Thai Cooking School
Today, my husband and I had the good fortune to attend a traditional Thai cooking school in Bangkok, The Maliwan Thai Cooking School. I enjoy playing around with Thai flavors when I am developing recipes, such as my Thai-style grilled flank steak salad, Roasted butternut squash soup with lime and coconut and Chilean sea bass with tropical fruit salsa, but up until today, I was improvising. Which is another word for making-it-up-as-I-go-along.
Today, I got an education in four classic Thai dishes; learned how to make coconut milk from scratch; was taught how to hand-grind curry paste with a mortar and pestle; and visited a traditional Thai open-air market to purchase ingredients for our dishes. What a treat!
Mae was our instructor, a lovely young lady who learned cooking from her mother and her grandmother. As she explained, "the way most people learn to cook." Which when you think about it is pretty much a constant across the world. Maliwan cooking school takes great pride that their recipes are family recipes that have been handed down through the generations
After going to the market and cooking several traditional dishes, what really struck me about Thai food is how healthy it is. Fresh produce is the cornerstone of most Thai dishes. And as we have walked around the city, fresh produce is everywhere and it is striking to notice that there are extremely few overweight Thai people. When meat, chicken, seafood and pork are used in a recipe, they are generally used in small quantities, particularly by American standards. The vegetables, fruit, rice, noodles, flavorings and curry pastes all get top billing.
Thai open-air markets are a real treat, but not for the squeamish. You will find amazing fresh fruit, chili, live fish, chicken and pork spread out without refrigeration, animal parts Americans rarely see, spices, 1000-year eggs, herb bundles, dried shrimp and much more. Prepare for motorcycles to drive down the narrow aisles and to walk through a bit of blood and gore as the fish, chicken and meats are efficiently cleaned and chopped into serving portions in front of you.
Thai food is spicy, vibrant and complexly flavored. Coconut milk is used in many dishes. Thai food seeks to balance five fundamental tastes:
- Hot & spicy - chilis, peppercorns
- Sweet - cane and palm sugar, sweet pineapple, sweet mango
- Salty - sea salt, fish sauce, salted soy bean, fish pastes
- Sour - lime, kaffir lime, tamarind, sour pineapple
- Bitter - various greens, bitter melon
A word on measuring in Thai cooking
After cooking with Mae for a day, it became clear that taste trumps measuring. Mae and her assistant had prepared small bowls of ingredients that were set up in the French "mise en place" style, but the quantities were only provided as a starting point. The key to Thai food, is balance, and that balance is very personal. So while Maliwan's recipes would state specific measurements, Mae told us over and over, that the measurements were starting points. She instructed us to always taste and adjust each ingredient to suit our personal preference.
How to find Maliwan Thai Cooking School
First of all be patient and allow a generous amount of time to get there. Plan for outrageous and unpredictable traffic in Bangkok. My advice is to skip the cabs if you can, the streets can be virtual parking lots. Depending on where you are staying in Bangkok, you will probably need a multi-vehicle plan. We recommend taking the skytrain whenever you can. It is clean, cheap and efficient. To go to the Maliwan Cooking School, take the skytrain to the river. At the river you can walk, pick up a tuk-tuk, or take a boat and get very close to the school. The school is located a couple kilometers from the Grand Palace. The hard part is finding it. The school is on an unmarked street off of Krisi Road, close to the intersection of Krisi and Sipsamhang Road. Walk down the unmarked street 50 meters until you come to a Chinese temple on the right side of the road. Go down the walkway immediately to the right of the temple. When you get to the end, make a right and keep going until you run into the school. Don't give up. The day is well worth it.
More Thai food recipes and posts to come
I have learned so much about Thai food on this trip. Look for more posts on Thai cooking and Thai recipes in the coming weeks.