Welcome to my life in Niagara! Grab a glass, there's bound to be wine.

Thai-ing One On at The Smokin’ Buddha

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Two of the first people I met when I moved to Niagara were Steven and Kimberley. I knew the moment I met them that we would get along just fine. How did I know this? Well, because we are all foodies. The love of food always brings people together, does it not?

But Steven and Kimberley don’t just love food – they have turned their passion into a business. Owning and operating Niagara Culinary Tours, they offer three delicious, fun walking tours in the region – one in St. Catharines, one in Niagara Falls, and of course, one in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Aside from these fantastic tours, they have started to host culinary events. I had the privilege of attending the first one last Sunday, held at The Smokin’ Buddha in Port Colborne.

People have been telling me to get out to The Buddha since I arrived. One of the things I miss about Toronto is the close proximity and wide availability of great Indian and Thai food. Whenever I would ask for Niagara recommendations for Indian and Thai, everyone said The Smokin’ Buddha. What is even more exciting is that The Smokin’ Buddha offers Indian, Thai, Mexican, Korean and Japanese specialties. All in one restaurant. Isn’t that incredible? I think so.

So when Steven and Kimberley offered this event, Ken and I jumped on it, and bought our tickets right away. Good thing we did, because it sold out as soon as it was announced. Everyone loves Thai, and everyone loves the Buddha.

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I love the laid-back, casual vibe here. We were greeted with a welcome cocktail, and chatted with the other participants while we waited for the show to start.

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We perused the menu

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And we got underway. Kevin told us the story of the Smokin’ Buddha, and how the restaurant came to be. I am always curious to hear about other people – how they got to a particular place in their life, how they made their dream a reality. Hearing how people make their dreams happen is always inspirational to me.

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Then we got into the cooking lesson, discussing some fundamental ingredients in Thai cuisine – Lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil

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And really got down to foodie business, learning about our first course, Mango Rice Rolls

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Working with rice paper rolls is easier than you might think, and you also don’t have to keep them just for a Thai dinner. They can also make an easy and healthy snack. I think I would want all the ingredients pre-chopped and ready to go, however – the chopping is what takes all the time! These had mango, rice noodles, cilantro, and hot red peppers, served with a glorious peanut sauce.

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Then we moved onto Hot and Sour Soup, which was amazing. The flavour of the soup was divine, with a pronounced heat. I loved it.

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My love of spiciness is a new thing actually. Until a couple of years ago, I couldn’t really tolerate it – but now I am all over it. The beauty of this soup though is that there was so much FLAVOUR. You felt the heat, but could still taste the flavours of the other ingredients – the warmth of the chilis died down rather quickly. This to me is perfect – the enjoyment of the spice, but no lingering burn on your lips or tongue.

And it caused much discussion in our group.

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Then we were onto the magnificent Thai Veggie Curry – Green and Red Curry paste with vegetables, herbs and coconut milk, served over jasmine rice. Kevin talked about the differences between green, red, and yellow curry pastes.  I don’t think I knew the difference before – all I cared about in the past was how it tasted!

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Of course, we talked about wine selection for Thai food. Lots of people prefer beer with Thai, but I’m a bit of a die-hard wine girl. Steven talked about matching wines with Thai food.

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Apparently the trick for Thai is to have a bit of residual sugar in the wine. I tend to shy away from sweeter wine, but once again, with spice it works.

Our final course was Barbecued Pork Tenderloin with a lovely, fresh salad. Confession time…I am not a salad girl. Yes, I eat them occasionally because they are “good for me”, but I am not known for love of salads. This one though, I will try to recreate. There were tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onions, all marinated in a beautiful vinaigrette. This was mixed in with iceberg lettuce. I love iceberg lettuce, and it gets such a bad rap these days. I know it might not be the most nutritionally dense, but it adds such a lively crunch. I can’t stand salads where I feel like I am eating paper….and that’s what many of those “healthy” lettuce leaves taste like to me.

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After all of this yumminess, it’s hard to think we could have room for dessert. But Kevin enticed us to make room for one of his specialties –  Thai Bananas. The bananas were coated in butter and coconut, baked in the oven. This was topped with sweet syrup and served with ice cream. Everyone enjoyed it.

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At this point we were all feeling rather full and totally content. But out came our goodie bags. Yes, we were sent home with a goodie bag containing a big jar of green curry paste, a bottle of fish sauce, dried kaffir lime leaves, the recipe for the veggie curry, and some wine-tasting vouchers for a couple of local wineries.

Who could ask for anything more? Amazing food, learning how to cook Thai, and making a few new friends in the process. Food really does bring people together.

I’m so glad I met Steven and Kimberley…and I hope they will organize many more of these events!

To find out more about their tours and events, visit Niagara Culinary Tours.

And to book a table at The Smokin’ Buddha, their website is once again here.