Today we woke up to birds singing outside our window where the tropical gardens are very thick and you can't see from one room to the next. The breakfast at Siripanna is a buffet that has both Eastern and Western food. From fresh fruit, corn flakes and made-to-order omelets to sticky rice, curried pork and pad thai we tried a little bit of everything!
Then our songthaew arrived to take us to our cooking class on a farm outside of Chiang Mai. A songthaew is a pick-up truck that is fitted with seats that face each other on both sides of the bed and a little roof. It looks kind of like a small truck camper with no back from the outside. We were the last of nine to be picked up by our truck and off we went. We were given a menu and selected what we wanted to make.
Our first stop was at a small market that caters to locals and the Thai Farm Cooking School. At the first vendor, our instructor taught us about the different kinds of rice highlighting 4 different bins. There were at least 10 different bins so we were definitely only getting the highlights. Even with that it was hard to remember! We learned that last year's rice is cheaper than this year's rice because it will not be as fragrant, especially the jasmine rice. We also learned about sauces and spices that we would be putting into our food.
We were given about 20 minutes to explore the market on our own. The craziest seemed to be that they had a lot of various kinds of meats from chicken to pork to beef and no refrigeration. Additionally, you could buy pretty much every part of the animal. We saw head, feet, intestine, liver, etc. Definitely a change from the local super market! There were so many kinds of garlic and chilies; it made us start to get hungry even after our big breakfast! They had pink eggs that our instructor told us were duck eggs that had started to grow a fetus inside, they are died so they know the difference between those and the regular eggs. Apparently if you fry up the fetus it's like an energy drink with lots of protein and nutrients!
We boarded the truck again to head off to the farm. Along the way we saw the outskirts of the city and then started seeing more and more small farms that each had their own rice paddies and grazing areas for their couple of cows. We finally made it to the farm and it was quite the operation. There were five different classes that held at the same time as ours; each had their own cooking pavilion, washing station, picnic table to eat and instructor. Our instructor took us on a walk through the garden and taught us about the vegetables and fresh ingredients that we would be using. We were able to smell the kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, Thai basil, sweet basil (more like what we are used to), Thai parsley, and other things. It was great!
Finally, we started cooking! We started out making our own curry paste. Kevin chose yellow curry and I chose red curry. We selected the level of spiciness too: for "Thai spice" we would receive ten chili peppers, for "Farang spice" (i.e. foreigner spice) we would receive three. We both chose Farang! We pounded the different herbs and peppers in our mortar and pestle until it was very pasty and the instructor said it was done. Kevin was one of the first to be done, while I was stuck pounding that curry paste until my arm was sore and I was sweating! Upper body strength is helpful in Thai cooking!
We let that rest while we made our soup. I selected Tom Yam soup with shrimp and Kevin selected Thai vegetable soup in coconut milk. The soups were very easy and really only comprised of the vegetables, base (either water or coconut milk) and then a sauce to add for flavor. They were done in only about 10-15 minutes and we were ready to eat our first dish. We couldn't believe how good they were! They were so simple, yet had so much flavor. The day was starting to heat up and we laughed at ourselves eating hot and spicy soup on such a warm day, but it was delicious!
Then it was back to the kitchen to finish up our curry. We added our curry paste to some coconut milk along with some vegetables and more fresh herbs and chicken. We tasted to see if the flavor was good. Mine was a bit on the spicy side so I added about a quarter teaspoon of brown sugar and it was just right! Once our curry was done we put it in little ceramic bowls with lids. We added sweet basil to the top - Kevin's also had some green onions - and put the cover on. The instructor said that was to infuse the bowl with the smell of the herbs. We put them to the side and worked on our stir fry. I had selected chicken and cashews, and Kevin had selected chicken with basil. We learned out to use the wok and the instructor told us explicitly to not use olive oil when we get back home because it changes the flavor! We chopped up our vegetables once again and started cooking. We learned that the key to a good stir fry sauce is Oyster Sauce which we will be purchasing when we get home! After just a few minutes of cooking everything was done!
We headed out to the picnic tables to enjoy our lunch. The instructor had made Jasmine rice and sticky rice already and we brought our curry and stir fry dishes to the table. The sticky rice was really good rolled into a ball and dipped into the curry sauce. This was my favorite! I didn't even need the vegetables, just sticky rice and curry sauce. All of our dishes were truly amazing. I'm sure when we try to make substitutions back home for some of the fresh seasonings we won't be able to recreate it exactly, but even if we're close it will still be excellent! The instructor also made us a fresh papaya salad to go along with our lunch.
After we ate as much as we could stuff in, we were given to go bags for our food to bring back to our hotel. At that time I couldn't imagine eating more, but then she reminded us that we still had to make dessert! Kevin had selected bananas in coconut milk and I had chosen mango sticky rice. We were broken into small groups for this and really just needed to heat up the coconut milk with some cane sugar and then add the additional ingredients. They were both delicious! There's always room for dessert, so we managed to finish those off! Finally, we prepared our noodle dishes to take home. Kevin chose to make pad thai and I chose spring rolls. Again we were broken up into small groups to work on our dishes. The spring rolls were relatively difficult to put together, but the filling was easy to make. We then steamed them with banana leaves. We can't tell you how those dishes were because we haven't tasted them yet!
Finally, we headed back to the hotel with all of our food wrapped and ready for dinner, and very full bellies. We decided to hang out by the pool for a bit and just relax for the evening. We never got hungry enough to eat any of our leftovers so we have them for another dinner this week! The cooking class was a very fun, interesting and a delicious day of learning about Thai culture!