A few years ago I booked myself in for my first holiday cooking class ever. The
city was Phnom Penh and although an incredibly charming place, learning about
its past can be a rather grim lesson given its starring role during the Khmer Rouge's gruesome reign. I thought a cooking class may help redress the balance and serve as a happier introduction to the Cambodian capital.
I was right.
Tucked away in the streets behind the National Museum, the Cambodia Cooking Class turned out to be a surprisingly fun way to begin my trip to the country.
The morning began with a visit to the local wet market where we learnt about some of the more exotic ingredients used in Cambodian cooking (like fishwort - a mint-like herb that adds a fishy taste to your salad, and salt eggs - eggs that have been aged underground in salt until they reach a gelatinous consistency). We watched frogs and tiger fish being carved up (the more squeamish may wish to give the meat and fish market a miss) and discovered what went into the ubiquitous spice blend called kroeung that makes its way into many Cambodian curries (essentially a mix of dry spices like cardamom, star anise and cloves, along with ginger, galangal, fresh turmeric, garlic, shallots, lemongrass and kaffir
The rest of the morning was spent pounding the afore-mentioned kroeung with wooden pestles, stuffing and frying delicious ube (purple yam) springrolls and making very pretty versions of the quintessential Cambodian dish - fish amok - with bright, blue skies filled with rain-gorged clouds forming a perfect holiday-in-South East Asia backdrop.
I was hooked.
The next year it was the turn of Vietnam and a cooking class once again found
it's way onto my itinerary in the gorgeous town of Hoi An.
The Red Bridge Cooking School class also began with a market tour - marked this time by an acquaintance with delights such as flying fish (and the not-quite-so-delightful scent of barrels of festering fish sauce!). A boat trip up the Thu Bon river deposited us at the Red Bridge Restaurant - the site of the cooking class - where we made Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, banh xeo (Hoi An's popular
savoury pancake) and an egg plant gravy, and learnt to fashion vegetable decorations that looked like badly drawn versions of the ones created by the instructor. This was followed by the highlight of the afternoon - eating the results of all our hard work :)
Next month I hope to be heading to Bali and I'm planning to once again squeeze in a cooking class into my rather short four-day trip. The plan so far is to try the Paon Bali Cooking Class - less highly recommended than the Bumbu Bali course, but one that seems to be a better fit in terms of both, time and budget. A market visit (if we choose the morning class), a short introduction to Bali's rice growing rituals and a chance to learn (and eat!) upto eight indigenous dishes - all for 350,000 (approximately US$37) sounds like a pretty good deal to me :)
If anyone has done the same class - or any other they'd highly recommend in the Ubud area - do let me know. And for those of you thinking of trying your hand at a Bali cookery class in the future, look out for a Paon Bali post in a few weeks :)
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