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Barefoot and Breezy: Beachfront Thai cooking at Time for Lime on Koh Lanta

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I don’t expect to be wielding a pencil during a cooking course, but that is exactly the tool I find in my hand for the first hour of my Time for Lime course on the island of Koh Lanta, Thailand. Our teacher Junie, who was born in the States and grew up in Norway, has been cooking Thai food for the past 25 years, nine of which spent at Time for Lime, her breezy beachfront restaurant here on one of Thailand’s more laid-back southern islands.

koh lanta beachWe arrive via the restaurant’s pick up service, slip off our sandals as is customary in Thailand, and make our way to the beach bar to meet the other five students for the day:  a Swedish couple, a friendly couple escaping chilly London and a solo German traveler. After sharing an exotic drink and some small talk, we are seated at one of the restaurant tables, nowhere near the kitchen.

time for lime cooking classLike much of life: Thai food is all in the preparation

Immediately I am glad we chose Time for Lime over the other options on the island. Junie understands the complexities of Thai food preparation like a native, but is able to explain them to a bunch of foreigners in a way we can understand. She takes nothing for granted, and starts the course by teaching us the basics. Really, this course is all about food preparation, not cooking, as the former can take hours, the latter just minutes.

time for lime cooking class with junieI find it hard not to gaze out at the late afternoon sun over the ocean, but I quickly focus as we learn our first lesson about flavor balance in Thai cooking. Thai food requires a balance of salt, sweet, sour and spicy which is why in Thailand, instead of our salt, pepper and ketchup on the table, here you find a set of four covered glasses with soy sauce or peanuts, chili peppers, a spicy sauce, brown sugar and then lime, always lime, on the side. To accentuate how perfectly flavorful this balance can be, we taste our first Thai snack – and its nothing like the spring rolls I know from home.
ingredients for thai leaf-wrapped snackFolding a leaf into a cone, we sprinkle a pinch of peanut, ginger, onion, coconut, chili (shrimp for the omnivores), drizzle honey over it and fold it up into a little edible leaf parcel, creating a popular Thai snack called Mieng Kham. Then, as Junie eats it, we follow suit. My mouth is instantly bursting with flavor, each and every taste bud alive after a cubic inch of just the essential Thai condiments.

time for lime cooking class prep setsSlice, dice, smash and pound: put to work in the kitchen

After an hour of abstract learning, we are handed our Time for Lime cooking aprons and move over to the open kitchen for a chance to use these knives ourselves. Individual cooking stations are set up in a square around the outside of the space each with a burner, a wok of our own, and all the utensils we could possibly need. We gather around the island in the center, which is filled with trays overflowing with colorful, fresh ingredients we learn to chop, slice, smash and dice.

cooking class ingredientsThe first task is also the most difficult: green curry paste. We are each in charge of one ingredient, which, when we finish cutting it, we take turns mashing it down using the heavy mortar and pestle. The entire process takes 45 minutes, so after ten minutes, a few of the staff on hand (there are about ten Thai ladies surrounding the scene) take over and we move on to the next dish.
time for lime cooking class making red curry pasteAs quickly as we make a mess, these women efficiently move in like a racing car pit crew to clean up and put down the next ingredients before we’ve even noticed. With our own work station, we are free to make our food vegetarian, and Junie’s helpers make plenty of tofu available.

time for lime cooking stationsIn just under 30 minutes, we have prepared and creatively plated two dishes – the green curry and a lemongrass salad, which we scarf down in the restaurant in much less time.

Back in the kitchen, I can already feel the confidence level soaring as I am preparing the ingredients, so I am slightly disappointed to discover that fried rice is the next dish. However, unlike its greasy Chinese cousin, we discover Thai fried rice to be fresh and delicious, speed cooked in a wok with just a bit of egg thrown in at the end. Despite her love of spicy coconut curries, Thai fried rice becomes Dani’s go-to dish for the rest of our time in Thailand.

time for lime cooking class ingredients for stir-fryWhy we’re here: Lanta Animal Welfare

After a second lengthy instruction on ingredient prep, the rice and the vegetable stir-fry dishes take another twenty minutes to cook and plate. And while we were stuffing ourselves silly, Junie melts our hearts by bringing out three puppies she discovered in the forest the day before. Of course, we had expected something like this to happen and it’s the reason we chose Time for Lime’s cooking course. Junie runs the island’s only animal shelter – Lanta Animal Welfare. Through blood, sweat, tears and dump trucks full of gumption, Junie managed to get the shelter off the ground in 2003, rescuing hundreds of abused dogs (and cats). All proceeds from the Time for Lime restaurant, cooking course and bungalows go toward the shelter and just this past year, Lanta Animal Welfare moved in to an excellent new facility in the center of the island.

