Why Everyone Should Take a Cooking Class in Thailand

A few weeks ago I took a Thai cooking course at the Silom Thai Cooking School. I learned about the course through a Girls Gone International Meet Up group, and it looked like a fun way to spend a Sunday.

As far as the course goes, I had zero expectations. I hate cooking. I was joining the class/Meet Up group for the twin purposes of trying something new and hopefully making some friends (I’ve been dating up a storm in Bangkok, but I need some lady friends!). I could spend months eating the exact same meal every day (in fact, I have a piece about that published here). This is partly because I have a strained relationship with food, but also because I’m just plain lazy. Why braise chicken, blanch tomatoes, and bake corn souffle (are those dishes that go together?) when I can be just as happy eating rice and veggies from my rice cooker?

The course started with a trip to a street market. About thirty students met across the street from the market, and then we were split into three groups. The nine of us with Girls Gone International made up one group. Our instructor/chef was a petite Thai woman who introduced herself by saying, “When I ask ‘what is your chef’s name’ you say ‘aeyyyyyy!‘” She said ‘aeyyyyy’ like Joey from Friends.

At the market, Aey showed us the different types of vegetables we would be cooking with: onions, peppers, a fruit that looked like a green brain (this may have been a type of lime?), mushrooms, green beans, etc. She held up a small red pepper. “We eat this a lot in Thailand,” she said. “But for you this is too spicy,” she gestured to all nine of us, who were clearly not Thai. “This pepper is strong, but mighty–like your chef! And what’s your chef’s name?”


After the market we went to the cooking school. The school itself must be quite large because I never saw or heard the people from the other classes again.

Aey showing us four different types of rice.

The first dish we learned to make was Tom Yum Goong: Spicy Sour Shrimp Soup. Everyone got a tray, which we loaded up with the spices and veggies that we needed.

Aey included the small-but-mighty pepper. She said if you liked authentic Thai spicy, then include the whole pepper. If you didn’t, try only a half or maybe a fourth. Only two of us used a whole pepper.

All of the ingredients minus the shrimp.

Then we went out into the hallway to cook the food on gas stoves that were so hot I was sure my arm was in more danger of getting singed than my taste buds.

I don’t have any photos of the burner ignited because even the millennial in me knew that that would probably end with a trip to the Burn Unit.
Tom Yum Goong!

Next we made Pad Thai with shrimp.

Aey squeezing a root to demonstrate how to make Pad Thai peanut sauce.

That’s right. I made that. Be amazed!

Then it was on to the Masaman Curry with Chicken and Potato. This was my favorite dish to make because it required making our own chili paste. To make the paste you gather a fairly large group of spices and herbs:

4 pods cardamom
2 inch piece cinnamon sticks
5 cloves
1 tablespoon coriander
1/3 tablespoon cumin
4-6 Dried whole chilis
1/2 inch piece julienne galangal
1 head garlic
1 stalk lemongrass
1/3 tablespoon peppercorns
1 tablespoon salt
3 shallots
1 teaspoon shrimp paste
1 Mace
1 Nutmeg

You roast the garlic and shallots together for about five minutes. Then you chop the chilis into confetti-sized slivers.

Full ingredients for the masaman curry minus the chicken and potatoes.
A closer look at the spices involved in the chili paste. (Do you see the green brain fruit on the side?)

Once you’ve roasted the garlic and shallots and minced the pepper, add everything to a giant mortar and pestle, and grind the shit out of it. Aey had each of us bash the ingredients into a paste. She said to “use your anger” and perhaps “think of your ex.” Each girl banged the pestle and laughed that they must not have a lot of anger.

The mortar and pestle.

When the mortar and pestle got to me I did exactly what Aey said and pictured my ex’s face. I hit the mortar so hard that everyone stopped talking. I laughed, a bit embarrassed, and said, “I think I have some anger.” Then I proceeded to beat the hell out of that paste while picturing my ex’s stupid face with that one crooked tooth he was always self conscious about (what? me bitter? noooooo).

Getting ready to cook the curry. The paste we made is in the corner.
Finished! It tastes like relieved anger.

While we ate our anger curry, Aey prepared the final dish: mango sticky rice. This dish is delicious, but I still don’t totally understand why the sticky rice isn’t served cold. I think I want it to be like an ice cream substitute?

Aey preparing the mango.
Is this not one of the most beautiful dishes ever?

At the end of the course, everyone got take-home chopsticks and a cookbook. The course was much more fun than I was expecting, you got a lot of bang for your buck (we ate five dishes, stayed for four hours, and only paid about $30). For as much as I typically avoid cooking, I am actually considering taking another class at this school. Once I settle into my new apartment I’m even going to try my hand at preparing one of these dishes without the helpful, exuberant eye of Aey. And you better believe I’m going to get my own mortar and pestle now. (Do you think there are custom-made ones with photos printed on the bottom? Should I start marketing those? Because, personally, I think that is an amazing idea.)

And I’m happy to report that I did make a friend! Huzzah! It was the other girl who also wasn’t afraid to put the whole small-but-mighty pepper in her dish. Clearly I have found a kindred spicy spirit.

The Girls Gone International cooking group!

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