Folks who are interested in learning how to cook Thai food have several cooking school options to choose from in Bangkok. A lover of Thai food, I’ve taken a few myself. But if you want to experience the ingredients from local market to plate AND provide direct support to a social cause then that narrows the scope a lot. Courageous Kitchen (official Facebook page) is one of the few options left on the table. This altruistic cooking school is the dream of Dwight Turner a.k.a. the blogger, BKK Fatty.
I recently had an opportunity to experience their Morning Market Cooking Class along with a group of journalists from Australia and New Zealand who were on a whirlwind tour put on by Bangkok Urban Adventures to discover a more local experience of the Big Mango. By the end of the day, I discovered a new favorite Thai fruit (longsat) from the market tour, cooked one of my favorite dishes (pad kra pao), and more importantly directly supported the social mission of Courageous Kitchen, “Inspiring marginalized youth in Bangkok through the power of food!”.
As a bonus I also made a few new friends…
If you’re looking to learn to cook Thai food, and want to feel good about doing it, let me share my experience with Courageous Kitchen with you!
Off to the market!
The class began with a quick introduction then off to the local market to procure the ingredients for the dishes we’d be learning to make. Most Bangkok neighborhoods have a local market. If you’re living here and still doing all of your shopping at the big chain supermarkets then you’re doing yourself a disservice. Many of the things can be found cheaper and fresher at your local outdoor market!
Plus you’ll find these markets to have a much wider variety of produce. It was at this fruit stand that I was introduced to my new favorite Thai fruit called longsat. It looks like a large longan fruit (not a favorite of mine) but tastes much sweeter and citrusy.
A local neighborhood market is filled with mysterious things in which some look intriguing and some leave you with the impression of “Nope. Nopety nope nope!”. Dwight is probably one of the most knowledgeable foreigners I’ve met with regards to Thai food and all the ingredients that are involved in making Thai dishes. I shop frequently at the Klong Toei wet market but honestly I’m usually getting the ingredients I’m comfortable cooking with. Which means 80% of what the market is selling I’m passing on.
Thanks to Dwight, much of the mystery has been removed from many of the Thai ingredients. Now that I know the Thai names for this produce, and what it’s used for, my crisper at home looks a lot different!
Fresh is best…
When I cook with coconut milk it usually comes from a box or can. But discovering the delicate flavors of fresh coconut milk and pulp is a game changer. The only drawback is that once you get it you have to use it soon–unlike the highly processed cans and boxes, fresh coconut milk is quite perishable.
If you tell this gal who looks like she just stepped off the set of Mortal Combat what it is you intend to cook and for how many she’ll press you just the right amount of coconut milk you need!
Curry Paste 101
One of the most beneficial experiences I learned during this market tour was deciphering all the mounds of curry pastes and their uses. If you’ve ever tried to make your own curry paste from scratch you’ll learn two 2 things: you will need a lot of ingredients (which much will go to waste) and it’s A LOT of damned work!
But not anymore. Just about every local market has a curry paste vendor who has done all of that work for you and mastered the mix. It’s also so much better than the processed extra sugary little packets you’ll find at stores in the spice section. Making a green, red, or yellow curry at home just got so much easier.
A little snack…
We worked up an appetite with our shopping and were invited to try a snack I’ve never seen before, roti sai mai. This little snack is made with a wafer thin sweet tortilla (roti) and is filled with a cotton candy like floss. After whetting our appetite we returned to the class with ingredients in hand to do some serious cooking…
Let’s get cookin’!
Courageous Kitchen’s mission is to empower marginalized youth by teaching them cooking skills and fostering their natural leadership abilities as they themselves become instructors. Alina was our cheerful instructor for this cooking session.
We kicked it off with a couple of appetizers: Crispy Kratong Thong Cups and Miang Kham Leaf Wraps.
This looks easy…
It takes time to really learn how to make these delicate little Crispy Kratong Thong Cups. Alina made it look easy. Dunk the little shaper in the batter then dip in in the hot oil. Allow it to cook and give it a little shake so it comes off the metal shaper. Seems simple, right? Not so much for me. A little shake didn’t dislodge it in the oil…a more enthusiastic jiggle still wouldn’t release this paper thin cup.
