In all of our trips to Thailand over the years, the one thing we never did was take a Thai cooking class. We’ve been on a few food tours in Bangkok, and enjoy touring the local markets. We’ve even learned the ins and outs of Royal Thai cuisine. But actually stepping foot inside a kitchen to learn how to cook Thai food, well it had simply eluded us.
During a recent trip to Phuket, though, our hotel offered a Thai cooking class, which involved a tour to the local Patong fresh food market. Considering we were visiting Phuket during the somewhat rainy off season, a cooking class seemed like a good way to spend some time in Phuket.
Learning How to Cook Thai Food
We quickly learned that the hardest thing about Thai cooking is cutting up the ingredients. Because we are far from Master Chef quality choppers, it’s one of the hardest thing about cooking for us in general.
When we arrived at our Thai cooking class, though, all of the ingredients were set out for us, all nicely chopped and organized. It made everything else about the class so much easier. And, just looking over the ingredients involved in Thai cooking, it reminded me of what I love about food in Asia. The chili peppers, the garlic, shallots, ginger, and lemongrass. It’s like a smorgasbord of my favorite ingredients!
After enjoying a welcome drink, we quickly got to work. The highlight of our Thai cooking class was certainly learning how to make tom yum goong, or spicy prawn soup. The tom yum recipe is included below.
But, we also learned to make Thai green curry, gang kaew waan gai, complete with green curry paste, small Thai eggplants, and sweet basil. It was pretty simple to make, just mixing all of the ingredients in one pot, and garnishing with a sweet basil leaf and a bright read chili pepper.
One of the more surprising dishes we learned how to make was a sweet and sour fried fish, or phad priew waan pla. What surprised me about this dish was that I normally associate sweet and sour with Americanized Chinese cuisine. This version, somehow, was uniquely Thai, even with the addition of “tomato sauce,” which was actually ketchup.
For dessert, we made banana in coconut milk, or gluay buad chee. Also easy to make, we merely warmed coconut milk, with a little sugar and salt. We added some small, sliced Thai bananas, and slow boiled the bananas until soft and sweet.
How to Make Tom Yum in our Thai Cooking Class
Overall, I was excited about our Thai cooking class, but I was most excited about learning how to make tom yum. It’s a classic Thai dish, with the perfect combinations of spicy, sweet, and sour. I always assumed it was a complicated dish to make, but turns out, even we can make tom yum.
Although we received a cook book with the recipes of all of the dishes we made during our Thai cooking class, I think the amount of ingredients used for these recipes is all subjective. Unlike learning how to make Irish brown bread, which is a little more exact, cooking Thai food is all about taste and preferences. Tom yum is no exception.
Ingredients for Tom Yum
2 pieces of prawn
4 ladles of chicken stock
40 grams of galangal root
4 Kaffir lime leaves
100 grams straw or button mushrooms
50 grams of shallots
1 stalk of lemongrass
1/2 tablespoon of palm sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon chili paste
2 1/1 tablespoons lime juice
Here is why tom yum is easy to make: We brought the chicken stock to boil and added the lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and mushrooms.
After boiling for a few moments, we added the seasonings, including chili paste, fish sauce, and palm sugar. After mixing up the seasonings, we added our prawns.
We allowed the soup to simmer, and added a little lime juice at the end. We sprinkled the coriander on top for garnish, and it was ready to be served.
I was stunned at how easy this soup was to make. We tasted it at the end, and agreed it was a little too sour. So, we added a bit more chili paste. Because Thai cooking is always about finding that balance. For Eric, it was about showing off the results of his hard work, even if someone else did all of the chopping.
When we finished our Thai cooking class, we promised ourselves we would try to make, minimally, tom yum in our small Bangkok apartment kitchen. If we can just get someone to come in to chop up all the ingredients for us, I think we could do it!
We were supported by the Centara Grand Phuket during our Patong market tour and Thai cooking class, but all opinions are my own. Cooking classes start from 1500 THB, or about $40, and include a tour to the local Patong market.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.