The cuisine of Thailand is known for being flavourful and feisty and learning how to cook from a professional cooking school, is an experience to cherish.
The sight before me is lip smacking and enticing at the same time. I am looking at a basket full of freshly harvested herbs and vegetables that greet me to Napalai Thai Cuisine Cooking School in Koh Chang where I am present for a cooking class. Being a first of its kind experience, I really don’t know what to expect so I decide to go with an open mind and it turns out to be the highlight of my trip to this lesser known destination in Eastern Thailand.
My teacher here is affable and amiable Napalai Buathong aka Bunny who tells me that this school is based on her love for food and cooking, something her mother taught her and that sets the right tone for me to experience a Thai food sojourn. Incidentally, these classes are held in small groups and need to be booked in advance and you can choose a morning, an afternoon or an evening slot. And if you have dietary preferences, these can be easily taken care of as well if informed in advance. I am here in the evening and Bunny tells me that there will be a four course dinner that we will make and eat. She starts by first introducing the ingredients, many of which she grows in-house. On the wood table Bunny shows us (I am with a small group here) the main ingredients used in Thai cooking starting with chilli. “Called Phrik in Thai, we have several varieties available including green and red ones and since they are all spicy they are used for flavoiring. The smaller the chilli the hotter it is. Also the red ones are spicier and become more intense when dried and used,” explains Bunny. This apart, garlic, which is a smaller and sweeter variant, large bulbous onions, spring onions, shallots, ginger, Thai ginger or Galangal, turmeric, finger root or Karchai, the aromatic kaffir lime and lemon grass are also some key ingredients. Among the herbs basil is an important ingredient and sweet basil, holy basil and lemon basil as well as coriander and Cilantro or Thai coriander, mint and peppercorns are part of most meals. Tomato, eggplant and well as miniature aubergines, oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms and elephant mushroom are some other ingredients on Bunny’s table.
Four Course Meal
The class begins with the first course a soup. Since I am vegetarian, Bunny suggests I use onion to replace the chicken in the Tom Kha Kai – chicken in coconut milk soup. There are multiple cooking stations in the class and I am struck that it resembles a professional television show for a moment. But soon enough there is work to be done and to prepare for the soup we have the ingredients in four parts – the onions for flavour, the green chilli, ginger, kaffir lime and lemon grass for spice, lemon for seasoning and coriander for the garnish. The base of the soup is a creamy coconut milk into which the onions and spices are added and allowed to cook. Telling us not to stir too much, we add a dash of lemon and coriander and the soup is ready to be eaten at the dining table. For the next course its Phat Thai – Thai style fried noodles with chicken. Substituting the chicken with tofu for me, Bunny tosses the narrow rice noodles with bean sprouts, garlic, spring onion and soy and mushroom sauces and tops it up roughly crushed roasted peanuts and the result is divine. The concept here is that you eat what you cook, course by course.
The next recipe is the famed Thai green curry that needs to be hand pound in a mortar and pestle. So we sit on the floor and get cracking – pounding peppercorns, coriander seeds and cumin seeds. Once ground, we add chopped fresh green chillies, garlic, shallots, lemon grass, galangal, coriander root, kaffir lime peel, turmeric and salt and pound till it becomes a smooth paste. Once done we cook an assortment of vegetables (chicken and shrimp for non-vegetarians) with the green paste and coconut milk. Eaten with the traditional Thai rice, you are in food coma soon. Bunny tells us that the green curry is from the north with the red curry came from the south. For the final course it is sticky rice and fresh mango. And the rice (that has been ready) is boiled in coconut milk and cream. The fresh mango is sliced and plated with the rice and as we devour the same, it’s easy to conclude that this has been an experience to cherish. Incidentally Bunny also retails all the products in the school as well as handmade fridge magnets that make for great souvenirs to take back home. And as a parting shot, we also receive a certificate on completing the class and a Thai Cookbook as a gift from Bunny. Thrilled we pose for pictures and say good bye to Bunny whose smiling face and love for food will remain with us much after as we are all set to make Thai food back home. And yes, this time the taste will be authentic as we are armed with culinary skills from the source itself. So the next time you are in Koh Chang, go on a culinary journey – it will leave you with a great feeling.
This story first appeared in the Nov 2018 issue of Spicejet’s Spice Route here: