generally had a good time with us.
One of the instructors was the granddaughter of a woman whose original kitchen is available for tours; the recipes in the cookbook we got to take with us were all hers. While the dishes were typical, mainstream meals that are universally “Thai,” I still like the idea that somebody’s grandmother had added personal touches to some of my favorite foods.
Of the food we prepared, curry proved to be the most difficult. I’ve always believed that anyone who can read can cook (even though I’m a disaster in the kitchen), but with curry you also need some arm muscles. In theory you can use a food processor to make the paste, but, as with pesto, it is believed that using a mortar and pestle better brings out flavors and aromas. Grinding all of the ingredients up took at least 20 minutes and was more labor-intensive than kneading dough. Thankfully the staff had bulging biceps and took over for most of us.
I got to sit back and listen to one of my favorite Thai sounds, the “thock thock thock” of the mortar and pestle, and afterward enjoyed a Thai feast that I hope I can repeat back home.