I knew I needed to buy spices, but I wasn’t sure where to go or what to buy. I approached the bamboo gates of the local Chiang Mai market nervous and excited. There was a tiny Thai grandmother sitting behind a desk in a small wooden office. She was surrounded by fruit, nuts and piles of multicolored packages. I hoped she’d be able to point me in the right direction. I approached her and uttered my best, punctuated, “Sa. Wat. Dee. Kah.”
She smiled and rolled her eyes in a friendly “oh, tourists” manner. Feeling self-congratulatory, I asked where to find the cooking class. She waved to the side of the building and said “400 Baht” in accented English. She handed me a bundle of soft handwoven taffeta with small packages of spices inside. I walked away as she gave me a side eye look that I interpreted as, “Do you know what you’re doing, lady?”
I was nervous as I walked past her gate and into the grounds of the small market. As I glanced around, I noticed a handful of tourists looking as nervous as I was. We were waiting for our teacher from the Asia Scenic Cooking School.
I’m from New York City—Asian food has been a part of my diet for as long as I can remember. Thai food, in particular, is one of my favorite cuisines. I’ve had access to the ingredients to make my own dishes, but Asian markets intimidate me. My culinary abilities peaked at ramen and Easy Mac during my undergraduate bar days. Needless to say, a cooking school in Thailand was far out of my comfort zone.
Our guide joined us and led us through a tour of the market. She explained the spices, vegetables and sauces we would be using during the day. I started to relax as we wandered the aisles listening to our guide.
In The Kitchen
At the school, the instructor led us on a tour of the kitchen facilities and beautiful garden. It was a small, quaint herb garden beaming with love. It was clear from the organized rows that the staff took great pride in tending to the plants. We went through the garden selecting samplings of herbs to take back to the kitchen.
I put on my maroon apron and was directed to select three dishes to prepare on the menu. I picked the old standby of pad Thai, massaman curry and mango sticky rice. Our instructor steered us towards the prep table to assess our ingredients.
When making this dish at home, you should prepare all ingredients well in advance. Stir-fried dishes are cooked at a fast pace that prevents preparation while cooking.
8 ounces flat rice noodles
4 cloves of garlic
5 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
⅓ cup sliced green onions
3 ounces hard white bean curd cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons fish sauce
4 tablespoon tamarind water
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup peanuts coarsely ground
1 lime cut into quarters
- We begin by placing 8 ounces of flat rice noodles in cold water. Soak the noodles for about 30 minutes until they are al dente. Drain the water from the noodles.
- Add one clove of garlic and the oil to a preheated wok. Fry the mixture until the garlic turns yellow.
- Add the chicken breast and fry until thoroughly cooked. Remove the chicken from the wok and keep it warm.
- Add the rest of the garlic and bean curd to the hot wok. Fry for one minute. Remove the beancurd from the wok but keep it warm.
- Crack one egg into the wok, pierce the yolk and scramble it completely.
- Add the noodles and bean curd back into the wok. Mix everything together well.
- Add the fish sauce, sugar and tamarind water to the mixture while reducing the heat by half.
- Add the chicken and adjust the sauce to desired taste.
- Place the noodle mixture on a plate and garnish with peanuts, lime wedges and fresh washed bean sprouts.
At the end of the day, I felt satisfied with my ability to recreate this dish at home, which is a major feat for someone who can only cook packaged meals with cartoons on the box. I highly recommend taking a cooking course while traveling. I took a recipe book home and will have meals with my loved ones as a lasting souvenir.