Cooking Thai in Dubai
One of the hottest culinary events in Dubai is an annual cooking class and competition that takes place on none other than the very chic and stylish archipelego of Palm Jumeirah.
The stylish Palm Jumeirah villa is pulsating with the intoxicating fragrances of Thai spices—piquant, peppery, pungent, lemony smells that makes my mouth water. The beachside patio is elegantly set for dinner for 26. My friends and I engage in a scurry of chopping, mixing, seasoning and sautéing, interrupted by an occasional burst of laughter as our cooking teams consult over recipes and work to perfect our Thai dishes.
Welcome to “Thai Hands On” cooking—Dubai style.
Thai food is one of my all-time favourites. But while I am an accomplished cook, I have always been too intimidated by the strange ingredients and notorious hot chilies to try it on my own.
Our “head chef” is Lyn Born, the president of the Dubai chapter of the International Food & Wine Society and one of Dubai’s most celebrated hostesses. Passionate about food, this South African has lived and cooked her way through Africa and Asia for the last 20 years. Tonight she has set four food prep stations around her house, each complete with all the necessary cooking tools and ingredients for the assigned recipes.
And the action begins!
With more intensity than a Bobby Flay high-stakes culinary throw-down, team members tackle their recipes. The excitement intensifies as everyone fervishly works with the sweet, sour and saltiness of the Thai ingredients, all enhanced by the heat of the assorted chilies.
Dressed in my red “Thai Hands On” apron, I work with my team in the spacious kitchen. To my delight I am assigned to prepare one of my favourites, Tod Man Pla: Thai fish cakes with cucumber sauce.
My husband Roger courageously meets his team in the living room. His assignment is Gaeng Kiow Wan Gai: green chicken curry. My occasional glances to check on him make me proud as he expertly chops chicken and grinds the seasonings to make the curry paste.
My Thai fish cakes are coming along. I have gathered the ingredients—fish, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, red chili, coriander, red curry paste, coconut cream, fish sauce and Kaffir leaves—minced and chopped as directed, and thrown it all in the food processor. I mix in long beans and moisten my hands with oil, forming the fragrant mixture into small cakes. One of my colleagues has the sauté pan ready with heated oil and I gently fry the cakes until golden on both sides.
After about one hour of team bonding and, amazingly, no burned food, the feast is ready: Goong Makham (fried chili prawns with tamarind sauce), Pak Boong Fai Daeng (“fiery morning glory” with water spinach), Neua Pat Bai Grapao (stir-fried beef with holy basil), Gaeng Phed Yang (red duck curry), Galhour Bai Toey (pandanus chicken), Tom Yanm Goong (hot and sour shrimp soup), Poh Pia (pork spring rolls), Som Tam (green papaya salad), Yam Som Oo (pomelo salad), melon balls in mint syrup and Khao Niew Mamuang (sticky rice with mango).
The vibrant colours of the dishes are a feast for my eyes, and I ponder whether to just gaze at them or dive right in. I dive in. The flavours send my taste buds into ecstasy. No longer intimidated, I am anxious to start experimenting Thai style in my own kitchen.