It’s a long flight from Australia to the UK, which is why I am exiting Bangkok’s airport at midnight into a wall of pleasant heat for a twenty four hour stopover. First priority is to get to the hotel and sleep. Now that its morning, I am relaxed, refreshed and ready to jump into my cooking class, or more specifically jump into the free transport van which is waiting to take me to the BaiPai Thai cooking school in a lovely two-storey house in the suburbs. Downstairs is a big open air but roofed, custom built cooking area. There’s a huge central bench where the whole class (up to 10) sit around and watch the chefs demonstrate each dish, there’s even an overhead mirror to make sure we can see every bit of the action.
Then there are 10 separate cooking stations, with our own gas ring, wok and implements, where we attempt to create the same dishes. On the side are beautifully set tables where we sit and dine on each course as soon as we have finished cooking. I am looking forward to this stage, having skipped breakfast on the assumption I am going to be doing lots of eating.
Bangkok Cooking Class – Deep Frying.
They throw us straight into making Kra-tong Thong, Crispy Golden Cups. This one scares me – its involves large amounts of very hot oil and an extremely steady hand. I’ve made the batter, now I pick up a brass utensil that looks like a tiny tart tin on a long handle. I dip it into the batter, the goal is to evenly coat the outside of the shape with batter, right up to the lip, but not letting any get over the top to the inside. Then I thrust it into the wok of hot oil, holding it just barely submerged for 3 seconds, then pushing it gently to the bottom of the wok and holding there for a few more seconds until the little fried pie crust pops off the tool as I release it from the bottom, and I quickly scoop it out, put on the side to drain and then start the very precise process all over again. If I get it wrong it either sticks to the mould, or breaks into little pieces. Due to my expert supervisor, I manage to make my six more easily than I had imagined. We now make a quick tasty stirfry filling with pork and sweetcorn, and with an audible sigh of relief, sit down to savour our crispy golden cups.
Bangkok Cooking Class – Noodles.
Our next dish, Yam Woon Sen, (glass noodles), is a more gentle option of a simple light five-minute meal. The glass noodles are “cooked” by standing in boiling water. We use the wok to make a light minced pork & mushrooms mixture, seasoned with celery, shallots and spring onions, and pop in the prawns at the end to quickly cook. As I have repeatedly learned in asian cooking classes, the trick to the wok is to toss and swirl the ingredients as I stir-fry, and not to push them around with a spoon – use the arm and wrist muscles and the stir-fry won’t stick or burn. I add the now transparent and drained noodles to the pork & prawn mix for about 20 seconds, tip onto my plate, and add a dressing of chillies, lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar. Its so light its like eating spicy air.
Bangkok Cooking Class – Curry & Chilli
Finally its time for the chillies and curries. First is Nuea Pad Prik, a beef chilli stirfry. I thinly slice my beef, green and red chillies and onion, and add garlic, oyster sauce, soy sauce, a splash of broth, and a touch of sugar to balance it out, and toss around the wok till just cooked. This is where the individual cooking stations come into their own – I love chilli and some of my classmates don’t, so we each make and eat our own with our own preferred level of heat. Finally we tackle the rich yellow chicken curry, Gang Ka-ree Gai. Having pounded my own yellow curry paste of red chillies, salt, ginger, galangal, shallots, garlic, curry powder and turmeric in the stone mortar, I now add it to fried onions, with a mix of coconut milk and coconut cream. I add chicken meat with diced potato and carrot, and surrender my senses to the rich aromas and glossy yellow thickness of this curry as it quickly cooks. A side relish of cucumber, shallot and chillies in rice vinegar, water, sugar and salt is a fresh contrast to the big taste of the curry. Although this is now the equivalent of eating four dinner mains, I have to finish off the whole bowl, it’s addictive.
I am amazed we have achieved all that in half a day, thanks to the very friendly, professional and helpful approach of the class chefs. So clutching the glossy little pack of recipe cards for the dishes I have cooked, covered in my scribbled notes, I am happy to roll back into the van and head off back to my hotel with a very full belly indeed. And I still have about eight hours left before I head back to the airport. This is where getting a very late check-out is essential. It means I can walk off all that food in the steamy heat, explore Wat Pho, home to the world’s largest reclining buddha, neighbouring Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, and nearby Chinatown, get a massage and still have a hotel room for a final shower, change and then head off to the airport in the middle of the night feeling fresh and relaxed.