Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thai cooking with the Rubins

Big day today! Today is the day that our whole life will change. Today is the day that Dave and I will learn how to make Thai food on our own. The day started out with us getting picked up at the hotel by the owner of "The Best Thai Cookery School". The owner's name was Perm and what we soon would discover is that Perm is definitely a funny man. After we picked u the rest of our classmates, we soon found out that there were 3 from London, 1 from Italy and 1 from Singapore. Ironically enough, Foo (from Singapore) graduated from Penn State as well and has been living in Baltimore. As you can imagine, this started many conversations.

We stopped off at the market for a very interesting tour of the different curry pastes, condiments used in Thai cooking, as well as all the vegetables. We were able to get many of the answers to the question, "What is this that I'm eating now?" We also learned why it is ok that the eggs stay out of the fridge and can last so long, and that the smaller the egg, the better. They come from the younger chickens. And as Perm says, why would you want a baby from any 80 year old? I feel much better now.

Off for a 20
minute drive back to Perm's house. We walked around to the back of his house and came upon a huge outdoor, open-air kitchen. This was great. Each person (and we were a small class) had their own station equipped with a cutting table, utensils, and a small stove attached to gas. Plus, we each got our own apron to wear for the day. Very official.

We started out making our soups. Dave was making Tom Ka Gai (chicken in coconut soup) and I was making Tom Yum (sweet and sour soup with shrimp). Let me say that in no way did we think we'd be eating right away, so we had breakfast before we came. Big mistake. The soup was unbelievably easy to make and delicious! We ate it right away and it was great.

Next up, we were shown how to make Jasmine rice as
well as sticky rice. Jasmine rice - easy. Sticky rice - much more to do. While the rice was cooking, Perm showed us how to make mango and sticky rice sauces. It looks pretty easy (and thank goodness we have a cookbook), but I don't know if we'll ever be able to repeat it. Also, we were shown how to make the spring roll dipping sauce. Delicious, made with pickled plums. It was so good though.

We kept on going (even though Perm was a funny guy and made us laugh a lot he was still very strict when it came to cooking time).
Next up, sauce for the spicy papaya salad. Now, spicy papaya is exactly that, spicy. And Perm wanted it that way, he added 16 chilis to the sauce mixture and told each of us to smash it 20 times in the bowl. However, he stopped paying attention and Kelly, from England, decided to smash and smash and smash. Therefore, all the seeds from the chilis were released and it was hot. But it was good too. We also worked on making the spring rolls while the smashing was taking place. I actually got to cook the ingredients and as we soon learned, I was not very good at flipping them in the pan. But, afterwards, we all made one spring roll and Dave and I passed with flying colors.

When we finished all of the above, the sticky rice was finished, so we sat down for a break and to try the Papaya salad (spicy) and the mango with sticky rice (sweet) as well as the spring rolls (yummy). All were so good and I was very sad when the guy cleared my papaya salad before I was done. But no worries, I was still well fed that day.

Next up, curry. Dave ma
de the red and I made Panang. This was a really interesting part of the day. We learned how to cook curry paste (not make it) and that after you cook it with coconut cream, it can last for months in a sealed container. Plus, once you add the coconut milk, you can just let it sit and boil down into a thick sauce and it won't burn. Dave made his with chicken and I used tofu so that I can learn how to cook with it if and when Dave and I ever become vegetarian (which we keep talking about, but just like meat too much)!

Next up sweet and sour chicken for Dave and chicken with cashews for me. These were pretty easy and the sauces didn't include too much. Plus, since mine only had chicken and sauce in it, it didn't take much time to cook. Both dishes were kept underneath the stoves to keep warm while our final meal was prepared - Chicken Pad See Ew (Carrie) and Chicken Pad Thai (Dave). In addition to just cooking 2 of our favorite meals, we also learned how to cook with fire and how to set your kitchen on fire in case you ever care to :) This was crazy, hot and crazy. I practically threw my pan as I was jumping back from the fire. You can see a little of my fire in my picture, but check out Perm's fire. It was wild. We also learned how to make Pad Thai omelet. Dave's came out really nicely. My omelet for my Pad See Ew was not so nice.

We finished all the cooking and headed out front to enjoy our food. We really liked the group of people we were with and luckily everyone shared, so we were able to also try the foods we didn't cook. My favorites were definitely the Panang curry with tofu and the Pad Thai. Probably the best Pad Thai we've had so far (thanks Dave, I can't wait for all of those Thai meals you'll be making me from now on).

We finished the food we cooked, tried some Thai fruit we hadn't had (we are now obsessed with mangosteens) and got our certificates and were off to the train station. We were about to embark on a 14 hour, overnight train to Bangkok after a full day of cooking, outside, using fire, and no shower. Nice.

We had an hour to kill before our train, so in true Dave and Carrie style, we picked up some snacks and relaxed before we headed on. Walking onto the train, you wonder how this will ever become an overnight train. We were in a car with about 40 other people and each section had 2 seats facing each other with a shelf next to it for your bags. No where did you see a top/bottom bunk. We ordered dinner to be served later that night (better to have than not) and sat back to enjoy our ride through the country. Oh, and our naps. Around 7, our food was delivered (we had ordered vegetarian soup, fried rice and vegetables). No problem eating this (although it wasn't the tastiest ever) and we went on to play some gin (we won't talk about who won, but let's just say, I think Dave let me beat him). We decided to get ready and now I had to face my fear. For those of you who have never been to Asia, let's just say that many of their toilets are not like Western toilets. They are pretty much a urinal laying flat on the ground. For men fine, for women, intimidating. I have been avoiding these stalls, but now I was in a place where I had no choice. Let's just say I faced my fear and I won!

We got back and the cabin steward came over to convert our bed. This was amazing. In 1 minute (and I'm not exaggerating here) he had converted the bottom 2 seats into a bed and snapped down a shelf from the top which had another bed, 2 pillows, clean sheets and blankets. Nice and cozy.

One thing I forgot to mention is that Dave and I were located right next to the entrance to our car and no one would close the door behind them, so it would be really noisy with the sound of the train flowing in. Finally, around 11, someone came and tied the doors shut. One hurdle completed. Next up, there were curtains blocking each bed, however, on the top bunk (where I was located) there was a gap between the curtain and the ceiling, so a significant amount of light came in. I kept waiting for the lights to be turned off, but had no luck. Hurdle incomplete. Next up, the train started moving really fast after everyone went to sleep. Usually this would be a good thing, but it caused a significant amount of turbulence on the train. Many times through the night, I thought I would go flying off the bed. Therefore, I had probably around a good 2-3 hours of sleep that night (I really have no idea though since I didn't have a clock or a window). Well, 1 out of 3 hurdles isn't too bad.

6 am came the next day and everyone started to move and the beds started to close up. We arrived on the dot at 6:40 and departed the train, tired, smelly and ready to experience the Bangkok-experience.

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