It’s truly a trendy thing in Budapest these days to go to cooking school – or rather, just a cooking class, with friends for an evening. But I wasn’t interested in learning how to make pörkölt (stew) or gulyásleves (goulash soup) – I leave that to my Hungarian mother-in-law. And my friend whose birthday we were celebrating is also a near-professional Hungarian cook, so we chose to learn to cook Thai food instead.
That’s right, a Thai cooking class in Budapest. Though the location of Kuktaparty cooking school, in a storefront on Váci út near Duna Pláza mall, is not terribly charming, the class was taught by the charming and ever-smiling Zhi Jun Joni. As chef at the excellent Rickshaw restaurant at the five-star Corinthia Grand Hotel, Joni can whip up specialties from across Asia, having learned from colleagues from across the region.
We began with Tom Kha Gai, the tangy-sweet-spicy coconut soup that in my book is the barometer for good Thai food. Meaning, whenever we go to a Thai restaurant, that’s what we order to compare with orders – at Italian restaurants, it’s spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino. For Tom Kha Gai, we learned the secret to making the chicken so tender it melts in your mouth, and acquainted ourselves with the scents of lemon grass and galangal so crucial to that Thai tang. Fortunately, we got to eat it right away before we moved on to our next dish, a green curry with shrimp, and the dessert, fried bananas with caramelized sugar and sesame seeds. We lounged at a table next to our cooking stations with wine and soft drinks before we were roused to continue cooking.
The ingredients were set out in small glass bowls just like for Jamie Oliver. My husband and I shared a mobile cooking station, chopping our own vegetables and peeling and slicing shrimp under Joni’s direction, then dropping them into a common pot, with only a little arguing about how much chili pepper we should add. Our friend Karcsi, owner of a travel agency and therefore well acquainted with world cuisines, went from station to station with a wooden spoon, tasting our creations as well as Master Joni’s, without asking. He proclaimed our curry the best of all. But that may be because he just returned from Bhutan, where he had to eat the national dish, túró with hot chilies, at every meal. (Read his blog about this trip, in Hungarian, at http://www.startutazas.hu/fx_a/blog/fx_action/bl_felh_blog/fx_site/utazas/fx_nid/59/index.html).
We’ll be making Tom Kha Gai and curry again, very soon. We’ll skip the bananas, because this dessert needs to be served immediately and I’d rather spend time with guests at a dinner party than fry up a dessert for them in a cloud of oily steam. Luckily, I already know how to make coconut pearl tapioca with mango slices…
Interested in trying a cooking course? Here are websites for cooking schools in Budapest. If you know more, please leave a comment and I’ll add to my list! Kuktaparty is the only one I’ve tried, but Karcsi and his wife Zsuzsi also enjoyed a steak course at Blanchir and I’ve heard good things about Chefparade.
www.kuktaparty.hu – Indian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Sushi, Steak, Paella
www.blanchir.hu – French, Italian, Thai, Turkish, French chocolate desserts…
www.chefparade.hu – Hungarian (www.cookingbudapest.com), Tuscan, steak, cheesecake, Scottish (for whisky aficionados), Tex-Mex, special classes for children and even a dating-cooking evening for those looking for that special culinary partner
http://www.makifood.com/en/cooking-school.html – classes in English starting each month, great location near Parliament and U.S.-trained chef