Taipei restaurant teaches authentic Thai cooking

Photo: The Patio Taipei
The Patio restaurants offer a monthly cooking class for those interested in broadening their culinary skills.

published in AmCham’s Topics magazine
, Feb. 2010 issue

A group of students come together from around Taiwan for a monthly cooking class at Taipei’s Patio Restaurant, some traveling three to six hours by train or bus for the small, intimate classes. “Thai cuisine is pretty easy to learn,” says Vanessa Chang, one of the class members. “I just want to get some recipes while meeting new friends.” After attending the class on Saturdays, she heads to the Jason’s supermarket in the Taipei 101 mall, buys the required ingredients, and cooks up a storm on Sunday.

A student at the Patio tucks in. Photo: Trista di Genova
A student at the Patio tucks in. Photo: Trista di Genova
On the menu the day this writer sat in on the course were three favorites: Pad Thai, Steamed Sea Bass, and Thai Corn Dessert. Platters lay in waiting on white-cloth tables, and bowls were filled with all the necessary ingredients: chopped garlic, chili pepper, Thai fish sauce, lemon juice, sugar, and coriander (better known as cilantro in the West).

Everything’s fresh from Thailand – except the sea bass, which was caught off the coast in southern Taiwan. The Patio makes a point of importing its curry and shrimp from home for that authentic Thai taste. There are also certain ingredients, such as fresh kaffir lemon leaves and Thai ginger, that are largely unavailable in Taiwan. But some students said they could find most of the needed ingredients at the Breeze Center or one of the Jason’s supermarkets. Another option for the students is to buy the ingredients directly from The Patio.

One of the students, Jao Chuan-xiang, said she heard about the course from fellow students in a Chinese cooking class in Yuanlin, Changhua County, where she runs a bookstore, and she said she wanted to learn authentic Thai cooking for when her husband’s relatives come to visit.

Another member of the class, Chen Ya-ping, signed up for the course because her brother and his Vietnamese wife plan to open a Thai restaurant in southern Taiwan, where there are few places that know how to make real Thai cuisine, she says. Yet another classmate is a retired junior high school teacher named Shu Juei-yun, who now has a lot of free time and heard about the class when she attended a monthly tea at the Patio’s Sogo location. Shu said she loves the bold tastes of classic Thai cuisine – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and spicy – compared to, say, her son’s favorite: Japanese cuisine. She also has another motivation – by broadening her cooking repertoire, she hopes she can entice all her family members to “stay home to eat together.”

thaichefThe Patio’s own head chef, Tingnang Pongwong, has 22 years of restaurant expertise. She went through rigorous training at the restaurant’s main office in Bangkok before being sent to Taiwan. The Patio’s international reach is impressive; the chain runs 135 restaurants around the world, with 110 in Bangkok alone. All offer cooking classes to the public.

The company is also famous for its relationship to the Thai monarchy. “Whenever the king or queen has a birthday, they invite our chefs to cook,” notes the Patio’s Taiwan manager, Charles Hsueh.

Many ingredients found in traditional Thai cuisine have healthful benefits, stresses Nelly Hsu, who is responsible for the Patio’s PR and marketing. Even the lemongrass tea served after the meal is considered an aid in digestion.

Nelly regards the similarities in food culture between Taiwan and Thailand as the main reason why Thai cuisine has become so popular in Taiwan. Both cuisines put a lot of emphasis on seafood and stir-fry dishes. One of the main differences, though, is that Thai food tends to use more lemon and less salt than Chinese cooking, she says. “And we make use of more types of chili,” including powders, pastes and fresh peppers, she adds.

Photo: Trista di Genova
Photo: Trista di Genova
Dishes like Pad Thai (literally “Thai-style fried noodles”) are so common – as ubiquitous in Thailand as fried rice is in China and Taiwan – that “it’s sold on the streets, and every woman has to learn how to cook it,” Nelly says. She notes that with the egg, shrimp, and bean sprouts it contains, it’s also a highly nutritious meal.

