Friday, June 6, 2008

Cooking Class

Robin and I tried to take in as much of the morning as we could at our resort. It was another beautiful morning in Chiang Mai, but we had to pack our bags so we could leave after breakfast. Breakfast, once again, was spectacular. We marveled over the attention to presentation. All of our meals at the resort have included intricately carved fruit and vegetables. The plates are arranged beautifully, and the flavor is fantastic. Also, both mornings we got fresh squeezed juice. The first day was orange juice…but it didn’t taste like the orange juice we have at home. This morning it was something green…and it was great. And did we mention we were the only people staying at the resort, and there were at least 4 staff to wait on us? Incredible!

We bid the staff farewell and promised we would return. Boon was waiting for us when we came out to the parking lot.

Boon took us straight to get my suit. I tried it on, and it looked great…well, that’s what Robin said…but she’s the one who counts J The price was pretty amazing considering the materials used, the fact that it was tailored from scratch, they turned it around in 2 days, and included a new tie.

Boon then got us to the venue for our day-long activity…a Thai cooking class. We were there a little early, so we walked around the neighborhood and visited a little Wat: Muang Sat Luang.

We headed back to the class and soon the rest of the students arrived (picked up at various hotels by Yuri’s husband). There were two girls from Korea, two girls from San Francisco, and a couple, also from San Francisco. It was a good group…very friendly. The class was set up on the side of the home of the instructor, Yuri. There were eight work stations set up with utensils, a cutting board, wok, and plates with covers (to keep the few flies at bay).

We made 6 dishes in the course of 6 hours. The first part of our menu was:

  • Pad Thai
  • Cashew chicken and veggies in oyster sauce

  • Green Curry Chicken
  • Tom Yam Kung (Hot and Sour Prawn Soup)

    Robin holds her prawn head by a whisker
    After cooking and eating the first 4 dishes, we took a break to make a visit to a local food market. Yuri walked us through the market explaining all the various produce, where it comes from, and how to use their flavors.
    Shelling "pea-eggplant"
    We also went inside the meat market…which, as you might imagine, was not exactly a sterile environment. We want to burn our shoes now.

    Yuri also showed us various noodles, rices, and other ingredients we used in our cooking so far that day. We learned that rice is sold at different prices based on it’s age (old is more expensive than new) and whether or not it was broken or whole. The new rice is almost translucent and has more flavor. The old rice is preferred by restaurants because it keeps better. They also cook differently since the new rice has a higher moisture content.

    We returned to the kitchen to cook up the last two dishes:

    • Spring rolls
    • Sticky rice with mango and custard

    The spring rolls were a bit of a challenge. Like many of the dishes, Yuri made it looked a lot easier than it was for an amateur. She gave some very specific directions (including a fold with a 5 degree angle). I was terrified, but managed to pass the final test. The spring roll looks alright, but I’ll find out how it tastes later. Since we ate so much today, we brought the rolls on the train with us (which is where I’m typing this right now).

    Yuri is a great teacher. It’s obvious she’s found her calling in life. She clearly loves Thai food and she clearly loves teaching. It was pretty special to take lessons from someone who is so enthusiastic about what they do. Not only did we learn how to cook lots of great Thai food, but she told us a lot about Thai culture, general cooking theory, and funny stories to keep us laughing all day. For example, she advised us to cut our vegetables not in matchsticks or cross-cut, but at a 45 degree angle. Matchstick was too boring and rigid, 90-degree cross-cut was just over-the-top crazy, but the 45-degree angle is just right. She said this is a Buddhist philosophy, to be in the middle and avoid extremes. We all found it amusing the a cross-cut veggie is considered "crazy". =)

    She printed a book (which was designed by her graphic-designer husband) with all her recipes in it. Not only is it a great record of what we did today, it’s also designed in a way to remind us about the experience. It’s got Yuri’s bubbly personality all over it. We highly recommend this cooking course if anyone is in Chiang Mai and hungry. It was a super-fun experience and Yuri is an amazing chef and person. Her company is called: A Lot of Thai.

    Yuri: "Use this brand of fish sauce"

    Yuri has 2 kids, one of whom is a little girl only a few months older than T. She was a total ham and toddled through the class many times, beaming her beautiful smile at all of us. We were enchanted and a bit distracted to say the least. During the course of the day, Yuri was also nice enough to give us a few tips on how to cook Thai for toddlers. She had some great ideas. But here’s the kicker for the day:

    Yuri’s husband dropped us off at the train station. We hadn’t had any interaction with him all day – Yuri did all the teaching. Luggage in hand, as we were ready to walk away, he said with total sincerity: “If you have any questions about cooking for your son, just send me an e-mail…I do all the cooking at our house”. Robin and I were ready to fall over, but we contained our laughter until we were ten whole feet away!

    So, now we’re leaving Chiang Mai on the train as I type. It was a great visit. The weather was great…very humid and still quite hot, but very bearable…certainly more so than Bangkok. Luckily, we’re leaving just as the rainy season is about to get underway. In fact, it’s raining right now (making that “rat-in-the-garbage-can noise again).

    "First class" sleeping compartment (we have decided it's way too dirty to deserve 1st class status, but we were happy for the privacy)
    Robin and I have frequently mentioned that we easily forget where we are. We occasionally remind each other we’re in Thailand. I suppose it’s a sign of how comfortable we feel here.

    It’s still not clear what’s going to happen in the next two days. We check back into our hotel tomorrow, and from there we’ve left our schedule open because 1) we want to be ready for T and 2) a few other families will be arriving from the states, and we may want to plan some activities with them. Robin’s going through the travel book looking for options…but of course, it’s Bangkok…it would take months to see everything…so I’m not worried about keeping busy.



    Hannah said...

    Okay - dinner at your house this year for Loy Krathong! The food looks amazing and I'd love to look at that cookbook sometime :) Reading your stories makes me feel I was never really there :)

    Anonymous said...

    I am so glad you visited Yui when you wrote you were taking a class I was secretely hoping you were visiting them - they are awesome!!!!! And her husband Kwan did come over to my station a couple times to tell me what I should do when I steered the wrong way!!! They are awesome and I have yet to try to make anything I learned but I do know I can email them, the have answered in the past. Which reminds me I have to email them pics of Khirissa!!!