Just because it’s summer and traditional school is out, there is still plenty to learn when you travel. Learning in the non-traditional sense is one of life’s greatest pleasures. And when you get to eat your school project? Brilliant!
A New Skill?
I wasn’t exactly sure how the Thai Cooking School experience would go over for my husband and three boys. After all, if a meal involves more than pouring cereal and adding milk or making a run to Taco Bell, they aren’t likely to eat. I scanned the menu of dishes we were expected to make from scratch – green curry, mango sticky rice, green papaya salad, Tom Kha Gai soup, and lettuce wraps – it sounded ambitious. I looked over at my crew. So far, so good. They were still smiling and even enthusiastically putting on the aprons and white chefs’ hats provided for us.
Let the Games Begin
I don’t know if it is typical for every group, but the cooking scenario on that day involved competition. After each round of food preparation, we did a taste test. Who would win the award for yummiest green curry or the irresistible mango sticky rice? Brilliant! Competition, even if it involves pulling weeds, works well for teen boys (and their fathers). A strategic move on the part of the tour organizers!
The ingredients on the platter were not entirely new to us. Although pea eggplant and shrimp paste hadn’t appeared in our refrigerator at home, we’d been in the country a few days and seen them in the markets we visited. They were as common here as iceberg lettuce is at our local Walmart, but it still required a bit of an education. Thankfully, the cooking school clearly labeled each one for us and it wasn’t long before we had a good handle on what role each of them played in this menu.
Step-by-step we were all successfully creating a 5-course meal, one scratch recipe at a time. The chef demonstrated, encouraged, even corrected… but the determining factor for excellence (the quantity of spice and flavoring) was largely left up to us. This variable would determine the outcome of the competition. We were all measuring our approach to flavor carefully.
After each dish was completed, we gathered around the bright green round table and sampled our individual creations. Imagine our surprise when we discovered the incredible variety that existed between us, despite using the same basic recipes! They were all incredibly delicious in their own ways, but we still always managed to come out with a clear winner.
As a family, this experience meant that we not only met local people and sampled incredible foods, we were also encouraged to try something we might not do at home. It took us out of our American daily experience and put us right in the hands-on center of how another local culture lives. It was eye-opening. It was educational. It was really, really fun!
And, did I tell you I won the Best Green Curry award?