Thankfully Alina stepped in and saved what was left of my VERY cooked cup before I had a chance to seriously start flinging hot oil around.
Once the cups have cooled it’s just a matter of filling them. You can fill them with pretty much anything but for best results combine ingredients that cover all the flavors of salty, sweet, spicy with all the textures crunchy, soft, and chewy. Your goal should be to make a flavor bomb!
Build your own snack…
Miang Kham Leaf Wraps requires zero cooking skills. You simply put the ingredients of red onion, ginger, lime, shredded toasted coconut, peanuts, dried shrimp, and fiery chilies together to taste in a leaf made pocket. You frequently see these being sold by street vendors as a quick snack…try making them on your own!
Now we’re cooking!
For the main dishes the group was broken up into 2 groups. One to make Pad Krapow the other to make Pad See Ew. Lucky for me I got to be in the Pad Krapow group…it’s one of my favorite Thai dishes.
The ingredients were all portioned out: diced green beans, garlic, red chili, sliced onions, eggs, minced pork, Thai basil leaf, and all the sauces required.
Step one is to smash the cloves of garlic together with the red chili peppers into a chunky paste.
The first thing to hit the wok is garlic and chili mixture. It immediately fills the air with the aromatic garlic followed by tear inducing, sinus draining chili. Once you get a few woks doing this simultaneously the sizzling sounds of the cooking is quickly accompanied by the chorus of coughing, sneezing, and sniffling of those in a 5 meter radius.
Chef’s suffer for their art.
But the results were absolutely worth it! This was my very first Pad Krapow that I made. Looks good, right? It was and I couldn’t be more proud of it.
After taking the class with Courageous Kitchen it’s now going to be a regular dish I prepare in my own kitchen. I was actually surprised that I already have many of the ingredients in my fridge already.
Time for dessert!
I must have learned a lot from my attempts to make the Crispy Kratong Thong Cups because it was a breeze to make these Lotus Cookies.
Similar to the cups you dip the metal lotus shaping thingie in the batter, then into the hot oil, and give it a gentle shake. But this time it miraculously came off the metal tool with no fuss!
Sure you can eat these thin crispy cookies on their own. But what kind of dessert would that be? We topped those suckers with scoops of ice cream, chocolate sauce, and longan dyed blue by butterfly pea flowers and crunchy water chestnuts died pink with beet root. Yum!
Courageous Kitchen’s Mission
Of course when you take a cooking class you expect to learn something, a new dish, or a new way to cook a dish. Something. But I learned something I didn’t expect to learn from this experience. I learned about the plight of Bangkok’s refugee population. A group that is living in limbo, in fear, and with very few options and resources to survive in Bangkok.
For more insight about the “urban refugee” situation in Bangkok this short video will surprise you. Dwight and Courageous Kitchen are featured at the 8:19 minute mark.
If you would like to donate directly to Courageous Kitchen and support their noble mission you can support them directly here.
” Leaders in the kitchen are leaders in the community.”
Courageous Kitchen has a 3 pronged approach to empowering these children by teaching basic food education, nutrition, and leadership. Our instructor, Alina, was a shining example of Dwight’s successful mentorship. When she shared her story with the group there wasn’t a dry eye in the crew (and it wasn’t the residual chili in the air) as she beamed with pride about all the skills she had learned that have prepared her once her and her family are resettled.
Environmentally friendly, too.
Courageous Kitchen is proudly plastic free. Instead of straws we sipped our butterfly pea drinks through morning glory stems. Plastic cling wrap was also noticeably absent. It was easily replaced by these sheets of colorful beeswax paper. It was just another one of those things that makes this cooking class a little different than others.
If you want to develop the skills to cook practical Thai dishes in your own kitchen, learn about the ingredients from market to plate, and support a worthy cause, I highly recommend Courageous Kitchen.
I want to hear from you!
Should you decide to visit Courageous Kitchen I’d love to hear your feedback in the comment section below, directly to me, or via message on either the Chow Traveller Facebook page or Chow Traveller Instagram. However you choose, I’d love to hear from you!