Location: Pea’s home, outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand
Pea’s course is a great way to learn simple, delicious homestyle Thai food. It’s not fancy, it doesn’t require a gazillion ingredients, and it won’t take hours to prepare. She’s also well aware of what ingredients most Westerners can and can’t source, and has chosen her menu accordingly. If you want to know what Thai people are likely to eat on a day-to-day basis, this is the course for you!
Who should attend:
Anyone with an interest in learning interesting homestyle Thai dishes that you will actually cook when you return home.
Nam Prik Ong
A classic northern dish of spicy tomato and minced pork dip, almost like an Italian ragu, but with a great kick and some fishy funk. It’s eaten with both raw and steamed vegetables, as well as fresh rice cakes.
A more approachable version of Larp Isaan (minced meat with herbs and spices) without the offal.
Pad Ka-Prao literally means “stir fried holy basil” and has a modest list of ingredients: garlic, chilies, fish sauce, leftover meat and the eponymous holy basil.
Classic Thai Papaya Salad mixed in a mortar and pestle with fish sauce, lime juice, palm sugar, herbs and other vegetables.
How do you fill your time after retirement? Two months into her own retirement, Pea was faced with this question. She had just moved from Bangkok to the family vacation home outside of Chiang Mai, and found herself with way too much time on her hands. For her, the answer was to share her genuine love of food with visitors to Thailand. These days, she runs a private cooking class through Travelling Spoon, as well as hosting busloads of people for dinner up to five times per week. You’d never know how busy they are though - Pea is very warm, patient, and welcoming, treating her guests as old friends rather than customers.
This love of food clearly runs in the family. Her son, Jah, picked us up from our guesthouse and chatted with us about food throughout the entire drive. He moved out to the family home about four years ago in pursuit of a healthier pace of life and to help his Mom around the house, but along the way he’s also opened a variety of food related businesses. Jah is a great person to talk to if you want to find great food recommendations from a local.
Throughout our trip so far, we’ve experienced both efficient, mechanical classes where we’ve felt rushed along and didn’t get a lot of cultural immersion, as well as organic, personal, laid back classes. The former lacks personality and feels robotic, whereas the latter sometimes suffers from a lack of structure. What really struck us about Pea’s class is that she’s efficient and practiced without being mechanical, and manages to maintain her personality and passion. It’s a really fine line between the two styles and she manages it with grace.
But what about the food? A class can be as warm and full of personality as possible and still fall flat if you don’t come out of it with great food and a deeper knowledge of the cuisine in question. Happily, we can report in full candour that the food was not only quick, simple and straightforward, but delicious as well. Pea breaks Thai food down into its essence: garlic, shallots, chilies, fish sauce and salt, then has you riff on these flavours in four dishes.
The first dish we cooked, Nam Prik Ong is a great representation of how Thai people can use simple ingredients to achieve a ton of flavour. It only uses garlic, shallots, chilies, fish sauce, tomatoes, and minced pork but it really packs a punch. Pea served it with fresh and steamed vegetables, as well as one of the highlights of the day: freshly fried rice cakes. She starts with dried disks of pressed sticky rice and simply fries them in a wok. Once they pop and puff up, she immediately scoops them out of the oil and serves them. These rice cakes are super crisp, and so light and you’d never know they’re deep fried. We really can’t stress enough how good these are - Reid spent half an hour when we got home figuring out how we’re going to recreate them at home.
The other standout of the day was Pea’s eggs. The golden, crispy edge with the light, airy whites and perfectly gooey yolk combined for the best fried egg we’ve ever had. Y’all have to deep fry your eggs.
What we learned:
For the perfect egg, crank up the heat and 加油！
A lot of Thai food is incredibly simple and requires only a handful of ingredients. It seems super unapproachable because most of the street food staples like pad thai have a sprawling laundry list of ingredients, but most Thai people won’t make those at home. They eat them on the street.
Everyone’s got their own way of repurposing leftovers into lunch, and for Thai people, that means Pad Ka-Prao.