Chiang Mai, a small city in Northern Thailand, is a traveler’s dream. The night bazaar is filled with mosaic lanterns, hand woven scarves, and hundreds of other trinkets at impressively affordable prices. Different tour groups can take you to the local village, on a hike to the waterfalls, or to visit the Golden Triangle. Even aimless explorations of the city is satisfying, as there are ornate temples on every block. With all of this to offer, it may be hard to believe that you would want to block off 4 or 6 hours for a cooking class, but the traditional Thai cooking class at the Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre is worth half a day. The food, the people, the laughter… it is the kind of experience that you will remember while sitting in traffic on your way to work and will bring a smile to your face, as you reflect on the wonder that is Chiang Mai.
Visit a local market for fresh ingredients
Around 9 in the morning, the van drives from hotel to hotel picking up all of the day’s students. Once everyone is loaded in, they will bring you to the local food market. The afternoon classes skip this step, so I highly recommend booking a morning class. At the market, the smell of meat and fish fills the air, but it is the tables overflowing with produce that you notice first. Of course there are bright red tomatoes, deep purple eggplants, and juicy yellow mangoes, but there are also foods you have never seen before. The head chef shall give you a tour and introduce you to the local produce. She explains how to cut a lychee and what to make with star fruit. Then, she sets you free to explore the market while she buys fresh ingredients for today’s class.
While at the market, make sure to visit the juice shop on the outer edge of the market. You can choose any mix of produce (mango, watermelon, citrus, banana, star fruit, ginger, apples, pineapple… the list goes on) and the woman behind the counter shall blend a cup of fresh juice that will blow your mind.
Enjoy the beautiful, spacious kitchen and high quality cooking appliances
Once your teacher is done grocery shopping and you and your classmates are done exploring, the van brings you to the cookery center. The spotless kitchen will overwhelm anyone who enjoys cooking. Your teacher will give you a tour of the kitchen and teach you how to use the various cooking appliances. Whether it is to properly hold a knife, discover what a wok is, or to use a mortar and pestle, you are guaranteed to learn a thing or two before the cooking even begins. But beware, this class has a tendency to convince all of the students that they need to own a full sized mortar and pestle in their own house.
Learn to prepare traditional Thai meals
The class divides based on which menu items you choose to make. Depending on which class you book, you make somewhere between four and six dishes. The full menu consists of six flavors of curry paste, six different curry dishes, five types of stir-fries, five appetizers, five soups, and six kinds of dessert. The available dishes change each class, so be sure to check out the options on their website.
The teachers at the Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre truly know what they are doing. First, they show you exactly how to do each step, then they watch as you try it for yourself. They stay pretty hands off, challenging you to do the work yourself, and getting involved only if you are truly lost. They manage a great balance of explanation and encourage learning by doing. By the end of the class, you will be confident in your ability to make these dishes at home.
The best part? You get to eat everything you make!
The Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre focuses their advertising on the fact that they will teach you how to prepare traditional Thai dishes, but the highlight of the day is when the cooking is done and you get to enjoy the fruits of your labors. Once everyone’s meals are prepared, the instructors guide you to a separate room where you remove your shoes and sit low to the ground. Everyone puts the food they made in the center of the table so that you can taste not only your own creation, but the delicious meals of all your classmates too. This is when you get to talk to your fellow classmates and by the end of the meal, you won’t just have a full belly, you will also have a new set of friends from around the world.
Don’t just eat the local food, learn to make it for yourself
One of the draws of traveling is enjoying the local cuisines around the world. While it is easy to find traditional Thai restaurants throughout Chiang Mai, it is much more fun and satisfying to learn to make the food for yourself. When the class is over, you will be handed a certificate and a cookbook, but the most valuable thing you will leave with is the ability to recreate your time in Thailand wherever you go. Just think of how impressed your friends will be when you serve them homemade spring rolls and pad thai.
Last time I checked, half-day classes were only 800 THB (22.38 USD) and full day classes were 1000 THB (27.97 USD), but you can check the most recent prices on their website.
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