Roi Thai Cooking Class
While we have enjoyed many aspects of our Thailand adventure, the thing that we have enjoyed the most is the food, absolutely and without question. It is not only delicious, it is an incredibly healthy style of cooking- lots of fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies, an emphasis on herbs, spices and aromatics for flavor, and plenty of seafood. Because we never- never!- again want to live without the wonderful flavor and spice of Thai foods we knew we needed to go to cooking class and learn how to prepare it ourselves. Well, Roi Thai Cooking Class in Klong Nin on Koh Lanta was a great place to learn. Their view that food and culture is inextricably linked is so similar to my own view of food and culture, so right away I knew it was the right place for us. The class was very interactive and a great combination of cooking, eating and learning, We made 4 different dishes (including my favorite- red curry with coconut milk!) and got an education on Thai flavors, the health benefits of those flavors, spices and herbs, and even tips like how to make coconut milk.
We attended the sunset cooking class which lasted from 4:30pm-9pm but there were several options throughout the day- an early bird class in the morning, a lunch class and a sunset class. It sounds like a long class, but it flew by and activities were broken up- we cooked, then we ate, then we cooked and ate again, then we cooked a final time before sitting down to enjoy our last two dishes at a candle lit table overlooking the ocean. At the end of the class, the whole class agreed- we were excellent cooks!
We were welcomed into the charming restaurant only steps from the beach where we were offered a welcome drink while we sat enjoying the ocean breezes and watching waves crash onto the beach. We met our fellow classmates; a family of 4, including 2 young girls, originally from the US but currently living in China. After a few minutes, an appetizer arrived and so did our chef, Toey.
Toey was not only very knowledgeable but he was also charming and fun. He sat down with us and explained our appetizer, Miang Kem. Toey explained that all five flavors of Thai cuisine were represented in this traditional appetizer; spicy (chilis, ginger, shallots), sweet (the sweet sauce with palm sugar and fish sauce), sour (lime wedges), salty (dried shrimp) and creamy (peanuts, toasted coconut). Toey walked us through the health benefits attributed to each- lime is refreshing and good for fever, chilis burn calories, ginger is good for digestion and the pepper leaf we folded it all up in is good for blood pressure! We were to take a pinch of everything, add a small spoonful of sauce and fold it all into the leaf. The trick was then to eat it all at once so all five of the flavors were experienced together. Wow! It was absolutely amazing. I would have been completely satisfied with the class if it had ended with that refreshing and tasty appetizer. Lucky for me, it didn’t- we were just getting started! Toey encouraged us to play around, adding more lime, an extra piece of ginger or a few more peanuts. This would set the tone for our whole class, Toey would walk us through the preparation of a dish, then encourage us to make the dish to our liking, balancing the five flavors to our satisfaction and really make the dish our own.
While we were hard at work making delicious appetizers, the mise en place for our next course was being set up. We first went through a crash course on Thai flavors from lemon grass, Thai shallots, keffir lime and keffir lime leaves, to galangal, turmeric root and how palm sugar is made (from the flower of a certain palm tree, a nectar is extracted and then reduced until very, very thick, in case you were wondering).
He taught us a few tricks- fresh turmeric root is good for mosquito bites- and made sure we were entertained but also that we learned a lot. Then we were sent to wash our hands, don our aprons and our hats- it was time to cook!
Our first dish was deep fried spring rolls (Po Pia Thod) made with cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, celery, glass noodles and garlic all sauteed together and topped with a sauce of soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil and a pinch of sugar to really balance the flavors.
Toey walked us through the basic preparation of every dish but since we each made our own dishes and cooked in our own pots and pans he suggested variations that we could use or not- for several dishes he suggested adding an extra clove of garlic or encouraged us to add as much spice as we wanted. He was also very patient with the two young girls, joking with them, guiding them and helping them when they needed it so that they made the exact same dishes as the rest of us. He taught us the difference between Thai cooking for Thais (adding spice at the beginning and cooking it into the dish which makes the dish spicier) and Thai cooking for Europeans (adding the spice at the end which keeps it more mild). We learned how to successfully wrap spring rolls so that they don’t explode while frying- the secret, it turns out, is to make the filling very, very compact!
Our second dish was Pad Thai, a dish that I have attempted to make on my own several times and it is always a complete failure. This time, however, under the watchful eye of Toey I was able to not only make the dish, but to absolutely nail it! It was a great dish and an even better feeling of accomplishment!
Finally, we finished the class by making stir fried cashew nuts with chicken (Gai Pad Med Ma Maung) and red curry with chicken (Kang Phed Gai). And we actually made the red curry paste from scratch. We were each given a mortar and pestle to pound the herbs, spices, chilis and aromatics for the red curry paste. We pounded, gently and a bit timidly at first, but Toey encouraged us to really get into it and we did! We pounded away, and let me tell you- those pestles get heavy after a few minutes of serious pounding, but it was an absolute blast and a great stress buster, not to mention the red curry paste we made was so flavorful and so fragrant. I have always bought my own curry paste but have always worried about what kind of preservatives and additives (and the amount of sodium) are in it. Now I can make my own and I can make it just the way I like it- how freakin’ awesome is that?!?!
The whole experience was tons of fun and I learned a lot. Having the periods of standing and cooking broken up by sitting down and eating was a great way to keep the class flowing, make sure everyone was well fed (but then hungry again by the next course!) and to hold our attention. We learned tons of great skills that we will definitely put to good use!
We were guests of Roi Thai. All opinions expressed are 100% my own. Thanks for a great class, Roi Thai!