“What’s on your Thailand bucket list?” My friend and I sit on my bed and every piece of summer clothing I own is fanned out around us, hoping to make the final packing list. I call this ritual “trial packing.” A more accurate description might be “Nic has a meltdown and almost cancels her trip because why won’t everything fit in these packing cubes and seriously how many of these adorable travel toiletries do I really need.”
It’s two nights before my flight to Bangkok and I’m not packed. I’m not prepared. Right now, the only thing on my Thailand bucket list is to simply get myself there.
I hem and haw while shoving my shoes into the bottom of my backpack. When did my feet get so enormous?
I would be in Bangkok for five weeks for a house sit, but I hadn’t thought about what I wanted to do while I was there. I guess I got caught up figuring out how many bathing suits and pairs of daily contact lenses to pack. The answers, by the way, are three, and as many as I could cram in the side pockets of my bag in a last-minute frenzy.
I want to see temples, go to night markets, and eat tons of street food. I certainly want to spend a few days lounging on a beach at some point, but I hadn’t planned much beyond my first month in Bangkok.
Really, there is only one thing I have to do in Thailand.
“I’m taking a Thai cooking class,” I say and fall back into the clothes heap, daydreaming of Green Curry.
On my month-long trip through India in 2013, I developed a love for curries and spices. When I was a middle school teacher in a small town, I took up cooking as a tasty way to entertain myself. Before long, yellow turmeric stains decorated most of my cookware and accounted for a few unfortunate-looking splotches on my carpet. What’s in that huge crockpot bubbling in my kitchen? Probably a heap of curry.
My family has been the primary beneficiary of my hobby. They are regularly spoiled with hardy and fragrant Indian dishes. In the weeks before my departure, my dad mentions how much he loves Thai coconut chicken soup on at least two occasions. My mom pins 1,300 Pad Thai recipes to our shared Pinterest board.
I know I need to take a cooking class, lest they disown me upon my return.
So I land in Bangkok and it takes me a week to recover from a crippling bout of jet-lag. For seven days, I’m a zombie. A fried rice-eating zombie. I don’t trust sleep-deprived me to be in the presence of knives and open flame. When I can finally sleep through the night, I start researching cooking classes.
I sign up for a class at the Pink Chili Cooking School because they have great reviews on Viator and they have a different menu each day of the week. After pouring over the different options on their pretty website, I decide on Monday. We will be making pad Thai, coconut chicken soup (you’re welcome, Dad!), green curry paste, green curry chicken, and mango sticky rice. Yes.
Off to the Market
On Monday morning, I meet the instructor at the On Nut BTS station. There are five people in our group. On group tours, there’s always a risk that you won’t connect with anyone. We all fear that free walking tour where everyone just shuffles along not saying much with uncomfortable soft smiles.
But this is not the case today. Our group immediately hits it off. Everyone is friendly and outgoing and interesting. Most importantly, everyone is hungry. We have excellent cooking class mojo.
The tour begins in a local Thai produce market. Our instructor leads us through the aisles of bright vegetables, explaining what we need for our recipes. She shows us how to pick the freshest ingredients and I learn that there is such a thing as a tiny Thai eggplant.
We walk to the dry goods section of the market and learn how to pick out different kinds of rice. While the instructor teaches us about the ingredients, her assistant follows behind buying what we need. Soon, her tote bag is overflowing. When the assistant is sufficiently weighed down in groceries, we walk five minutes to the cooking school.
The cooking school is so cute, my first thought is “I want to open a cooking school!” One-half of the building is an air-conditioned prep room. The other half is an open-air room with woks and hot elements. Everything is tastefully decorated and minimalist but very homey.
Preparing the Food
In the prep room, our instructor passes around recipe books for us to take notes in. She and her assistant spread out the ingredients on the large table. First, rice. Sticky rice, to be exact. Sticky rice, she explains, is much heavier than regular rice. If you eat regular rice, you will be hungry again soon. Sticky rice will keep you full.
We mix up a large batch of sticky rice and it happily cooks in a fancy-looking bamboo rice cooker. I start a running list of kitchen items I now need to get whenever I settle down and have my own kitchen again.
Kitchen Item I Now Need 1: A bamboo steamer.
Onward to green curry paste.
