Dive into a steamy kettle of tom kar kai and the first thing you notice is the harmonious melding of two totally opposing but completely sensory invigorating tastes: sour and savory. A coconut and lemongrass soup will transfix the diner, filling the mouth with flavor and aroma that transports the senses, if only for a moment, to an exotic Asian kingdom of golden pagodas and reclining Buddhas.
The Thai tourism industry, too, has found a way to meld two disparate experiences of the destination and come up with a spicy vacation experience: culinary tours. Visits to Thailand can take resort stays, beach escapes and busy sightseeing schedules and pepper them with cooking classes that impart the secrets of Thai cooking, from the basics to the elaborate. A class can be as simple as a three-hour kitchen demonstration followed by lunch or as complex as a week-long immersion with visits to local markets and local farmers, seminars on spices and herbs, discussions of the mystical, medicinal and aphrodisiac properties of traditional dishes and the conjuring of marvelously complicated meals with a touch of local mastery.
In fact in Thailand, cooking classes have become so popular that resorts are building demonstration and class kitchens onto their properties and offering an amenity no less important than spa to a relaxing vacation. The Four Seasons Chiang Mai has an ambient outdoor “lanna-style” kitchen with a half dozen cooking stations. A seasoned chef discusses traditions in spice and condiments and then demonstrates the lunch that participants eventually cook for themselves, (prep work already complete.) An array of Thailand’s most potent aphrodisiac seasonings such as lemongrass, ginger, galangal, turmeric and garlic are on display in the school’s herb garden.
The Four Seasons’ three-night Thai Culinary package starts at $685 for two per night and includes daily breakfast at Sala Mae Rim, round-trip airport transfers, a visit per stay to a local market, optional fruit and vegetable carving classes and participation in two cooking school classes per person, per stay. The package runs through September 30, 2008. Standard rates per night are $475. Call (800) 819-5053 or visit http://www.fourseasons.com/chiangmai/.
The legendary Oriental Hotel in Bangkok also offers cooking seminars in a classroom adjacent to its new spa. The morning classes change menus daily for clients who want to learn a variety of dishes. Classes run Monday through Saturday and include lunch in the $120 per person rate. A five-night, six-day Thai Cooking school package runs Sunday to Friday and includes five nights in a Superior River Wing room, daily breakfast, airport limousine transfers, welcome dinner at the indulgent Sala Rim Naan restaurant and four days of Thai cooking classes. For dessert, the package adds a 60-minute massage at the Oriental Spa. Rates are $1,600 for one person, $2,900 for two, inclusive, through October 15, 2007. Call (866) 526-6567 or visit http://www.mandarinoriental.com.
A few additional recommendations from Thailand tourism include:
Baipai Thai Cooking School is a half-day course in a Thai home-style kitchen with several workstations and a hands-on approach. It starts with a lecture on herbs and spices and ends with lunch. The school offers a variety of classes from one-half day to five days. Visit http://www.baipai.com.
Dusit Thani Hotel Benjarong has Saturday morning classes run by one of the top chefs in Bangkok. Dishes demonstrated reflect sophistication and planning, including several that are often served at the royal palace. The school also conducts fruit carving courses. Visit http://bangkok.dusit.com.
Landmark Hotel Cooking School is held at the Nipa Restaurant as a thorough seven-day course designed for beginners. An Experience Thailand package available through its web site presents a taste of these classes for $145 per night for one or $175 per night for two. The rate includes deluxe accommodations on the Landmark Floor and a two-hour cooking class. Visit http://www.landmarkbangkok.com.
The Boathouse on Kata Beach is a favorite for Thai cooking classes and cuisine in Phuket and Chef Tummanoon Punchun has been presenting them for more than a decade. The most popular workshops are held every Saturday and Sunday at Mom Tri’s Boathouse from 10 am to 2 pm and include a folder of recipes, a Boathouse apron and lunch. The first four-hour session is devoted to appetizers and salads. The second day features recipes for main courses and desserts. Prices are a la carte: $100 for two days, $60 for one. Visit http://www.boathousephuket.com.
Pat’s Home is highly recommended for visitors who want to get out of the tourist realm for a few hours and spend some time learning about Thai tradition in a local’s home. Chef Pat Tienthong spent time working as a chef in Los Angeles before opening her school in Phuket. She offers classes in a large, western-style kitchen in her house and also in a Balinese bungalow in the mountains above the town. Visit http://www.phuket.com/thai-cooking/.
The Dusit Laguna Resort Hotel offers classes in royal Thai cuisine every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoon from 3 to 5 pm. Students receive a certificate and apron upon completion, as well as sheets of illustrated recipes. Classes run about $50 per student. A Secrets of Thailand package ranges from $120 to $550 per night for two people staying for a minimum of three nights at the beach resort. The package allows for two choices of activities each from a list that includes cooking classes amid other amenities and services. Visit http://www.phuket.com/dusitlaguna.
There are schools opening across the nation almost as quickly as this article can be typed. For more information contact the Tourism Authority of Thailand at (212) 432-0433 or visit http://www.tourismthailand.org.
FREE APHRODISIAC NEWSLETTER
Subscribe to our free aphrodisiac newsletter