“Suffice it to say that the food of Thailand, like the country itself, leaves an impression on the senses that lingers long after the experiencing of it is done”

One of the things I was most keen on doing while in Thailand was taking a cooking class. I’d taken a Thai cooking class in Arlington through the Adult Ed program, and I loved it. I also love Thai food in America, so I was curious how similar the preparation is. It turns out it’s very similar, except for some of the ingredients to which we don’t always have access like galangal and pandanus leaves.

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Pandanus leaves
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Galangal in situ
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Comparison of ginger and galangal. Summary: no comparison; don’t substitute for galangal.

I picked the Bai Pai Thai Cooking School because they offer a comprehensive class that starts with an overview of Thai flavors and ingredients. So the Bai Pai van picked me up at the apartment, stopped to pick up two Norwegian gentlemen and then we headed off to the school. We met the three Dutch and one Korean ladies who also joined us when we arrived. After donning our aprons and introducing ourselves to one another, we took a tour of the gardens at the school. Bai Pai is like a little oasis in the midst of bustling Bangkok – a quiet space away from it all.

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Bai Pai Cooking School
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Bai Pai Cooking School
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Bai Pai Cooking School
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Bai Pai Cooking School
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Headless apron selfie

On our tour around the gardens we got to see how Thai basil, regular basil, pandanus leaves, kaffir limes, regular limes, and galangal grow and how to properly prepare lemongrass and garlic. Our assistant cook taught us that larger chilies in Thai food are for color whereas the smaller, birds’ eye chilies are for heat. She also cautioned that the kaffir lime leaves and peel can be useful, but the juice and meat of the fruit are hardly ever used.

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Lime comparison: the darker one is kaffir lime
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Chillies – big for color, small for heat
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Limes in situ
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Many mortars and pestles
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Thai ingredients
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Lemongrass post pounding

Next it was time to explore the versatile coconut. Our cook joined us and demonstrated the various ways coconut is used in Thai cooking. She recommended if you have to get canned coconut to buy coconut cream and just water it down for coconut milk if needed. We each got to practice shredding the meat of the coconut – they had scrapers that did the work quite efficiently. The one I used was attached to a wooden rabbit with the scraper part acting like its teeth. Adorable.

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Coconut demonstration
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The rabbit shredder
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Shredding the coconut

Finally, we got a tour of some of the tastes of Thai cooking with fish sauce, soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, palm sugar, and others. The assistant cook also showed us how tamarind paste is made.

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Thai ingredients
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Pandanus leaf essence – if you can’t get the leaves
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Thai ingredients
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Tamarind paste
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Tamarind paste
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Tamarind paste
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Tamarind paste
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Rice comparison

Check back tomorrow for the actual cooking.

Title quote: Robert Sam Anson, “Sixth Sence,” Traveler’s Tales Thailand

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