Tham Jiak means in some way "love to eat" in Hokkien. I am a Malaysian Hokkien and truly love to eat.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bangkok: Cooking School

I finally succumbed to it. I went for a cooking course in Bangkok. The idea had flit through my mind on and off, whenever I read through a blog, browsed through a food site or flipped through a magazine. I would be not fair to myself and my blog readers if I do not go and learn the secrets of Thai Cooking right?

I researched the net for the cooking school that would suit me, finally settling for Silom Cooking School because it has the most reasonable price with good review as well. Extra bonus is that it includes local market shopping beforehand.

My cooking instructor, N, a really sweet guy, guided me to his place and paid for the fare as well as he could not pick me from my busy hotel at Sukhumvit road.Once there, I joined up with a family from Hong Kong, a lady with her husband, daughter of six and mother (or in-law, I’m not sure). They are really a nice bunch and it was great fun learning cooking with them.

The first session was we head straight to a small local market near N’s place. First thing we bought is freshly grated coconut for our curries. Then N proceeds to explain the various kinds of curry paste used in Thai cooking. He says that there are 3 common curry pastes: green, red and yellow. All are nearly the same except that green paste is made from fresh green chillies while the red paste is from dried red chillies and the yellow paste added with turmeric for color. It does sound simple the way he said it.

Then we head out to the vegetable stall, where it seems like N’s usual place to go for the students as the lady at the stall knows what to get for him straight away. She was also oblivious to N poking at her vegetables while explaining to us about it. N explained various Thai herbs to various gingers as well as various eggplants.

Each of us had a little basket to do our market shopping. Here is my bountiful basket herbs and spices:

After that we lug our basket of treasures back to his place. I was impressed by the beautiful cooking place setup.

Everything was nicely plan, with one room for wet preparation, such as pressing coconut juice included with a place to wash the vegetables.

Another room was for the dry preparations such as cutting, pounding and so on. At the dry preparation, we are all rationed from the tray with what is needed to cook our one-portion dish. Then N showed us what to do with it.

Then we head out with our tray and do some cooking. Here is my final own cooked version of Tom Kha Gai (coconut milk chicken). It is my first time eating this dish so I can’t judge with the authentic ones out there, but this soup is definitely a filling one. I could not finish the coconut milk.

Next I dished up another one-person portion of Gai Pad Med Mamuang (Fried Cashew Nut with Chicken).

Then N explained on various Thai rice and how each is cooked and consumed. Then he proceeds to show how they traditionally steam the sticky rice.

Next N showed us how to make Yam Wun Sen (Spicy Mungbean Noodle Salad). It is served nicely presented with the now-cooked sticky rice.

Next we shared make Thod Mun Pla (Fried Fish Cakes). The process was a bit messy but the finish product, once again nicely presented by N, was definitely a delicious sight and delicious to eat as well. We also get to make the Thai Sweet Chilly Sauce to accompanied it ourselves.

Next we prepare the red curry paste and then dished up Kang Phet Gai (Red Curry Chicken).

Finally, courtesy from N as I requested, he taught me how to make Som Tam. How can I missed this beloved dish right? I get to pok-pok the salad together. Turn out it is really simple, now I am going to go against what I preach, and make one for myself at home soon.

So that’s the end of my experience in Silom Cooking School. I had tremendous fun and would like to thank N for the wonderful dishes and expanded waistline. N also gave us his own compiled recipes before we leave, how thoughtful. So what is the secret of Thai cooking? The secret lies in fresh local ingredients. That’s all really. Everything else is really simple and easy, especially if you know Asian way of cooking. Now when am I going to make these dishes at home as I promised to J?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Som Tam: How much do I love thee?

This much:

Som tam (Thai/Isan ส้มตำ) is a spicy papaya salad originating in Laos and the Isan region of northeastern Thailand. Som (ส้ม) in Isan and Lao means "sour," and tam (ตำ) means "pounded." - wikipedia

There is so much to say about this simple wonder salad. The Isaan region tends to have quite a number of wondrous food and this is definitely the cream of their crop. I never know about how good Som Tam can be until I tasted one myself in Thailand. I can eat this everyday as a staple diet if needed. Maybe then I will be as slim as most of the Thai people here. There is just something in their food which a generally slim society even when sugar are consume in excess. Don’t get me ranting on that, maybe in the next post, now it is all about Som Tam.

Unfortunately, I know that it is near impossible to replicate this dish anywhere else outside of Thailand unless you have all the ingredients air flown to you fresh and you somehow learn the art of making Som Tam. Here are the reasons:

Young papaya:
First, the freshly grated papaya is important. Grated is not exactly the word as I see the Thai chefs skillfully chopped the whole papaya in their hands, and then slice them nicely, where all the papaya falls miraculously into same-sized strips. Believe me, they do it way better than any grater or food processor can ever do. I always stand there in fascination when they prepare it. So maybe if you do it in a machine, it will never be as authentic. Maybe if I’m lucky I can learn up the skill, without losing a few fingers. But first to get hold of these huge green young papayas.

Then the important lime juice in the sauce, using Thai rounded green limes that seem to be only found here is an extreme point in the sauce key tanginess. The sauce also uses palm sugar, fish sauce and thai chillies.

Plus to me, a Som Tam is never complete without its freshly fried peanuts, where I found is way much better than the varieties in Malaysia. Here they have these not too big and light peanut that they had roasted to perfection. Slight hint of black spot ones are the most fragrant.

Everything else
It is also important to have the baby tomatoes, halved added into the Som Tam. I also usually call the most general version of Som Tam which adds in dried shrimps for taste.

Raw vegetables
Well this one I guess you can get it here in Malaysia, generally we eat with raw cabbages and winged beans, sometimes with basil leaves and spring onions. It is really fun eating raw vegetables dipping in som tam sauces.

Oh and not to forget one must have the
Thai mortar to ‘pok pok’ your som tam together. It is essential indeed for the authentic taste. This mortar is not to be confused with our Chinese mortar and pestle, as the mortar is made of ceramic and the pestle made of wood. It is much deeper to fill in all the som tam ingredients. But if you insist, or you are desperate (I might someday), I found a few recipes which seemed promising:

Real Thai Recipes
Blue Elephant Recipe
Thai Info-net

For the love of Som Tam, I must have it every time I am in Bangkok. If I have a choice, I would have it for every meal even. As far as my love for Som Tam goes, I will stuff my mouth with it as much as possible before my chances of having the authentic ones in Bangkok itself ran out. This is definitely one dish I would miss.

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