Thailand is renowned for its fresh-tasting food with a somewhat fierce kick. The southern regions of Thailand boast sharp and spicy food heavily influenced by neighbouring countries Indonesia and Malaysia. Persian, Arabian and Portuguese traders also brought spices, recipes and cooking techniques and added them into the eccentric mix of the multifarious cuisine. Ying is known throughout her home-island of Samui for her appreciation of the eclectic food scene and her cheeky sense of humour.
Learn to Cook Thai Style
The joy of sharing food underpins family life. Thai families are very traditional and centred around food. Across Thailand, you’ll notice a significant amount of markets, stalls, and carts dotted throughout the bustling streets, not to mention the extraordinary collection of restaurants with diverse menus, thought-provoking ingredients and a provocative fusion of flavours. Hua Thanon market is no different; it’s fondly known locally as the Muslim market set on a tiny backstreet that runs parallel with the sea. Chefs enthusiastically pick tamarind, lemongrass, galangal, chilli and kaffir lime to use in their dishes.
Ying meets you eagerly at her self-built home in the village of Taling Ngam in the south of the island. She gathers baskets and pots, and you’ll all jump in her rickety charabanc, ready to head to the hustle and bustle of the markets. Ying happily chats about your day ahead and talks about her love for cooking, how she’s learnt from generations of her family and from the pages of ancient recipe books.
Thai Fresh Market
Hua Thanon market is awash with the freshest ingredients. Ying wanders the market and explains all of the different herbs and spices, where they come from and how she uses them in cooking. There is a surprisingly sizeable Chinese influence on the market with bok choi, Chinese broccoli, ginger and every type of noodle imaginable. Ying explains all of the homemade pastes packed into tightly banded plastic bags; red and green curry pastes, shrimp paste, and lots of fermented flavourings to add a taste of Thailand to various dishes. Ying chats about the health properties of the different roots and leaves and playfully taunts you with the stinkiest beans and the costliest durian.
Across the street in the wet market; you get to explore fish from the deep and choose your catch for cooking. Ying will wake you up with gloriously strong coffee made with bitter beans strong enough to raise the rafters, served with sweetened condensed or fresh milk. Rows of eggs from ducks, chickens, quail and something very pink line the market. The preserved eggs known as century eggs are pink on the outside and black on the inside. Their jelly-like texture is fragrant, is not for the faint-hearted and is enjoyed in various Thai dishes.
Once Ying’s baskets are laden with goodies, you head back to her beautiful jungle home. She brings her own banana leaves to wrap her buys and is a staunch recycler refusing to use any plastic if she can help it. At home, she even makes her own soaps from lemongrass and other antibacterial herbs that she grows in the garden. She and her Austrian husband, Daniel, have a beautifully well-tended garden of banana trees, root plants such as galangal and turmeric and edible flowers like the giant banana flowers and the bluest butterfly pea. All of these ingredients are staples in her dishes. They wash everything with the rainwater they collect in huge stone urns dotted throughout the garden.
Southern Thai Food
Southern food is strong in flavour and colour; turmeric produces a rich golden hue and a playful taste that is an integral part of spicy, sour or sweet dishes. Some of Ying’s favourite dishes are the south’s famed Khanom Jeen Nam Yaa Poo, a deliciously creamy curried crab with little nests of noodles, Nam Prik Ma Ueg, a gorgeous dipping sauce made with hairy eggplant and Pla Sai Thot Kamin, an Indian inspired dish of deep-fried turmeric-marinated fish.
The cooking classes take place on the open-sided ground floor. Ying searched high and low across Northern Thailand for enough teak wood to build their traditionally styled home. Tropical palms and indigenous trees shade the house to keep you cool. Old photographs of traditional Samui life and its people adorn the walls.
Ying prepares all of the vegetables, fish, chicken, and firey chillis for the class and sets them in a big basket. Guests sit the Thai way on comfortable cushions on the floor. It’s a real family affair. Her father and one of the family’s cats quietly prepares coconuts for homemade milk and cream used later in the class. Who knew cats liked coconut cream? Pla Thuu does.
Ying and her guests cook their dishes over traditional clay pots heated with charcoal made from coconut shells. Nothing goes to waste. Ying demonstrates how to cook a range of dishes, from soups, curries and side dishes. The room is always full of laughter; Ying possesses a lively energy and a warmth and love that will make you want to return to learn more about Thai cooking and it’s rich heritage.
The late King Bhumibol Adulyadej expressed that Thai people would never go hungry because there is always such an abundance of food in nature. Ying thinks the same way. All organic waste is collected in used coconut shells and added to the compost pile to feed their garden. The cooking school is a perfect example of circular living; Ying and Daniel enjoy the regenerative nature of their way of living and being part of the ever-evolving cycles of nature.
Rebecca, an English local resident who attended one of the cooking classes said, “This cooking class was a truly wonderful experience, from the early morning visit to the local market, returning back to the beautiful Thai house to watch, learn and make the most wonderful local Thai food. Ying, you and your family are wonderful. I can’t remember the last time I laughed all day long. Your smile is infectious and the way you teach is fun and easy to follow without any fear of making mistakes. If you have some free time and would love to learn how to make a few Thai dishes (from scratch!) book this class at Ying’s Thai Cooking Home. You’ll have such a wonderful day and you not only learn many new skills, you’ll be in awe of the environment you spend the day in… oh, not forgetting a seriously full tummy too.”
Serial Entrepreneur and Founder of Asia Lifestyle Magazine.
Originally from the UK, Asa Marsh has been based in Asia for many years. Well known for guiding his Real Estate and Lifestyle company Easy Living Phuket to win the title of “Top 10 Real Estate Agency – Southeast Asia” in 2018.