Learning to cook like a local

Though it was our first day in Bangkok, we dove right into the action by heading to the Baipai Cooking School for a half-day of Thai cooking classes. A friend of Jason's from Minneapolis recommended Baipai and I whole-heartedly second her recommendation! It was simply a wonderful experience.

As you can see on their web site, they offer five different schedules. I picked today because it featured my favorite Thai dish (at least favorite Thai dish eaten in America): fish cakes, or tod man pla, plus the old standby pad thai. The cooking school picked us up at our hotel, and soon we were donning our aprons and headed into the kitchen to learn how to cook Thai food!

Tab Tim Grobb, or Water Chestnuts in Coconut MilkOur first item was a dessert (because it had to chill) called tab tim grobb or "water chestnuts in coconut milk". Our translator and guide Mona told us it literally meant "crunchy ruby" in Thai due to the dessert's lovely red color and crispy texture. It was easy to prepare, and we learned how to prepare fresh coconut milk (see this photo of me using a traditional Thai "rabbit" for coconut grating). Grating and milking fresh coconut is very time consuming though, so unless I hire some prep cooks for my home kitchen, I'll be using the canned stuff.

Jason making Tod Man PlaNext we prepared tod man pla, aka Fish Cake or "Deep fried oily fish." The best part of making this was slapping the fish mixture into the bowl to incorporate all the ingredients. In this photo you can see Jason using his hands to mix it all together. No photos of the slapping, it required serious concentration to keep it from flying out of the bowl and splattering around the kitchen!

My tod man plaAfter we finished each dish, we took a break to sit down and eat it. We ate so much I was very full by the end of class. Here in the photo you can see my tod man pla. It was yummy! Also, I learned you can substitute other meats for the fish, like chicken or pork. I definitely plan to make this when I return home.

Ingredients for Tom Kah Gai soupAfter fish cakes, it was on to tom kah gai, or "chicken 'n galangal in coconut milk soup," another one of my favorites! I learned that this soup is all about the galangal, tom kah means "boiling galangal" and then you add gai (chicken) or some other meat or fish to it. Galangal is related to ginger and you can see it with the crazy stalks in this photo of all the ingredients for the soup.

My tom kah gaiHere's my completed tom kah gai at my station. One of the great things about this class was that we each had our own station. So after Nam and Mona demonstrated how to prepare each dish (and gave us a sample!), we went to our stations and did it ourselves. There's nothing like doing it yourself to really learn how to make something.

Guay Taew Pad ThaiOur final dish was the familiar "pad thai" or guay taew pad thai (noodle stir-fry Thai style). It, like everything we learned today, was straight-forward and simple. The complex flavors and depth of Thai food belie the ease with which it can be prepared, at least the dishes we learned today! In this photo you can see chef Nam — having cooked the noodles until they absorbed all the liquid — adding the eggs in the side of the wok. Once they're cooked, you fold the noodles back on top, and then incorporate the remaining ingredients. The result was the best pad thai I've ever tasted!

My guay taew pad thaiAfter we finished cooking our pad thai, we returned upstairs to eat it and to enjoy our now-chilled and ready to consume dessert of "crunchy ruby." And like that, our lovely class was over. 🙁 I didn't even manage to take a single picture of the facilities or our gracious hostess/guide/translator Mona.

My tab tim grobb, or water chestnuts in coconut milkIt was a great class. Not only did I learn how to prepare some traditional Thai dishes, I also learned about new ingredients and I'm now inspired to incorporate some of the new flavors into the more traditional "American" dishes I like to prepare. And I can't wait to locate and buy Thai ingredients back home and recreate these meals again for dinner. My only wish? That I could go back every day for cooking classes at Baipai!

Baipai Cooking School
Bangkok, Thailand

As of Nov. 15, 2005, half-day class was 1,400 baht, or ~US$34, including transportation to and from hotel