Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Chelsea [Cooking] in Pai

Tuesday we were up bright and early to get ready for our full-day cooking class! Little did we know just how long our day would end up being.

We left around 8am in order to make a stop at the laundrette so I could have some clothes washed. I only packed a backpack's worth of stuff for this trip - and that includes my "getting ready" stuff! So, by mid-way through our trip, I definitely needed some things cleaned. We dropped off my 1.5 kg bag of dirty clothes and paid the 45TBH to have it washed and sun-dried (it was 15TBH more to have it dried in the machine).

Just down the street we got to BeBe Spice, the restaurant owned by Thom. She would be our cooking instructor for the day. We were pretty early, so we hung out and met the other students in the class. They were:

Anton & Marielle - a couple who have been traveling together 16 months throughout the Pacific and SE Asia. They are from Sweden and I loved them.

Michele - an older woman from Vancouver. Definitely wanted to flaunt her knowledge, but also eager to learn. "That person" in the class. Overall very nice but got on my nerves at times.

Sepp & Janele - a couple (?) from Germany. Not sure how long they've been traveling but will go to S.America next.

Thom welcomed the class and we got started by discussing the basic names for ingredients in Thai (gai = chicken, moo = pork, tae hoo = tofu, pla = fish, etc). We talked about curry dishes (the main thing we'd be cooking that day) as well as stir-frys and soups (both of which we would also make, but later in the day and with less prep). Each person got to choose which recipe from the book we would make for each category. I chose Yellow Curry with Chicken, Pad Thai with Shrimp, and Tom Yum Creamy with Chicken.

Once we were organized, we headed to the Thai market. We were all loaded into Thom's car, except Sepp and Janele who had a motorbike. We got to the market and, first things first, had some breakfast. We all got basic Thai fast food. I chose garlic pork on rice, which I regretted as it was pretty bland. Thom taught us about the condiments on the table, and I used some vinegar and chili powder to try to spice up my breakfast. It didn't really work.

Next was shopping for our ingredients. Thom had given each of us a list with 4 or 5 ingredients to buy. However, we got a whole education before being let loose to shop. We learned about all the parts of the pig they eat (spoiler alert: it's all of them). Then we looked at some catfish in a tank (yuck). I guess Thai's really love catfish. We then saw the tilapia, which we got two of, as some of the group were making dishes with fish. Then we learned about the types of rices in Thailand (sticky and Jasmine) and the different varieties of each. While interesting, I was getting seriously bored by this time.

We moved onto the produce/herb section, where Thom taught us about every single type of greenery they eat. Well, maybe not all of them, but it felt like it! Coriander, Chinese Celery, Chinese Kale, Holy Basil, Sweet Basil, etc etc... FINALLY, after what felt like hours (which is accurate, since it was a couple hours), we were told to go find out ingredients. My ingredients were coriander, carrot, limes, and bell peppers.  I got everything together with ease, and helped Jessica look for Chinese Celery since we had promptly forgotten all of Thom's careful descriptions of each.

Finally, we headed back to the shop with our goodies! I had grabbed a quick Thai Tea while waiting for the others to finish their shopping, so I was somewhat revived. We then had to clean and wash all the vegetables and herbs, cut the fruits, and prep the spices. We had a short break where we got to eat the fruit (some of it at least) and catch our breath. We then divided up the ingredients to each have what we needed for our first dish: curry!

First things first - we needed to make our curry paste. Since I was making yellow curry, I had to start with a red-curry base. I would turn it yellow when it was time for cooking it. First we had to chop everything, which took quite some time. Then we had to use a mortar and pestle and pound everything together to make the paste. This was pretty intensive and took some time. However, the result was so fragrant and delicious!

We were then ready to start the curry itself. Thom's method was to go through the steps of the recipe together as a group, then demonstrate once for us, then send us on our way. It was actually pretty good except that it was a lot to remember and she challenged us to cook with our senses, rather than from the recipe book.

We went through the recipe and adjusted flavors and amounts based on what we thought would be best. It was really fun to make it exactly how I wanted (ie: I got to choose the vegetables and spice level, etc). By the time we finished the cooking, we were ready for our late lunch feast - it was 4:15!! We all tasted each others dishes, as we all made something slightly different. I personally thought mine was the best, but I am a little biased. The others - red, green, panang, and massaman - were all wonderful as well! I'm really going to be spoiled on my curry now. But, I can make it at home! I don't think I'll make the paste from scratch - it took forever and the ingredients would be very expensive back home.

We then had a short break from 4:30 to 6:00. It was much needed by that time!! Jess and I went in search of a massage. We got a back-shoulder-head massage for 1 hour for 200TBH - about $6! Score!! It was seriously so relaxing, when we got up to head back to class, we both considered skipping the rest in favor of a nap. However, we persevered! Well, persevered might be too strong a word... I slogged through the evening.

Our last two dishes would be cooked in tandem, so it involved a lot of prep and watching of demonstrations, and even more trying to remember what to do. Nothing too exciting happened, minus the incredible pressure once the burner was on. Go-go-go!! Between everything, we didn't finish cooking until 10pm. I was absolutely exhausted. Thankfully, our course included alcoholic drinks at our final feast, and I took advantage. Once I had some wine in me, I was feeling MUCH better.

We sat around the table together and talked for a while. Michele's boyfriend, Tommy, joined us, as well as some people Thom had met a few days before, and two random French girls who spoke very little English. It was certainly an eclectic bunch! It's funny because this was probably the longest day we've had in Thailand, yet I feel like I have the least amount to say on it.

Overall, the cooking course was good and I enjoyed it, but it was so long and there were definitely parts that I thought we could have cut in half (or even eliminated). But, it was an experience and I'm glad we did it! Once we got back to the hotel around midnight - the latest we've stayed out so far - we both promptly passed out. The next day we had the option to go back to BeBe Spice to practice our skills, but we agreed that we'd had enough cooking for a while and would just pay for lunch somewhere instead.

And, that concludes my day of cooking. Again, nothing too crazy happened but it was a great, if long, experience! And now I can go home and cook (some) of the delicious food I've been enjoying on this trip!


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