Sunday, 7 June 2015

Learning how to cook in authentic Thai style

It is early in the morning and we are the only farang faces to be seen at Thalang fresh food market (or Talaad Sod), which is a riot of colour and movement. We are pushing and prodding at baby eggplants determining which will be best for the Thai green chicken curry we will later be creating from scratch. 

Chef Ann (Arunrat Chaipakdee to give her her full name) guides us through the same experience with string beans, bok choy and  papaya. Everything must be fresh, crisp and shiny, or it gets rejected out of hand. All the vegetables, fruits and spices are chosen for the day's menu after discussion with the stallholders. 


Ann says she loves the market because the produce on sale is usually fresher than in supermarkets and cheaper, too.

Later we head back to the purpose-built Moo's Kitchen cooking school at the Indigo Pearl resort in Phuket, blessed with all the latest high-tech equipment, where we create dishes including a spicy green papaya salad, green coconut curry chicken, stir-fried egg noodles with seafood and deep-fried banana Thai style. 

Along the way we will learn how to slice and dice in the correct way, and how proper preparation is the key to success in the kitchen. And once we have finished cooking our four-course feast we are able to enjoy eating it before being granted a certificate for “passing” the cooking test. 

I have “earned” similar certificates before, but after all I have learned over the past few hours I actually feel like I gained both knowledge and skills that I will be able to use in the future – including slicing a papaya without doing myself grievous bodily harm.

Ann has had over a decade cooking in the kitchens at Indigo Pearl and is funny as well as being a great teacher. She seems to take genuine pleasure in her pupils' progress.  

Across the water in Koh Lanta, the Crown Lanta resort offers a similarly instructive, although slightly more rustic, experience. 

Chef Boy is from Issan in the north-east of the country but he cooks largely southern Thai 
specialities “although not too spicy” - making him one of the few Thais I've met with an aversion to heat. 


The chef takes us to the local Saladan street markets, pointing out what is fresh – and what should be avoided (some of the chicken pieces look a little tired, he decides). 

We drop into the nearby village of Sang Ga U, home of the sea gypsy fishermen who provide the resort – and much of the island – with ultra-fresh fish and crustaceans (mainly squid, shrimp and crab) caught from their flimsy-looking one- or two-man wooden boats. 

“We have been doing this for generations,” one of the fishermen tells me.  

Back at the resort the cooking school experience is an al fresco one – on the deck next to the resort's The Peak restaurant. A mobile kitchen is quickly put together – ingredients assembled and we are off. 

On the menu here are king prawn spring rolls, poh tak (a spicy seafood soup with holy basil), and the ubiquitous pad Thai (fried noodles with seafood). 

Chef Boy encourages experimentation – if you want to divert away from the recipes by adding maybe a little more chilli, or less tamarind juice, that is up to you. You will be the one eating the finished dishes. 

Over the two days at these two schools I reacquainted myself with a mortar and pestle (sauces do not taste as good unless they have been hand ground, Moo insists), and learned how important it is to add the correct ingredients at exactly the right time.

It sounds basic but its a revelation for someone who cooks instinctively, if at all. Those recipe cards I was given at both cooking schools will come in handy. 

Virtually everywhere you go in Thailand you'll find great beaches, fabulous food and plenty of smiles - but these two resorts offer not only hands-on cooking classes, but a whole lot more gourmet and relaxation options.

Indigo Pearl, Nai Yang Beach, Phuket, Thailand. +66 76 327 006. www.indigo-pearl.com.

Crown Lanta Resort & Spa, 315 Moo 1, Saladan, Koh Lanta, Krabi, 81150 Thailand. +66 75 626 999. www.crownlanta.com

GETTING THERE 

AirAsia X, together with AirAsia, links 100 destinations across 23 countries including five flights daily to Phuket and three daily to Krabi from Sydney via Kuala Lumpur. The flights are at budget prices but travellers can choose from Premium and Quiet Zone seats and the airline recently introduced a very comfortable business class zone. www.airasia.com

# This is an abridged version of a story that appears in the current edition of Nourish magazine. www.naturalhealthmag.com.au/nourish


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