One thing that surprises many first-time travelers to Thailand is that the local food is scarcely recognizable to what they’ve been fed at home. Although Thai food is arguably one of the world’s most popular cuisines, replication for Western tastes often twists out the nuances of what is a complex, sophisticated fusion of spices.
Having enjoyed a certain standard of Thai cuisine back home, many eyes (and new belt loop notches) are opened to a whole new world of tongue-tingling gastronomy.
One way to combat cravings after discovering the delights of local cuisine in any country is to take a food class while on holiday. Once the tricks and techniques have been learnt, an authentic version can then be replicated at home on demand.
Having begun teaching Thai cooking to the locals of Florida, USA back in 2003, Khun Angsana now runs the highly successful Thai Home Cooking program in Bangkok. Having learned the tricks, techniques and family recipes from her mother and grandmother, Angsana is now passing on those skills – and secret recipes – to not only foreign travelers but also Thai locals.
“In Thailand it is very easy to get the food from the outside, so even many Thais don’t know how to cook!” laughs Angsana as she skillfully prepares some freshly grated coconut for her next students. “A lot of people also still live together with their parents so you have your mother cook for you every day. I get local people coming to study. Most are Thai students who want to learn for when are going to live abroad. Then they find they want to learn to cook for themselves.”
Indeed, being without Thai food when you’re so used to it can be quite a shock to the system – especially when it comes to replicating the quality found in Thailand.
“In Thai cooking we use a lot of fresh herbs and vegetables. We don’t use much oil for cooking except for deep fry dishes. We have a lot of different flavors in one dish: spicy, sweet, sour, and salty and this is the key to make good Thai food, you have to learn how to balance the flavor in the dish.
“The hardest sometimes though, is getting the right ingredients. In Thai kitchens we usually don’t have a big freezer to keep lots of meat. Instead we like to go to the market every day and look for the fresh ingredients we need for the day.
“When my students return to their own countries I tell them to look for ingredients in Asian markets, if they don’t have fresh they often have them frozen in the freezer.”
Angsana’s school is one of many in Bangkok that offer expert tutelage in the art of Thai cuisine but few have the one-to-one philosophy that Thai Home Cooking can provide.
“My lessons are very much hands-on. Students have to do all the preparations and cooking themselves,” she says with a smile. “I instruct and show the basics but they have to do all the hard work. That way they will remember better.”
The program is certainly one of a kind – not just thanks to Angsana’s outgoing, bubbly personality. Whereas many schools sometimes have a fixed schedule, where one has to learn whichever dishes are planned, Thai Home Cooking allows students to pick their own favorites to learn from a batch of Angsana’s family recipes.
“My favorite dish is Pad Gaprao Gai (stir-fried chicken with chilies and basil). I tell the students we eat this everyday – not Pad Thai and other more ‘famous’ dishes and I’d say almost everyone likes it. But as each class is private, they can select their own dishes to learn.
“I prefer to do private classes since I can pay more attention to my students and they can ask me about ingredients, preparation techniques, how people eat and live in Thailand and about general life and culture.”
And it’s for that reason Angsana’s school has been such a resounding success. From start to finish, the experience is an intimate one, as the experienced chef literally takes students by the hand and leads the way – from the Skytrain to kitchen via the local market.
“I meet the students and take them to buy fresh ingredients at the local market near my house. I explain to them about the ingredients, and give them tips on how to look for the freshest meat and seafood. After we come home I let them wash all the ingredients, I show them how to cut them in a ‘Thai style’, and then I instruct them how to prepare the meal by themselves.
“If we make curry, I get fresh grated coconut and show them how to make fresh coconut milk. We always make the curry paste from scratch and use a mortar and pestle to crush ingredients by hand. After we finish cooking, then they eat the food at my house – and if they cannot finish I will pack the food for them to take back to their hotel or residence.”
Backyard Travel feature Angsana’s Thai Home Cooking school in many of our tailor-made tours and the unique private experience can also be added to any of our other tours that move through Bangkok. If you’d like to add this unique cooking experience to your Thailand vacation, please let our Travel Specialists know when you make your inquiry.