Travel and food, in my opinion, go hand in hand. It would be very hard to talk about all the new landscapes and cultures you discover without talking about the food that you try along the way. In Thailand, there are large food markets wherever you go and food is a huge part of their culture and daily life. In Chiang Mai, we found one elderly woman who was always in the front of her vegetable shop chopping and pealing, anytime of day or night!
When we decided to travel to Thailand there were just two activities that we had pre-booked – a week of Muay Thai training and a Thai Cooking Class. If we managed to do anything else, that would be a bonus! We managed to find a cooking school just a 10 minute walk from our guesthouse in Bangkok and I quickly arranged to join the class at 9am on our FIRST DAY in Bangkok!
I have only good things to say about Silom Thai Cooking School – the experience, the atmosphere, the people, and of course the food were all incredible! They were also very accommodating – as we are travelling on a very tight budget, we could only afford for one of us to take part in the cooking course. My travel buddy, Rich, said that I could be the one to actually cook all of the dishes but the school let him join in with everything else, including giving him extra bowls, plates and chopsticks to try all the food. Very often, cooking schools will still charge 400-500 baht for someone who just wants to accompany the tour so we count ourselves very fortunate that Silom Thai Cooking School were so generous. So, because I had my hands full with ingredients, sharp knives and hot pans, Rich is responsible for all of the beautiful photography in this post!
The first part of the day was spent at the local fresh food market which is open every day, some stalls from as early as 3am! We were asked to meet at a point on Silom Road and I was sent a small map by email to help find it (it was super easy… just look for all the tourists milling around a street corner aimlessly!). Our class size was 8 people coming from all over the world – Brazil, Romania, UK and Argentina – so we were quite an eclectic bunch. Gung (our wonderful guide and mentor) gave us each a basket with a bottle of water in it and showed us around the market stalls we would need to gather ingredients from for our cooking for the day. Gung explained each of the ingredients to us, where it comes from, how it differs from what we might find in our own countries, and how it is used in the recipes (either to add to the taste, or colour, or smell of the dish). She also explained how to tell which ingredients were the freshest. For instance, a shrimp is freshest if it is still curled up. The longer it sits, the weaker the muscles become, and the shrimp begins to droop and becomes straighter – who knew (not me)!
It’s no wonder the food in Thailand is all so amazing – they really do take the time to get to know the ingredients and use them to their full potential. And there are a lot of ingredients to know… whereas in the UK we have 1 type of aubergine, in Thailand they have about 8! Gung also mentioned repeatedly that, in Thailand, everything is smaller and “smaller is better, smaller is stronger” – being slightly vertically challenged myself I had to agree!
Then it was on to the cooking school. Thank goodness we met on the main road because Silom Thai Cooking School is located down a maze of side streets that I really think I would have struggled to find on my own!
We cooked 5 dishes in the couple of hours that we were at the school – Tom Yum Goong (spicy shrimp soup), Pad Thai (thai style noodles with shrimp), Thod Mun Pla (fried fish cakes with thai sweet chili sauce), Nam Prik Geang Phed (red curry paste) which we then used to make our Geang Phed Gai (red curry with chicken), and finally Khaw Neaw Mamuang (mango with sweet sticky rice). As Gung says, the preparation for cooking can be quite time consuming but actually cooking the dishes is super quick and easy – this is why you can get great food as well as super fast service at the street food stalls in Thailand!
Before we cooked each dish, Gung would lead us through the traditional preparation technique of all of our ingredients. You had to know whether to chop, dice, crush or rub the ingredients in order to get the most out of the flavour, smell or colour. Once all the ingredients were prepped, we would head out to the hobs and throw them all in the hot pan (there is rarely much of an order in which the ingredients have to be added and quite often they can all go in at once). It would only take a short 5 minutes before the dish was ready and then we would head into the “dining room” to devour them!
At the end of the class, once all the dishes had been cooked and eaten (there really was not even a grain of rice left!), we were each given a recipe book containing the recipes for all the dishes we had cooked plus a few extras to try. However, a lot of the ingredients for these dishes are native to Thailand and would have to be substituted with more basic vegetables and flavours back home.
Highlights of the day for me:
Making my own coconut milk and coconut cream
Learning to make Pad Thai (it was definitely our favourite dish in Thailand)
Not only cooking the dishes but also gathering all the ingredients from the market ourselves
Learning all about how different ingredients are used for smell, taste, and colour – a full sensory experience in every dish!
Learning to make red curry paste – such a useful recipe to know and, apparently, it is rarely made from scratch anymore. Most Thai people will buy the paste ready made from the market as it is very time consuming to make.
Silom Thai Cooking School has morning (9:00am – 12:20pm) and afternoon (1:40pm – 5:00pm) classes available every day from 1000 baht (approx. £22) per person. If ever you are in Bangkok around the Silom district and fancy immersing yourself a bit more in the Thai culture in a really fun and engaging way, then I would highly recommend splashing out a little bit of extra cash for this incredible experience.