puppies at time for lime on koh lantaEventually, after the puppies have long since fallen asleep in our laps, we slip our shoes back on and hop in the truck to be taken back to our respective hotels, as knackered as the puppies. That’s not to say we don’t leave fully satisfied. Both stuffed to the gills with four delicious Thai dishes, plus we feel truly educated in Thai cuisine and proud for helping support such a worthy cause, which means a lot to us animal lovers.

jess & dani time for lime cooking classNotes on the Cooking Class: Cooking classes run once a day, and the menu changes daily, so check the Time for Lime website to see which day covers the dishes you’d like to learn to cook. The class runs from 4pm to 10pm and includes the introduction to Thai cooking, making a curry paste, 4 dishes, rice, and a dessert. The first class is 1800 Baht, with discounts available if you take more than one class. You can book a class online or directly at the Time for Lime restaurant.

cooking class at time for lime on koh lantaNotes on Lanta Animal Welfare: We visited the animal shelter and were impressed by the top quality facility. For those who would like to help, the website takes donations. Travelers can volunteer and stay for free at on-site dorms for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

Tags : cooking classkoh lantathailand

30 Comments

  1. Happy Valentine’s Day Globetrotter Girls!

    Looks like a fun experience and it sounds like you learned a lot about Thai cooking. While I was there, although I was in the South, I grew an affinity for Itaan (I think that’s the right spelling) food from the Northern regions. The sticky rice is a favorite.

    I’m definitely going to have to take a cooking course on my next trip there.
    Fidel @IHarTravel recently posted..Public Transportation In Tokyo

    1. Thanks Fidel 🙂 Sticky rice is one of our favorites, too! We loved the way it was served in Laos – just sticky rice with a delicious chili sauce. And Sticky Rice with Mango is my absolute favorite Thai desert! Thailand is a great place for a cooking class – there are so many cooking schools in Chiang Mai where you can learn how to make the Northern specialties, you should do it there 🙂

  2. That sounds like so much fun. And it’s the perfect travel experience you can actually take home and use… even though finding the right ingredients might be difficult. I’ve always wanted to take a cooking class while travelling, but have never had the time or been at the right place or found a place that offers this type of experience. It’s on my list though!
    Sabrina recently posted..Expat Mythbusters: Taking on Some Texas Cliches

    1. Absolutely! We can’t wait to have a kitchen and try the recipes at home! We’ll be housesitting in Thailand for the next few weeks – looking forward to go to the market, pick up fresh vegetables and then go home and make some of the dishes we learned that day 🙂

    1. Highly recommend this one! We love cooking classes too, and every time we take one I wish we had a kitchen to actually make the dishes we learned to make at home. By the time we settle down we’ll probably have forgotten everything 😉

    1. Oh, you have to tell us more about the class in Chiang Mai – we’re tempted to take another one and try to make some of the Northern Thai dishes!

    1. Thanks, Chris! I think you can’t go wrong with a Thai cooking class – the food is just so good, it’s hard to mess it up 😉 Highly recommend you take one next time you’re in Thailand!

    1. Thank you, Bret! You are right – making the food is actually a lot of work. The preparation can take hours, depending on which dishes you’re making. But when we finally sat down and ate, it was so delicious – well worth the effort!

  3. This looks like a great class, and I love the photos. The food is very simple here, but the attention to ingredients and balance is the key. Now you’ve inspired us to sign up for a cooking class!

    1. Thanks Betsy! You two should definitely take a cooking class while you’re still in Asia – either here or in Laos. We also really liked the class we took in in Luang Prabang.

    1. In which countries in South America did you take cooking classes? Any that you’d recommend to us? We’ll definitely take one when we get there – can’t wait!

    1. Thanks Cherina! Thai is one our favorite cuisines as well – so happy that now we’re able to make some of the dishes we love most at home 🙂 Only a cooking class in Italy can beat that – I wish we’d have taken one when we were there last year! I am sure you will LOVE it!

  4. Went to Time for Lime yesterday and abousloutly loved it…
    Also great to know the money is going towards helping the animals on the island.

    1. Awesome! 5 days of Thai cooking – you’ll be masters of Thai cuisine after that 😉 Our class was great and we had a great bunch of people! Enjoy Koh Lanta 🙂

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