Cooking in...Thailand

I was preparing to exit the partitioned area designated for women passing through security at Indira Gandhi International Airport, when the agent, before handing back my passport and boarding pass, decided to grill me a little on my next destination.

"What's so special about Thailand?" 

I'm sure she meant it in a friendly way but, in my flustered mind, after someone frisks me all I can think about is getting my personal space back.

"Uh...the food?" 

She smiled, but evidently this was not the answer she was looking for because she repeated the question. Thinking about my imminent flight to Bangkok, the first things that came to mind were boxing matches, burlesque shows and clubbing. Probably not good answers either. I thought harder.

"The Golden Palace! The temples!"

Learned how to make roses out of tomato peels.

Learned how to make roses out of tomato peels.

Success. She handed over my things and I continued on my way. But as I headed toward my gate, I couldn't help but feel a little indignant. Combining my inner foodie and anthropologist, cuisine speaks volumes about local culture and history, from the ingredients used (indigenous versus introduced through trade) to the cooking methods. I think food is a perfectly valid reason to visit a place, which is why I've been so adamant about taking cooking classes wherever I go (see: Spain, Morocco, India). (On another cultural note, it's interesting to see - taste, rather - how authentic cuisine varies from the Americanized versions I'm used to eating at home).

On my last day on Koh Chang, I went up the coast to the Klong Prao area for a lesson with Ya at Blue Lagoon Cooking School. And, seriously, I cannot say enough good things about this place. First of all, the space: an open-air kitchen and dining area, partially situated over a river. So much attention has been paid to every little detail, from the general atmosphere and lighting to small touches like wrapping each place setting in banana leaves tied with a piece of twine. Presentation - even of the raw ingredients - was paramount; my pickiest chefs at LCB would have been pleased.

And then there's Ya -  a cool, funny, knowledgable Thai lady really passionate about food. She took the time to explain the overall significance of various staples of the Thai diet and how they're used beyond cooking, and still managed to teach us how to make a plethora of dishes. Not to brag or anything, but I was the most dedicated student. My peers, two middle-aged French women, left before the dessert course. ("Ooh la la, c'est trop!") So at the end I was rewarded with little bundles of sticky rice wrapped in leaves.

I won't reproduce the recipes here, because we really did cover a lot, but if you're lucky maybe I will impart some of my knowledge upon returning home. Thanks to Ya, I can make some kick-ass pad thai, fried rice, tom yum, tom kha, green mango salad, satay sauce and sticky rice with mango. Feast your eyes below and see more of Koh Chang on Flickr.