Thai Cooking School in Phuket

Phuket is Thailand’s only island province and its economy mainly depends on tourism, along with cashews, rice, pineapple, rubber, and coconut production for local consumption and export. Interesting markets, Hindu and Buddhist temples, tropical vegetation, nature preserves, beautiful sand beaches and plentiful resorts all add to the culture and experience one enjoys during a visit to Phuket.

We chose a Thai Cooking Class for our Phuket experience. MJ had eaten Thai food before, but Barb was quite unfamiliar with the cuisine. She was not sure what she was going to eat, if much, on this adventure as she had secretly vowed not to eat such things as dried fish, fish oil, hot chilies, and unknown fruits and vegetables.

We docked at Phuket Port, and then traveled by bus to Phuket Town and then to the other side of the island to Patong, where the lovely beaches are located. Traffic was slow moving with too many cars on the road for the width of the roadways. Outside many homes and places of business we noticed golden and multi-colored spirit temples signifying good luck. Notice the front of this new, modern Toyota dealership with the gold colored spirit temple in front to entice good spirits and enhance business.

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Much of the electrical wiring that we saw reminded us of scenes in India, with thousands of wires strung and looped around poles to provide electricity to homes, restaurants, and businesses. We are not sure if there was a power outage how repairmen could find the offending wire.

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Our first stop was a cashew nut factory store and distribution facility named Sri Bhurapha Orchid Company. It just sold cashews.

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In the parking area we saw one large cashew tree growing. This tree had some immature fruit and nuts on it and also some fake fruit tied to the branches to show us what the mature fruit looked like.

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The process of preparing the nuts for market is quite complicated and can be labor intensive. Each fruit produces one nut, which grows outside the fruit. The nuts are separated from the fruit, dried, boiled twice, shelled and peeled. Then they are roasted, salted, and flavored (BBQ, spices, garlic, butter flavor and sea salt). Rubber gloves have to be work in shelling and peeling to protect the workers from burns that cause skin damage.

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Thai food is popular. The philosophy behind Thai cooking is that the food serves as everyday medicine for health and longevity. We stopped at a fresh food market, which was not unlike some others that we have visited, but here we saw a lot of fruits, vegetables, meats, spices, herbs, and products with which we had no familiarity.

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When we arrived at the lovely beachfront restaurant Sala Bua, we enjoyed a herbal welcome drink of fruit juices.

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Each of us was presented with a bag containing a tall white chef’s hat, a black apron, and a cookbook. We split up into groups of four and went to our “kitchen” for the day. Each of us was to prepare and then eat the four different courses that we prepared. Each station had all the necessary ingredients set out as well as gas burners, pans, tools and mortar and pestles. A chef stood by each station and coached us through the preparation of four courses.

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Thai cooking incorporates five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and spicy. Chinese and Indian cuisines have both influenced and been incorporated into Thai cooking. At one time Thailand was a cross road of East to West sea routes causing its culture and cuisine to be infused with Persian and Arabian elements. The early Portuguese contributed sweets, Buddhist monks from India brought curry to the country. Thai culinary is said to be an “art.”

A Thai dish contains at least a dozen ingredients and uses a variety of sauces (fish, soy, chili, and oyster) and other ingredients like lime and lemon juices, tamarind juice, coconut milk, garlic, lemon grass, galangal, basil, cilantro, cayenne, and black pepper and bean sprouts.

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Traditionally Thais use only fresh ingredients such as fresh coconut milk and curry paste for the curry dishes.

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The heart of a Thai meal is rice. Thais eat rice as Westerners eat bread. There are several varieties of rice grown in Thailand. The most famous is Jasmine or fragrant rice. To add flavor and more nutrition to a Thai meal, a stir-fry dish soup and or curry are added, which is then known as Gup Kaow.

Our group prepared Green Papaya Salad as our first course, which included 11 different ingredients and was mixed using the mortar and pestle. You could add as much or as little of each ingredient to suit your own taste and preparation began with pulverizing a hot chili. We were expected to eat everything we prepared. At this stage in the game Barb felt she could not at least try it, and she ate it all.

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Next we prepared Green Curry Chicken which, when prepared, was sort of like a soup into which you added cooked rice at the table. This was fairly simple to concoct with both coconut milk and chicken stock and two small pieces of chicken breast for a total of 11 ingredients.

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Our third dish was Thai Fried Noodles with Shrimp. Two shrimp were sautéed in a frying pan to begin the exercise that included 17 ingredients – most of which Barb had never heard of before.

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By this time we were stuffed and really did not want to eat anything more, but we still had to make spring rolls which involved soaking rice paper to make it was pliable and then rolling and totally wrapping fresh lettuce and shredded chicken in it and topping it with a peanut sauce.

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We were all served decoratively sliced fresh fruit for dessert, which was followed by tea and coffee.

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Each of us received a certificate for our experience; and the chef who presented them suggested we might seek employment in or open our own Thai restaurant.

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It was an interesting experience and now the trick will be to find the ingredients if we want to try Thai cooking when we get home.

Our special thanks goes to our superb guide on this adventure, Nooni, who is part of the Cruise Asia team here in Phuket.

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One Response to “Thai Cooking School in Phuket”

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