Koh Lanta: Time for Lime
Attending a Thai cooking class is almost a rite of passage for the many tourists passing through Thailand. On our last day in Koh Lanta it’s time for us to experience a class ourselves. We’re hoping to take away some knowledge that we can use back home while we’re still feeling motivated to get into the kitchen and cook up a storm instead of depending on what we can scavenge from whatever area we happen to be passing through. So a short while before the sun is due to set we stroll along to the end of the beach and join the rest of the class at Time for Lime. Apart from ourselves, there’s an Australian/Canadian couple and an English bloke who doesn’t give a great first impression as he manages to complain about three different things within the space of a minute. The small group waits about twenty minutes before our teacher Junie emerges to make a start on proceedings. We’ve read enough reviews of the class to know what to expect – this isn’t going to be MasterChef, it’s going to be laid back to the point that things will probably overrun late into the night. Having accepted this from the beginning, we settle in for a very enjoyable evening.
Junie is quite a character, and that’s part of the charm of the class. She’s a Norwegian lady who has been living in Thailand long enough to often to refer to Thai people as ‘us’ or ‘we’. She runs her restaurant and accommodation in the midst of an animal shelter so we often find ourselves distracted by what’s going on in the background. Two dogs may be rolling around having a scrap, or a young cat may be contorting itself in the corner as it viciously bats around a gecko. Eventually the cruel game comes to an end when the creature no longer moves. When we’re not witnessing the massacre of local wildlife we find that as a Norwegian who has been cooking Thai food for some time, Junie is able to bring a perspective that’s useful for us tourists who have little understanding of either Thai culture or customs regarding food. We start the evening seated at a table sampling jars and bottles of the various sweet, sour/salty and spicy elements of the sauces as she tries to educate us on the importance of quality ingredients. We then sample the various vegetables and have a quick lesson in the mechanics of cutting them. It’s news to us that you identify which vegetables are to be eaten, and which are not eaten and only added for flavour, by the way they’ve been cut. A look at the faces around the table reveals that we’re all guilty of the sin of eating what we shouldn’t.
Having gone through the fundamentals it’s time to move into the kitchen where the group contributes to the process of making some green curry paste from scratch. We’re all armed with a vicious looking hatchet knife which prompts much discussion on how you would smuggle such an instrument of death home on a plane instead of paying extortionate prices to get inferior products at a later date. We set to work on the ingredients and two days later I’m still trying to scrub the turmeric stains from my fingers. It’s quite tough work and we’re all tired from working at the pestle and mortar long before the paste is pronounced done. It definitely smells and tastes a lot better than anything we’ve ever been able to buy in a jar back home. Setting the paste aside until later we cook up our first two dishes now – Tom Yam Goong soup and a red chicken curry. With an abundance of assistance from the girls in the kitchen we put all our ingredients together and come up with our own individual dishes seasoned according to taste. Or in Brodie’s case, seasoned according to one of the girl’s tastes after she samples his efforts and starts shrieking in horror that it needs more sugar. He’s unconvinced, however what’s a guy to do in the face of such determination but add more sugar before the entire restaurant comes to a halt to stare at the commotion? We take a break then to enjoy the first two dishes. Everyones has turned out quite different, but we’re all enjoying our versions.
We move on to the last two dishes. We use the green curry paste from earlier to do a green chicken curry and prepare fried rice to accompany it. It makes a nice change to be eating food again that we made ourselves, and also to be eating Thai food where we know exactly what ingredients were put in. As we eat the fruits of our labours we find ourselves being quizzed by an English gentleman who could be mistaken for Noel Edwards. He’s been upstairs hammering out music on a guitar while other restaurant-goers tried hard to ignore him. After telling him several times in different ways that yes, we enjoyed the class and it’s worth doing, I’m getting close to telling him to just go away and do the class if he’s so interested. I’m prevented from this as he changes topics and lectures the group instead on how bad new music is today and that he plays all the golden oldies because of this. Fascinating as the conversation is, we’re here for cooking advice, not musical.
We make our excuses and leave him to entertain the rest of the group for what could be a very long night. Armed with our recipes and some final advice from Junie we depart into the night content that we’ve had a very worthwhile evening. Of course we do make an obligatory cornetto stop for dessert on the way back. I’m distracted by trying to eat in the dark on an uneven road while carrying a number of items under my arm. As we arrive at the hotel I find that my load is too light. Of course it’s the all-important recipe pages that have been lost along the way. Luckily they’re not far back on the side of the road. We’ve had a lot of excursions and tours on this trip, but not many involve learning a skill that we can take away with us and use at home. It’s been nice to have the opportunity to do this and it’s been very interesting to hear how Junie’s knowledge has progressed over the years. The hygiene standards, especially with various animals roaming the cooking area, are about as good as you’re going to get in Thailand so it’s pretty authentic in that respect. The important thing is that we learnt to cook some dishes that we really like. The fun part is going to be trying to recreate them at home.