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Monday, July 8, 2013

Taking a Thai Cooking Class in Chiang Mai

If you are traveling to Thailand, chances are you are going to want to take a cooking class.  Attending a class at a Thai cooking school is a popular activity for travelers.  If you will be spending time in Chiang Mai, I suggest taking a class at Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School. 
 
We chose a one day beginner’s course, Shopping at the Market.  We love visiting markets when we travel, but I sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable browsing food markets with my camera in hand but not making any purchases.  Visiting the market with our instructor Pon was a very hands-on experience, which we thoroughly enjoyed.  We were each given two ingredients to find and purchase.  Then Pon walked us around the market, explaining various ingredients with which most of us were unfamiliar, such as kaffir lime leaves, straw mushrooms, and tiny green eggplants.  I had no idea there were eggplants the size of peas.  He also explained the difference between coconut milk and coconut cream.  While walking around the market we needed to be on the lookout for our ingredients.  When we found them, we had to choose the freshest looking ingredients (with a little help from Pon or the vendor when necessary). 
 
Market Fruits and Vegetables
Dragon Fruit | Mangosteen | Eggplant | Straw Mushrooms | Kaffir Limes and Lime Leaves
After we had received our guided tour of the market and found all of our ingredients, we were given some time to walk around the market on our own and examine the rest of the items on display.  We then met up again and stopped at a stand where a woman was selling one of the most delightful desserts I have ever experienced, Khanom Krok, before heading to the school for our cooking class.
 
Market Visit
Khanom Krok | Curry Pastes | All Things Pork | Fish
The cooking school consists of a room for instruction inside and cooking stations and an eating area outside.  For each dish, we would sit in the demonstration room and listen and watch as Pon explained and demonstrated cooking the dish, then we would go outside, gather our ingredients, and prepare the dish we had just learned with Pon or an assistant looking on to give any necessary advice or help.  You will be given your cookbook at the beginning of the day.  I highly recommend bringing a pen and writing notes in your book during the demonstration, as Pon does not necessarily follow the measurements or order of the printed recipes.  As In all cultures, everyone has their own personal way of preparing a dish.  I found my notes extremely useful when recreating the dishes at home.
 
Instruction
Cooking stations outside and instruction inside (along with my new furry friend)
During our class we made Yellow Curry with Chicken, Steamed Fish in Banana Leaves, Chicken with Cashew Nuts, Fried Big Noodles with Sweet Soy Sauce, Spicy Prawn Salad North-Eastern Style, and Bananas in Coconut Milk.  All of the dishes were delicious, though I made my steamed fish a little too salty.  The fried big noodles were by far my favorite dish, and I have made those, the cashew chicken, and the yellow curry at home, along with a number of other curry and soup dishes from the cookbook.  I love to cook, and I cook a lot from recipes, but I promise the instruction you receive will be invaluable in recreating Thai dishes properly at home.  As an example, we learned when making curries that the coconut cream needs to be cooked until the oil in the cream starts to separate before adding the coconut milk and other ingredients, and we were able to see what this looks like first hand when executed properly.  After we finished the first four dishes, we all sat together and ate our dishes for lunch before preparing the final two dishes.  We had a small group on the day of our class and were able to meet some very nice and interesting people.
 
Dishes
Some of the dishes we prepared in class
Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School offers five beginner courses: Introduction to Thai Spices, Making Thai Curry Pastes, Tour of the Local Market, Shopping at the Market (the course we took), and Vegetable Carving.  During each course you will have a morning activity and make a total of six dishes, four in the morning and two in the afternoon after lunch.  Courses include round-trip transportation from your hotel, food and materials, and a cookbook containing the recipes from all five courses.  It is also possible to just take a half day course, leaving after lunch and learning four of the six dishes.  The school also offers five master’s courses, a gourmet dinner party, and homestay and study programs.  Reservations can be made via the online booking form.  Our class was on a Sunday, and one of the couples in our group, who were taking all five courses, told us the weekends seemed to have the smallest classes.
 
You may be wondering how you are going to cook all of the wonderful dishes you have learned when you get home.  I am fortunate enough to live in a city that has a large Asian culture and therefore markets where we can purchase the necessary ingredients.  But we are also lucky to be living in the digital age, and many of the ingredients, including the various curry pastes, coconut milk, coconut cream, sweet soy sauce, and more can be purchased on websites such as Amazon.

I found Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School in my Lonely Planet Discover Thailand guidebook. 

Have you ever taken a cooking class during your travels?  What were some of your favorites?
 
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Playing with Elephants at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai
 

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Katherine Belarmino is the author of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. She works full-time in a non-travel related job, but she and her husband Romeo take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.