Jazz has to be the most relaxing music to my ears next to Classical. I often cook with Wynton Marsalis blowing his trumpet in the background or with Mozart’s ephemeral tunes floating into the kitchen, sometimes Maria Callas sings her arias keeping me company.
But kawan kawan, I’ve never cooked Thai with Jazz before, until I met Kochapan, that is. She is one very jazzy (excuse the pun) Thai cook and teacher. I had the pleasure of joining some Asian women on a Thai cooking experience in the humble abode of Kochapan M. Her home is in the 18th arrondissement with easy access to not one but 4 Asian supermarkets. How lucky is that? For me to get my Asian supplies, I have to traipse all the to the 13th and back with shopping trolley and bags of Chinese greens by métro! That is not an easy feat kawan kawan, trust me! Bottles of soya sauce, fish sauce and sesame oil, not to forget, oyster sauce all weigh quite a bit if you are like me and cannot stop at 4 of each! I buy in bulk, my friends, economies of scales and all that, plus I don’t have to go back to the 13th again until I run out of supplies, and at the rate that I stock up, it’s about every 6 months or so, it seems, or until I fancy fresher stuff like bak choy, kai lan and garlic shoots.
I digress, back to cooking Thai with Jazz. Well, I signed up with AWAP for this course, organised by our very own efficient and knowledgable Shella M. We met at the métro Marx Dormoy by the MacDonalds, all 6 ladies in anticipation of learning how to cook Phad Thai, Saté Kai and Som Tam, all dishes that we order and eat with relish in Thai restos in Paris and abroad.
Kochapan takes us on a tour of her arrondissement, showing us the Asian markets where she buys her supplies for her home and also for her cookery school. I learnt a few new vegetables that day, discovering the stem of the lotus flower that Thai people add into their curries because its spongy flesh soaks up the sauce and becomes delectable. But cleaning and washing this plant is difficile, cautioned Kochapan. I like it that in Asia, due to many reasons and one of them being economics, Asian people eat everything. Who would have thought of eating the stem of the lotus flower? And bamboo shoots? Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.
At her beautiful spa like appartement, Kochapan appears, from behind a typically Thai crafted wooden door that I thought was only decorative, in her uniform. She is wearing the generic Thai costume of somebody from central Thailand. Her movements are graceful and elegant.
She gestures us to the living room where we are offered a Thai coconut, chilled with a decorative flower sitting atop a black olive. I was in heaven, kawan kawan. I had no desire to move back to Asia anymore. I mentally took note that Kochapan’s husband is a French architect and can easily create this Asian haven for me, if I wish it to be, and abracadabra, I’m back in SE Asia. I have to run that pass the Italian, for sure. We’d save tons of money on our yearly pilgrimage back to the East, if only I had an appartement like Kochapan. Oh, and did I mention that she has a sauna too? She’s working on the next part of her business plan where she’ll be offering a spa package including Thai massage, sauna and followed by a lunch of Thai inspired health food. You’ve heard it first from me, kawan kawan!
I’m so excited to be making Phad Thai. This national dish of Thailand is eaten worldwide and has become the symbol of Thai cuisine. It was first introduced and made popular by Thailand’s Prime Minister, Luang Phibunsongkhram, in his reign during the second World War. He wanted to reduce rice consumption amongst the people of Thailand and to encourage a healthy but economical way of eating. Phad Thai is a simple noodle dish made mainly with bean sprouts, tofu and eggs. As food was rationed during the war, this dish provided ordinary families with a cheap and healthy option. Through the years, this dish has been de-constructed, re-invented and spiced up with other ingredients like prawns and chicken.
We had the jazzed up version of Phad Thai at Kochapan’s. Prawns seasoned first in garlic, soya sauce and olive oil were added, after being separately cooked, over the bed of noodles.
We each took turns to chop, mince, pound and cut the ingredients for the Phad Thai, working with Jazz tunes emanating from her CD player. There seems to be a lot of work that goes into this dish. But the Jazz helped us relax and the chin wagging that went on whilst we all cooked created an ambience of community and sisterhood amongst us 6 Asian ladies. We shared anecdotes from our own countries, families and cultures – one Asian/Canadian, one Filipina/Canadian, one Filipina, 2 Koreans and a Singaporean with our Thai host.
Phad Thai Sauce:
1 tbsp red onions slices
2 tbsp crushed roasted peanuts
2 tbsp tamarind juice (this is made with tamarind fruit paste that you can buy in any Asian supermarket. Soak a handful of this paste in warm water which will become tamarind juice)
1/2 tbsp of sugar
1/2 tbsp of soya sauce
Method: Sauté the red onions and tomatoes, then mix everything in the food processor until smooth.
Phad Thai ingredients:
3 tbsp red onions chopped
1 piece of hard tofu, cubed
1 tbsp of salted radish, chopped. (Buy the Thai version as it is a little more sweet than salted)
1/2 pack of rice noodles. (I buy the thicker version, the next size up from vermicelles, which are very thin rice noodles)
1 tbsp of dried shrimps, already soaked in warm water for 10 minutes
10 pieces of fresh king prawns seasoned in garlic and oil, cooked separately
2 tbsp sliced carrots
3 tbsp spring onions and chinese chives, all cut into 1 inch length
2 tbsp of crushed roasted peanuts
2 cups of bean sprouts
1/2 tbsp of garlic minced
1/2 tbsp of soya sauce
method: In a wok or frying pan on high heat, fry the red onions, followed soon after by the tofu pieces until slightly brown on each side; lastly, add the minced radish and fry some more.
In a pot of boiling water, add the noodles for about 1 minute, quickly removing them with a slotted spoon to be added directly into the mixture of red onion, tofu and salted radish.
Add 2 – 3 tbsp of Phad Thai sauce whilst mixing the noodles, making sure that the they are thoroughly coated in the sauce.
Crack an egg and add into the pan on one side. Then mix it into the noodles and the rest of the ingredients already in the pan.
Add the dried shrimps, spring onions and Chinese chives and carrots and stir fry for 5 minutes, giving everything a good stir.
Add bean sprouts and crushed peanuts, stir fry for another 2 minutes.
Place Phad Thai in a serving dish and dress with pre-prepared king prawns and its juices to be eaten immediately with a fresh sprinkling of peanut, fresh bean sprouts and a squeeze of lime or lemon juice.
This can also be served with fresh cut chillis in nam plaa.
And whilst you’re at it, you can also carve roses from firm tomatoes and decorate your personal dishes with them.
Now that I can cook Phad Thai, kawan kawan, I don’t have to order it at Thai restaurants anymore. I can now order other types of Thai noodle dishes instead. My eating weltanshauung will soon be expanded. That keeps me happy, my friends, what about you?
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