Learning to Cook Thai

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Although most Thai people I have met are quick to talk about their favorite Thai dishes, they are also quick to say that they don’t make these things at home.  These days, meals here in Thailand are provided so readily (and cheaply) by vendors on the street, that many Thai people have told me that they rarely cook at home.

It is tempting to fall into that routine.  As you may have noticed, I make all sorts of food at home, but with the luxury of living in Bangkok, we nearly always go out for Thai food.

Picking up a bag of Som Tum or a skewered stick of spring rolls is the perfect solution to an easy snack or meal for our Thai neighbors and friends who will always have access to these foods.

I, however, will someday return to the US and will, I’m certain, have to deal with Thai food withdrawal no matter where we end up.

As a result, for expats living in Bangkok, the best solution for staving off the Thai food cravings that will inevitably come when we leave this country, is to learn to make these things ourselves.  For this reason (and for the excuse to eat fried food in the middle of the afternoon) a couple friends and I signed ourselves up for a Thai Cooking Class at Silom Cooking School this week.

Our afternoon went something like this:

Pad Thai 

After a trip to the market (we were late to class due to a debacle with ordering iced tea down the street, so only made it for the talk on varieties of basil), we headed back to the school to start with Pad Thai.

If you have ever made Pad Thai yourself, you likely know just how complicated it is.  As much as I love it, it requires so many ingredients that I have only made it twice at home.  However, it is delicious, so if you want to give it a try, I have great success with this recipe which also provides a glimpse into just how many ingredients you’ll need to round up before starting.

As it turns out, Pad Thai the perfect thing to make in a Thai cooking class where the teacher gives you a plate of ingredients, in perfect pre-measured little portions.  Throw them in the wok and you’re done!


Som Tum (my recipe here and an alternative here)

Next up on the agenda was Som Tum.  This, I daresay, is my very favorite Thai dish, and one that I cannot believe I missed out on before moving here.  It is spicy, sweet, sour, with great crunch from peanuts and green papaya.  This was the first of many dishes that our teacher was quick to say is best purchased on the street in Thailand.  I would agree, as there is an art to pounding the ingredients together which we failed to master.  The result was nevertheless satisfying, and left all of us sniffing and bleary-eyed from the spice.


Sticky Rice (my shortcut for making sticky rice here)

To cool the heat from Som Tum, it is traditionally served with sticky rice.  Sticky rice is addictive and so fun to eat, but I’m always disappointed at how few Som Tum vendors in Bangkok make it to be served with the dish.  It’s a bit more delicate than regular white rice, but not terribly difficult.  However, to make it in the traditional manner, you need this set-up which would never fit in my miniature Bangkok kitchen.


Spring Rolls 

I fell in love with the idea of fresh spring roll wrappers after witnessing the art form of making them in a woman’s basement shop in Bangkok a few months ago.  However, I was so obsessed with eating them with the crunchy, sugary filling that I’ve never thought much about making the savory sort.  For this week’s cooking class we used the fresh wrappers but filled them with glass noodles, mushrooms, carrots, cabbage and tofu.

Our class of foreigners, despite our best efforts, did not succeed in producing spring rolls that were either uniform or even remotely attractive.  However, once deep-fried and dipped in sweet and spicy Thai chili sauce, no one seemed to care a bit.


Musamun Chicken Curry

This bubbly, spicy curry concoction emerged form our outdoor woks so hot and fragrant that by the end we were all sweating, eyes watering, into the pans.  We were thankful for the air conditioning in which to eat this curry which combines the familiar Thai curry elements of red chilies, makrut lime, shallots, and garlic with Indian curry spices like bay leaf, cinnamon, and cardamom seeds.  This curry was wonderful, rich with a bit of coconut milk, and unusual with the combinations of spices, although I suspect I’ll always be a Panang Curry girl.


Fried Bananas with Ice Cream

For dessert, we sliced finger bananas in half and dipped them in an oatmeal-resembling concoction of sugar, flour, shredded coconut, sesame seeds, and cornstarch.  Then we deep-fried them.  Need I say more?

The ice cream though, as our teacher was quick to point out, was not homemade.

No…that, dear friends, was purchased at 7-Eleven.

And there you have this week’s Thai cooking class…and the reason that I am still not hungry 24 hours later.

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About Jess Smith

Jess is the recipe creator and photographer at InquiringChef.com. She spent nearly a decade as the Chief Recipe Developer for the award-winning meal planning app Cook Smarts. Her colorful, healthyish recipes have been featured in popular online publications including Parade, Hallmark, and HuffPost.

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    1. They do a great job there, don’t they?! I always think that school does a good job of making it fun, and teaching lots!

  1. I love reading your blog. I was born in Thailand, (Korat) and moved to the states when i was very young. My mother is from Bangkok. I live two hours away from her now. When I miss her, I go eat Thai food. I can cook it, but it is very labor intensive. Sum Tom is my favorite. For me, it was a treat when I was a young girl. Keep up the great entries.

  2. Your blog looks so wonderful! The class must have been so interesting. We love Thai food here in Texas and always get fried bananas and ice cream afterwards.