Thai Cooking: the Key Ingredients and Health Benefits
Coconut Milk is made from pressing the white coconut meat and mixing the resulting coconut cream with water. It’s used as a base in numerous Thai soups, curries, and desserts. Coconuts are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and anti-microbial properties, and contain compounds that help lower bad cholesterol and boost the good kind, and support the immune system.

Turmeric is a spice used in curries, giving curry the characteristic yellow color. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, an anti-inflammatory found to be just as effective as drugs like hydrocortisone, phenylbutazone, and Motrin. It is known to protect the heart and liver, and among the many health conditions that turmeric has been found to benefit are inflammatory bowel diseases.

Limes. Kaffir lime leaves are also a crucial element in most Thai soups, many curries, and stir-fries. Limes are, of course, an excellent source of vitamin C, but also contain potent antioxidant compounds that help protect the body from free radicals, have anti-cancer properties, and also help protect against rheumatoid arthritis.

Fresh basil is often used in Thai dishes for its unique flavor and fragrance. Compounds in basil have been found to protect DNA from radiation, protect against unwanted bacterial growth (basil has potent anti-bacterial properties), provide anti-inflammatory effects, and help support heart health.

Chili peppers and roasted chili paste are a staple in Thai cooking, used to flavor main dishes and dipping sauces, dress salads, and even top rice or crackers. Various versions of both green and red chili peppers are used in just about every traditional Thai dish and condiment (usually in very generous amounts). Capsaicin, the compound in chili peppers that makes them so spicy (the spicier the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains), is also incredibly healthful. It is an anti-inflammatory compound that helps with pain relief, boosts immunity, reduces cholesterol, helps prevent cancer, and helps prevent stomach ulcers by killing bacteria.

Coriander (cilantro) is a bold herb that adds intense flavor, fragrance, and freshness to Thai cuisine. Coriander’s beneficial phytonutrients, flavonoids, and active phenolic acid compounds have been found to help control blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and fight inflammation and free radicals.

Cook it Yourself
Pad Thai

150g rice noodles
4 prawns
1 tbsp red onions
1 tbsp dried turnips
Half-cup bean sprouts
2 leeks (cut in pieces)
¼ lemon
2 eggs
3 tbsp oil
1 tbsp shrimp paste
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp crushed peanuts
2 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp sugar

Mix shrimp paste, fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar in a bowl.
After heating oil, stir-fry red onion, dried turnip, and prawns, then set aside.
Stir-fry rice noodles with soup stock. When rice noodles are getting soft, add leeks, bean sprouts, and sauce from step one. Stir-fry further, then place on a platter.
Stir-fry eggs, and when they are half-fried, add crushed peanuts. When done, use as a topping on the dish.
Squeeze on lemon juice before eating.

Steamed Sea Bass with Lemon Sauce

Photo: The Patio Taipei
1 sea bass
2-3 tbsp lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves
2 handfuls of cabbage
2 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp coriander root
1 tsp Thai chili
2 slices of lemon
3 tbsp fish sauce
5 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp sugar

Place cabbage on the plate.
Clean out internal organs of the sea bass, and remove the fish bone entirely.
Place sea bass on top of the cabbage and steam.
Mix other ingredients, including fish sauce, lemon juice, and sugar, and pour over the steamed sea bass.

Thai Corn Dessert

2kg fresh corn
2 cans coconut milk
400g water
300g sugar
1 tsp salt
100g rice flour
50g cornstarch

Cut corn kernels off cobs.
Mix water, sugar, salt, rice flour, coconut milk, and cornstarch with corn kernels.
Put the mixture on a plate and steam for 15 minutes.
Cut corn dessert into bite-sized squares. Can be served either chilled or warm

Grand Patio
No.12, Alley 247, DunHua South Rd., Sec. 1.
Tel: 2731-5288. Fax: 2731-5243

Grand Patio
7F, 39, FuXing S. Rd., Sec. 1.
Tel: 8772-8168 Fax: 8772-8169

11F, 45 ZhongXiao E. Rd., Sec, 4.
Tel: 2721-5998 Fax: 2721-6008

Patio Thai Italian Inspired
7F, 9 SongShou Rd.
Tel: 8789-5008 Fax: 8789-5009

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