Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fiery curry means a fiery Buddha belly

Well, my Thailand adventure is nearly at its end. I'm in Tokyo during a layover and reflecting on my favorite experience during this trip. I'm torn between the elephant trek and the cooking class we took yesterday that included a market visit to sample ingredients.

I definitely know flying wasn't my favorite part...still 16+ hours to go...but I did get fed a ton on my flights and a pretty Thai orchid corsage. (I had tofu and udon noodles with ginger on my last flight..mmm. Phil says it's possible that I'm a giant udon noodle in disguise since I love them so much.) Business class gets a whole separate entrance to board the flight so they don't have to mingle with the riff raff. The cost was six times the flight of economy, so I'll stick with being a commoner for now.

Yesterday, we took our class at the Blue Elephant Cooking School, which is also a well-known restaurant. In the morning, our eight-person class took the Sky Train one stop to the Bangrak market. We tried red sticky rice with coconut and a concoction of duck egg, coconut milk and brown sugar. Usually I turn my nose up at coconut, but this was incredible. It was served on a banana leaf. We also sampled more spring rolls (been downing these from stands all week) and tried Thai coffee, which was iced and served in a plastic bag like the ones you were given back in the day when you won a gold fish in at the fair. Lots of milk in it and it was really tasty.

We smelled and touched a million herbs and veggies I have never seen or heard of before. Need to find some lemon basil stat at home since it smelled so refreshing. And, the sweet lemongrass iced drink everyone served us throughout the trip might be my new favorite refreshment.

For anyone who makes it to Thailand someday, I recommend taking the cooking class early in your trip to remove any intimidation of navigating the market for good eats. Mary and I sampled food beforehand, but I still wish we had taken the class sooner.

I really enjoyed the way the class was structured. After our market visit, we watched our instructor prepare our first recipe, tasted her dish, and then went in the kitchen to our own station to recreate it on our own. Other instructors were around to keep an eye on our progress, so I never felt abandoned when I got stuck. We repeated this series for four recipes. Then at the end of the class, all of the students sat in the restaurant and ate all of our own prepared dishes. It was fun!

I feel like I learned a lot and my curry will be much better because of the class (at least I hope so). I also learned about some spices in our spice cabinet at home that I've never used, like coriander, which is actually dried cilantro...ohhhh.

For my curry dish, I got adventurous and used a lot of bird's eye chiles and left the seeds in some of the other peppers to notch up the spice. At first, I thought I burned my curry, but it actually turned out really good with lots of color. I learned that you need to stop stirring every now and again to let the oil rise to the top to mature the color. At lunch, my dish made my eyes water, but it was nothing like the curry dish I tried later at dinner that torched my mouth on fire.

I also realized that the pee scent I smelled in pockets of the market was not urine, but actually shrimp paste. I do not like shrimp paste. To me, it tastes as cucka as it smells.

During the class, I kept eyeing a mortar and pestle set our instructor used to pound chilles and herbs for our dishes, so I asked her if I could find one like it at the market. She told me it was from a shop near where we visited that morning and explained how to find it and how to pronounce what I wanted in Thai. She also wrote it down in Thai for me in case I had trouble.

Our teacher's visual cues were on the money, and we didn't have trouble finding the little shop. Her Thai note came in handy because the shopkeeper didn't understand me when I tried to tell her what I was looking for in Thai (dammit). To me, the pronunciation sounded like "clok hin," but apparently I got it wrong. Oh well. At least I'm the proud owner of an awesome mortar and pestle from Thailand! I hauled that thing around for quite a while before we got back to the hotel.

Thankfully we had a massage in between the class and our hotel to get out the kinks, cuz that baby was heavy. I happily checked it this morning at the airport.

Speaking of the massage, Thai masseuses use lots of pressure, which can be uncomfortable to some people. If so, ask for gentle pressure. My masseuse used her body weight to exert even more. She practically folded me into a pretzel! And, she softly pounded what looked like a powdered sugar shaker on my head. It was really interesting, but still relaxing. I did like my Wat Pho massage better though. A girl can get used to daily massages on the cheap quite easily!

After we got to the hotel, we had our final suit fitting in our room. The jury's still out on my suit design, but I love the pretty grey blue silk.

Continuing our packed pace, we headed back out for dinner on the Chao Phraya River at the famous Oriental hotel, which also included a traditional Thai dance performance. Turned out dinner was prix fixed and 11 courses. It was our last night in Bangkok, so we went with it.

I tried my first Thaijito (love the name!) with maekhong whiskey (good stuff), brown sugar, lemongrass, lime and ginger. Really good, but a different presentation that the traditional mojito.

I had a love/hate relationship with my duck curry dish. It was so delicious, but it was absolutely fiery. I had to wait for the burning sensation on my tongue and lips to subside a bit before I went back for seconds. And, my eyes watered continuously. Mary thought it was hysterical! But the flavors were wasn't just all fire. Definitely had heartburn later on, but it was worth it.

The performance was broken up into a series of short dances, and each one told a story relating to Thai history. The female dancers were very beautiful, the costumes were ornate and the fight scenes were elegantly choreographed.

The river at night is very picturesque with its lighted, wooden boats. Also it feels very Venice-like, which might explain why I kept catching myself almost saying "gratzie."

This trip made it clear why people can get the Thailand bug so easily (by the way, there were no bugs to speak of at all). It's a beautiful country with lots of culture and friendly people. The exchange rate is certainly attractive as well. I hope I can come back someday and see Chiang Mai in the north and the beaches in the south. Such a great trip!


  1. Excellent...recap. Didnt know that coriander is actually dried cilantro? When cilantro really hit the scene in the states chefs would use the words interchangeably.

    Also, is curry a real thing? I've heard that curry is essentially a western invention.

  2. Chuckles, curry is real, my friend. My burning lips, watery eyes and runny nose were all a testament. :)

  3. Yes curry is REAL and it's delicious!