by Melinda Gallo

Thai cooking class

My mother exposed us to many different cuisines when I was growing up. And, I admit that living in Europe has brought me to seek out ethnic restaurants, especially Asian ones, no matter where I live. One of the reasons I created Dining in Florence was because I wanted to try all the sushi restaurants in town. I often eat Chinese, Japanese and Thai food because it reminds me a little bit of home. Today I was very excited because I would finally go to my first Thai cooking class held by Melanie from the Spice Lab at Saint James church in via Rucellai. Eating out is a treat, but I wondered how difficult it would be to learn how to make some of my favorite Thai dishes.

Living in Florence :: Thai cooking class

The first time I ate Thai food in Europe was when I was living in Paris. I often had lunch at a Thai restaurant around the corner from our office near the Arc de Triomphe. It was quite expensive, but I loved it and went as often as I could. It was a nice variation from the Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants that I would go to in Paris. Here in Florence I often go to Buddakan because they have some of my favorite Thai dishes, like duck in red curry and pad thai.

I rode my bici (bike) through a few side streets near the Uffizi up to Piazza Santa Trinità to reach the lungarno (road along the Arno). I arrived at the large rotonda (roundabout) in via il Prato and locked my bici up to a pole. I walked down via Rucellai to the grounds of the chiesa (church) and through the portone (main entrance).

I entered the chiesa and walked downstairs to the cucina (kitchen). I recognized Melanie from her picture and stood outside while she talked to her kitchen helper about prepping a few things for the class. I peeked my head into the cucina and saw two large trays: one with different types of peppers and the other with small glass bowls filled with different ingredients.

I waited for the class to start and by the time it did, there was a group of about 10 people in the cucina. Melanie talked about the dishes she'd be showing us how to make today: fresh spring rolls, sweet chili sauce, and fish steamed in banana leaves.

After picking up the cards with the recipes printed on them, Melanie began the class by making fresh spring rolls. We all followed along as she showed us how to make the dish, and wrote notes to ourselves if necessary. She shared many tips with us that she had learned while studying Thai cooking in Thailand.

I enjoyed listening to her talk to us about peppers of which I learned there are only three types: bell, sweet, and hot. Melanie then proceeded to make the sweet chili sauce, a spicy and delicious condiment in Thai cooking.

The simplest dish to make, which I also found very tasty, was the fish in banana leaves. The picture shown above was taken before they were steamed. Melanie whipped it together and then poured the mixture into the banana leaves.

The only difficult thing in Thai cooking is obtaining the ingredients because there really is only one place in town to get them all: Vivimarket on via del Giglio near San Lorenzo. Of course certain fresh items like lemongrass and Thai basil aren't always in stock, so cooking some of these dishes might prove to be challenging. One of the best tips that we learned was that a lot of the fresh vegetables that are necessary for Thai cooking can also be frozen and used later.

After everything was prepared, we walked out to the long table that was set for all of us and began to eat. Everything was delicious and I was excited about possibly going home with my new recipes and trying to make some of the dishes myself. It was also nice meeting new people who live in Florence: both expats and locals. I am looking forward to my next Thai cooking class in a couple of weeks because I can't wait to make my absolute favorite Thai dish: mango with sticky rice.

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