An essential part of experiencing Thailand to its fullest rests in its food. Cutting through a history of Chinese influence, the nation has carved out a unique identity with a cuisine that has climbed the ranks of the international food scene.
Its hallmark blend of sour and spicy flavors derives from an array of ingredients and sauces that are just as distinctive.
For travelers visiting the country, I’d say taking a cooking course is requisite. And for visitors spending time in Bangkok, the Silom Thai Cooking School is the place to do it.
Before I get into the food and cooking experience itself, let me describe the booking process, because that was just as impressive. It’s not always easy planning activities from abroad, and part of what left me with such a great impression of Silom was how informative its website and responsive its staff were.
As you’ll see online, each day of the week offers slightly different variations of a 6-course class. And on each of those days, there is a first-timer’s session and an alternative set for those who have already taken a class and covered the basics. Whatever session you end up with, you’ll cook enough courses to touch on all the key Thai dishes. (We took our class on a Thursday, so got to cook “Course Number 4”.)
Contacting the team by email is easy, and someone always responded within 24 hours. Payment of 1,000 baht (less than $30 per person) is accepted after the class (cash only). Upon email confirmation, they’ll send you very detailed instructions and images of how to reach the meeting point and even how to pronounce the intersecting roads if communicating with a cab driver.
We happened to stay within walking distance in the Silom neighborhood, at Shangri-La, which led to a lovely 10 minute stroll along the district’s main road. Other hotels in the area include the Mandarin Oriental and Lebua at State Tower.
So the process leading up to the class was smooth and stress-free. And the experience only went uphill from there. There’s something very quaint and authentic about this “school” with its kitchens set up in what could very well be a local’s apartment, as opposed to some back room of a commercialized restaurant. Yet, its staff is extremely experienced and efficient. The transition from market to the site where the cooking takes place, then between your cutting board to wok station, was like a gracefully choreographed dance.
The class gathers at a busy street corner, and after meeting the instructor (we recommend Jay, by the way), heads to the Silom food market about five minutes away. There, each student gets a basket and iced bottled water for the journey through the market.
Jay the instructor explained how to pick out shrimp, which we used in our tom yum soup and pad thai, and showed us a vast assortment of vegetables and herb unique to Thai cooking. Just know it’s not an ordinary walk through the market. The school has obviously established relationships with many of the vendors, so each of our baskets were filled in no time.
From there, it was a 10 minute walk to our kitchen. Shoes were removed, hands washed and aprons handed out. First order of business was cranking out some coconut milk that would be used in several dishes later on. Each pair got a basketful of shredded coconut, which we then soaked and mixed in water before squeezing it dry.
Then we shifted over to the cutting boards to prepare ingredients for the tom-yum soup. A cooking assistant had all the vegetables washed and nicely organized. We went through a brief lesson behind each of the ingredients and sauces as we were chopping up our own individual portions. Then we headed back to the woks to make the soup. Each dish is consumed at a group table immediately afterwards.
That’s the basic drill for each entree. Next up was the pad thai. For the couple of minutes the noodles were soaking, we cut up some green onion, garlic and tofu to add to our platter of pre-arranged sauces. Back at the wok, we mixed them all together before adding the shrimp. The noodles and eggs were so fresh, it’ll be difficult to fully enjoy a New York pad thai ever again.
Then, of course, there were the curries. We started with the less-spicy penang with chicken, which we had also picked up at the market. To make is a little more soupy, we added some of the coconut milk we had made earlier. This contrasts with the green curry we made next, which was thicker with the addition of coconut cream.
As a class, we prepared the ingredients for the green curry, which involves a wide range of spices, herbs and peppers. Then we each took a turn at the mortar and pestle, first with the dry ingredients, then wet ingredients, until it became a beautiful green paste.
If is the type of thing I’d always want to have stored in my kitchen, if only it didn’t take so may different inputs to create. But the paste keeps well, and adding a spoonful of it to coconut milks gives you restaurant-quality curry in no time.
Making your own stash at home also allows you to adjust the spice level. Just an extra stick of pepper makes a big different.
The end result was a creamy, aromatic green curry. By this time, it was about 11 am and we were full from all our previous courses, but I had no problem finishing this curry.
The class finishes with dessert, the national favorite mango sticky rice. This last course involves little work on your part since the rice and coconut milk had been steaming since the start of class and mango already slices up in a grid — all explained and demonstrated at the beginning.
This activity killed so many birds with one stone for us. The experience was top-notch, the tour through the market was educational, the class was one of the most hands-on cooking courses I’ve ever taken, and the meal was legitimately among the best we had in our time in Bangkok. And all for just under $30 a head.