Monday, January 7, 2013

Cooking in Bangkok

First Day

Liz had a last minute trip to Bangkok to attend a conference on Human Rights advocacy for NGO's.  I went along on this trip.  I had to decide what to do.  The first day coincided with "Father's Day", a national holiday in Thailand.....actually it was the birthday of the King of Thailand, a revered figure in Thailand.  I spent the day with an acquaintance, Lance Woodruff,  from over 40 years ago when I was in the then Republic of Vietnam. The one time we met was at a Christmas party in Saigon.  He had pictures to show it.

VNCS 1971 Christmas Party (From Left to Right) Doug, Dean, and Doug (me)  copyright Lance Woodruff
We spent the day talking, drinking coffee (Starbucks because everything else was closed) and eating (at the Madrid Cafe which I think was in the movie Air America or Apocalypse Now.  Of note here, the waitresses were bored with the lack of business due to the holiday, so they sat in a booth making Christmas ornaments.  I was invited to an Chin Burmese engagement party, but had to attend a dinner with Liz.

The Second Day - Cooking

The second day is the main subject of this blog.

I searched the web looking for a tourist cooking school  in the vicinity of our hotel in the Silom District.  I ended choosing the Silom Cooking School.  It received good reviews in Trip Advisor, was appropriately priced, and had a menu I was interested in learning.  Of note, many cooking schools in Bangkok have two paths (especially the schools based in good restaurants): a short day course for tourists, and longer courses (recommended 10 to 20 days @ THB 10,000 per day) aimed at professionals wishing to start Thai restaurants.

Waiting with Motorcycle Taxi Driver (the vest is a uniform)

The morning's class met on a street corner.  It happens so often the motorcycle taxi drivers knew who I was waiting for.  After the meetup we went to a neighborhood market to pick up the spices, vegetables, and shrimp.  Although I have taken many market tours in Asia, I always learn something new.

Peppers, Peppers, and still more Peppers

Our harvest from the market

The Silom Cooking School is aimed at tourists. It provides plenty of hands on experience with staff dealing with peeling shrimp, and breaking down chicken carcases.  Good sanitation practices were followed in the preparation process: plenty of water for washing hands and vegetables; separation of meat and vegetables when cutting (separate cutting boards); constant reminders to wash up.

The Silom Cooking School

Our Instructor
Each dish was prepped by a group (our group included a South African woman, an Australian man, a couple from Columbia, a newly engaged couple from the UK and Poland, and an American) sitting on a bamboo mat in a room adjacent to the wet kitchen.  All ingredients were discussed, and demonstrations given on how to prepare.  I have since become a fan of the mortar and pestle for preparing pastes.

Proper form with the mortar and pestle

 It is easy with a stone set (not ceramic or wooden).  Tip, put the mortar on top of a dish cloth or pot holder, and chop the items in small pieces before pounding.  While you can use a chopper, blender or food processor, the end result is not the same (I need to get a larger mortar and pestle set).  Each person in the group (8) was responsible for preparing one ingredient or you did it in pairs.  Staff divided the ingredients onto trays and we went to the hallway to cook on individual gas stoves and woks.

Our Cooking Stations
 We cooked together, and the instructor was walking up and down giving some helpful hints and directions.  When the cooking was completed, we plated our dishes, and added decorations (edible flowers, sliced red pepper, and basil/mint leaf garnishes.  Then we ate the dish.

Group Cooking, sitting on the floor.

This pattern was repeated four times as our menu included: Spicy Shrimp Soup (Tom- Yum- Gung), Fried Chicken with Holy Basil ( Kra –Pow – Gai ), Phanaeng Curry Paste (Nam- Phrik- Kang- Phanaeng), Green Curry with Chicken (Kang- Khiao- Wan- Gai) and Mango on Sticky Rice (Kow -Neuw- Mamuang ).

I can cook.


Enjoying the fruits of our labor

A main dish

A second main dish

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