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Cooking in Thailand

Cooking school vacations are popular worldwide, but in Thailand they have reached a zenith—there are now more than 100 registered cooking schools, 40 in Bangkok alone. Classes provide both structure for time spent in Bangkok and insight into Thai culture.

The Oriental Hotel’s Thai Cooking School, established over a decade ago in a small, restored colonial building across the river from the Oriental Hotel, is widely considered to be the best in Bangkok.

Classes cover the entire range of Thai cuisine: snacks, salads, sauces and curries, noodle dishes, condiments, steamed, fried, and grilled foods, and desserts. In classes held four mornings a week, either as a package or singly, students learn to compose a balanced and visually attractive Thai meal, complete with fruit and vegetable carvings.

The school’s curriculum is suitable for both experienced and novice cooks. All lessons cover the basic techniques for making fine food that is authentically Thai.

“Our foods can be divided into three categories,” says the instructor, Sansern Gajaseni. “The first group contains popular foods—pad thai and other ‘fast food’ items often found at streetside stalls and curbside stands. Next are provincial or country foods. These are quick, simple dishes meant to feed a large number of people.”

The third type he calls “City Thai,” a more refined cuisine that dominates Bangkok restaurants. Combining the subtle sauces of the French kitchen, the freshness of nouvelle cuisine, and the careful presentation of the Japanese chef, this is unquestionably the most challenging of Thai cooking styles and most closely reflects the Asian idea of yin and yang—a quest for a harmonious balance that pervades every facet of Thai life.

Thailand is in a geographically enviable location to create some of the world’s most interesting food. From mangos, papaya, and pineapple to spices, herbs, and vegetables, Thailand has a lot to work with in the kitchen. And Thailand’s location at the crossroad of Asia has contributed to the eclectic and diverse nature of its cooking.

After steeping yourself in Thai cooking in the morning, forays into the city become more meaningful. Whether you head for a shopping spree or a day of sightseeing at the temples, you will have a greater appreciation of the Thai food—pungent, exotic, and omnipresent—that surrounds you on the streets of Bangkok.

The Thais have liberated food from the Western straightjacket of breakfast, lunch, and dinner; they snack constantly throughout the day, believing that the time to eat is “when you are hungry.” It is not uncommon to find businessmen in suits dining beside the very poor at plastic tables around a noodle vendor’s stall.

Although street dining is not something you can take home with you, lessons at the Thai Cooking School will help you summon Thailand wherever you call home.