Pad Thai for Beginners

One of my favorite aspects of Thai culture is the food. My days in Chiang Mai seem to revolve around my next meal, for which there are no shortage of options. Food stalls, restaurants, smoothie stands and street carts overwhelm your senses as you walk down the street. I've always loved Thai food, but being in Thailand is a different kind of culinary experience. 

At the recommendation of some other travelers, I signed up for a two-hour Thai vegetarian cooking class at the May Kaidee cooking school. It turned out I was the only one signed up for the day and my class became a private lesson, all the better for me to master Thai recipes. My instructor, Nim, was from eastern Thailand where her family farms rice, she had been a teacher at May Kaidee for some time.

We began by reviewing ingredients and preparing the vegetables. I was unfamiliar with galangal and kaffir, one a ginger-like root and the latter a leaf. I am apprehensive, yet hopeful, that I can find these back home in the U.S. as they are key. Many Thai dishes have the same combination of ingredients, so I sliced and diced for four different recipes and laid out an array of seasonings on the cooktop. 

 Pre-cut vegetables

Pre-cut vegetables

 My cooktop area with the ingredients

My cooktop area with the ingredients

First on the menu was Tom Yam soup, a sweet and spicy vegetable soup that is very popular. I quickly learned that instrumental to most Thai dishes was chili paste, more specifically, homemade chili paste. Tom Yam soup uses the paste as both a main ingredient and a decorative topping. Of all the dishes we created the soup was my favorite, it's so flavorful!

 Tom yam in the wok

Tom yam in the wok

Much of the cooking with Nim depended on smell and estimation. "You'll know it's done when you can smell each ingredient," she said of the massaman curry. Coconut milk, chili paste, assorted vegetables, garlic, soy sauce, sugar; I tried to be able to pick them all out, but I think that will come with more experience. The third dish, Pad Thai was surprisingly easy to make and a definite crowd pleaser if I decide to cook Thai food for others. 

The final dish was mango sticky rice, a classic Thai dessert. After eating the three prior dishes I hardly had room, but surprisingly (or not) I finished off this one too. I was shocked at how easy the cooking turned out to be, although I'm afraid without Nim by my side the dishes won't taste the same. If you're willing to be adventurous, I'm happy to test out my new Thai cooking skills! 

 Mango sticky rice

Mango sticky rice