“How spicy do you like it?” The instructor asks and holds up a tiny and dangerous-looking chili. We will work in pairs to make green curry paste based on our spiciness preferences. Two classmates recoil, eyes wide, and partner up as the “no spice” group. I cautiously say “a little spicy” which means I’m put into the “very spicy” group. As we chop our ingredients, she slips an extra chili into my bowl. “Trust me, you’ll like it,” she nods and I wonder if I have just made a terrible mistake.
Making green curry paste is a workout. My “very spicy” partner and I work together for what feels like hours grinding ingredients with the mortar and pestle. Just when our arms are actually about to fall off, the instructor looks over our shoulder and says “Great, you’re about halfway there.”
Kitchen Item I Now Need 2: Mortar and Pestle.
The room smells amazing – herbal and fresh and green. While we chop vegetables and mix up spices, our instructor talks about Thai food traditions and how she started this cooking school. Turns out I’m not the only classmate who felt inspired by this place. For about ten minutes, we seriously debate all five of us quitting our day jobs and opening a chain of adorable cooking schools in our home countries. We’re having such a great time.
Cooking our meals.
Once we’ve chopped, ground, and seasoned, it’s time to work in the cooking room. We step out of our air-conditioned prep room into the room full off woks. Cooking Thai food in a wok goes very quickly. After a quick lesson in how to hold the spatulas and operate the stove, the room fills with heat and delicious smells.
Our instructor stands at the front of the room and tells us when to add ingredients. Even though flames are licking up the sides of the wok and tofu pieces are flying, it’s easier than I thought it would be.
Kitchen Item I Now Need 3: Wok.
I appreciate the flexibility of this class. I’m not a huge shrimp fan (I know I know, I’m very much in the minority on that!) so the instructor lets me swap out the shrimp in the Pad Thai dish with extra tofu. The instructor encourages us to taste as we go, adding more salt or sugar or fish sauce to our liking.
When our hot dishes are complete, our instructor lifts the lid on the bamboo steamer. Inside, a perfect mountain of sticky rice waits for its mango partner in crime.
Time to Eat.
When all four dishes are complete, we eat back in the prep room. The room is silent. Our chatty group is too busy stuffing our faces to say a word. The food is amazing. Each dish is different from the others and everything tastes fresh. There is just enough spice to make it interesting without destroying my taste buds. The instructor was right to add the extra chili.
I take a bite of green curry chicken. Obviously, the green curry chicken is my favorite. Then I slurp a spoon full of coconut chicken soup. Nope, this is my favorite. A bite of pad Thai. Actually, this one is my favorite. And around it went. By the end of lunch, I am stuffed. I am ashamed to admit this, but I couldn’t even finish my mango sticky rice.
The five of us hang around for awhile even though the class is over, picking at the tasty remains on our plates. The instructor relaxes with us for a while then begins to prepare for her next class. The whole time she has the biggest smile.
When people love what they do, it shows in their work.
The instructor and her assistant were so happy, so involved, so clearly in their element through the whole class. They kept a watchful, nurturing eye on us as we worked but gave us space to actually practice doing the steps on our own. They made sure everyone had what they needed throughout the whole day and made certain everyone left happy and well-fed. As I take one more bite of delicious mango, I hear them happily chatting away while they wash the knives and cutting boards in the large kitchen sink. My belly is full of warm, hearty, homey dishes made with love. I’m surrounded by new friends. It feels like home, I realize.
Home, but with incredible Thai food.
The dishes in this cooking class were quite easy and quick to make. The only challenge I see with recreating these dishes at home is finding the right ingredients. Lemongrass and Chinese eggplant aren’t laying around your local Walmart.
This class made Thai cooking so easy and accessible. I could explore new flavors without worrying about messing up too badly, or you know, burning down the entire house in a greasy wok fire. I loved how we participated in each step from the market to the finished plate. And I appreciated how the instructor made modifications for dietary and spiciness needs.
I also love that there are different menus offered each day of the week. Participants have the flexibility to pick their favorite menu and can do the class many times to learn different dishes. Next time I’m in Bangkok, I plan to do just that.
Pink Chili Cooking School offers classes six days a week with a rotating menu. There are two classes per day, one in the morning and one in the evening. The course costs 1,200 THB or $36 USD. Book classes on their website here: Pink Chili Cooking School.
You are provided with all the supplies and ingredients you need. Water, coffee, tea, aprons, and WiFi are all available while you cook. After class, you get to keep the recipe book so you can recreate your dishes at home.
This class is located at the On Nut BTS station. There is some walking involved from the station to the market to the cooking school so wear comfortable clothes that you can walk and cook in.
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