2 weeks ago, I was in Bangkok. No one realised it, probably but that’s how I like it! I was there for just a short trip and this trip, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do something I’ve always wanted to do – go to a cooking school and learn some Thai dishes!
Many places offer these short cooking school sessions, where you can join for half a day or so, and learn to cook the local food so you take home more than just memories. You take home a taste of the country you visit. I love the idea and I’ve always wanted to do it so, I did.
Before I left, I looked around on the internet for recommended cooking schools in Bangkok and you’d be surprised to know that there are so many! Most of them take you on a buying/familiarization trip to the market as well, which is interesting if you are foreign to the exotic South-East Asian region. I eventually stumbled upon Baipai Thai Cooking School.
Reviews were very good, the website was professionally laid out and although it was more expensive than others I surveyed, they offered a hotel pick up and drop off, which I fully appreciated. So, I dropped them an email and it was sorted! Payment is made at the school itself after your class so that was easy!
I was notified of my pick up time at my hotel and at the appointed time, a large van with a friendly driver in uniform identifying the name of the Baipai cooking school was waiting for me. We drove around picking up more “school mates” from various hotels in the city before heading off to the school. In our party that day were visitors from Macau, Japan, Korea and Guadeloupe, the last of whom was a chef himself!
The Baipai Thai Cooking School is located just after Chatuchak and it is deep inside a housing area, so I appreciated that they offered a pick up service. I don’t know how I’d have gone there otherwise. Along the way, the van dropped off most of the people in the van at the Or Tor Kor Market for their market familiarization trip. I opted out of that because I live in this region and I’m quite familiar with most of the herbs and spices used. I just need to know what goes into the recipe
Arriving at the school is a pleasure. It is a large spacious wooden bungalow with a large garden and is so serene and tranquil that you are immediately put at rest. A lovely cold and delicious cup of lemongrass tea is served, you are handed your apron and recipe cards and off we went for a trip to the herb garden.
As I said, I’m quite familiar with most of the herbs and spices used in the cooking in the SEA region but it was a very good refresher course because this time, I learned what Thais use in their cooking. There were 4 of us in our party for this initial part of the session, and our guide for the day was a lovely girl who spoke fluent, accentless English.
- Holy Basil – a strong aromatic herb used a lot in Thai food. I’d been wondering what this really smelled like so I was very pleased to find out. The leaf is often used in cooking my favourite meat with basil and offers a peppery taste.
- Galangal – a type of root similar to ginger with a strong flavour so only very little is needed. Important in making tom yam
- Different types of chillies – large red chillies offer colour with little heat, green jalapeno chillies with medium heat and offering green colour to cooking and the tiny bird’s eye chilli (cili padi), only the 2nd hottest chilli in the world!
- Yours truly brandishing a stalk of lemongrass, used a lot in Thai cooking for almost anything from soups to steaming fish
We were then shown the sauces most commonly used in Thai cooking, including the ever popular pungent fish sauce, and how to choose a good one so we don’t end up gagging from the pong (go for a light and clear coloured liquid) and also how to grate coconut, which was to form the main ingredient in our first dish.
I’d actually grown up seeing people grate coconut the traditional way, using a scraper to get the flesh of the coconut into fine strips to make it easier to squeeze out the coconut milk, but this was the first time I had to do it myself!
And I did it on a contraption called “The Rabbit” which I was told is very old, and a traditional shape of … erm a rabbit. You sit on the back like so, and scrape the coconut on the scraper to get the fine shredded coconut flesh that you can sprinkle over dessert, or squeeze to collect the fresh coconut cream. So much fun!
The cooking area is an open area which, despite the heat was surprisingly comfortable. There was a prep area inside and a frying area which was more open, where each of us had our own cooking station. I thought it was very well organized in this regard.
It was just a half day course, with 4 dishes to go through so for the most part, the ingredients were prepared for us in the required portions. I read some reviews that said they didn’t like that but I understood the need for it. Time was limited, and not everyone wants to get down and dirty with it. This is like instant cooking school – just add hot water and you’re done.
Some ingredients for making tom yam goong (sour and spicy prawn soup)
We started out making Coconut-egg Custard dessert (sangkaya) which was so crazy easy, I’m going to have to whip it out one day just to show off LOL! It isn’t something I’d usually eat, but when it’s something you make with your own hands, you just have to, you know
I also learned to make Green Curry Paste from scratch, and it was my first time ever, eating the dish much less cooking it. I never used to eat a lot of Thai food until quite recently and it was gratifying to see my paste come together. It was surprisingly quick, but it has to be noted that for the most part, the ingredients were already prepared. We just had to pound them and bind them all together.
If I had to make this truly from scratch, I might balk a little, but it’s primarily a matter of getting all your ingredients together and it just flows from there. So, here’s what I cooked with my own hands that day at Bai Pai – we had to eat it, so you betcha it was edible (and delicious, if I don’t say so myself LOL!)
- Golden Moneybags – fried wontons tied with pandanus leaves. While this isn’t that hard, and I’ve made fried wontons before, none of them have ever looked this good! I finally learned how to make the folds at the top. Yay!
- Tom Yam Goong – The one dish I specifically wanted to learn. I made mine without adding in milk because I prefer my tom yam to be clear. It was perfect and I’m going to have to practice this one so I can, ahem! show off hehe…
- Green Curry Chicken – We made the paste from scratch and then cooked the curry. I didn’t realise we needed to use so much coconut cream! I asked if I could substitute it with something else but the teacher made a face and told me to stick to coconut cream LOL Not something I’d make in a hurry but at least I know how to
- Sangkaya Coconut Egg Custard Dessert – served chilled, this was surprisingly delicious. Creamy and smooth and because I made it myself, not too sweet.
We were told to eat the first 2 dishes immediately after cooking them and there is a long table provided where all the students could gather and admire each other’s efforts. If you go with friends, this would be a good time to run a taste test!
As for the Green Curry Chicken, after cooking it, we were directed upstairs where we could partake of our curries with generous helpings of fluffy white steamed rice, and for dessert, we had our coconut egg custard! Those who went to the market had fresh fruits instead so no one felt left out.
Chef PB hard at work!
I thoroughly enjoyed the half day session and if time had permitted, I’d have come back the next day to learn other dishes. It was a lot of fun, although it was warm as the day wore on and it was tiring (try cooking 4 dishes in as many hours while wielding a heavy mortar and pestle!) but I had a wonderful time. The staff were very friendly, the teacher was fun and spoke English and gave instructions clearly enough.
The class costs THB2,200 per person or THB4,000 if you are 2 people. If you go in a bigger group, it costs a little less per person. Not terribly cheap but not terribly expensive either. You get to take home your recipe booklet, you will be emailed some photos and some additional recipes, and you are given a lovely souvenir of a fridge magnet with your photo in it. Add in the transport to and from your hotel and I think it’s a pretty good deal overall.
As I said at the top, there are other cooking schools around, some of which are much cheaper at about half the price of this one I picked. I might try them next time. Or I might just end up at Baipai again. I’ll decide when I next head to Bangkok
Have you been to a Thai Cooking School before? Do you enjoy these sorts of holiday pursuits?
This is my first time doing something like this and I had loads of fun. Then again, I do enjoy cooking and preparing food so it suits me. I think there are some similar schools like these locally so I want to check them out as well. If anyone has recs locally or abroad, I’d love to know so I know where to try – I’ve never tried any local cooking school yet!
More details about Baipai Thai Cooking School can be found at www.baipai.com