Last week I finally signed up for a Thai cooking class here in Chiang Mai. Cooking classes and food tours have been somewhat of a trend during my travels, so I couldn’t leave Chiang Mai without learning to prepare a few of my favourite Thai dishes.
When it came time to choosing a school, I went with The Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School. I randomly picked up their brochure at a travel agency and I was sold when I read that the class would take place at an organic farm outside of the city - the perfect setting for a full day of cooking and eating!
Shopping at the Local Market
Our first stop of the day was at a local market, where we picked up a few ingredients we would be needing that day. Our guide and cooking instructor, Pern, walked us through the rows of produce and introduced us to numerous spices, roots and vegetables that many of us had never seen nor heard of.
After sniffing, tasting, and feeling our way through the market, we had some free time to peruse on our own. Some people got adventurous and decided to sample deep-fried maggots, while the squeamish cheered them on from a distance. As you can probably guess, I was one of the latter.
Touring the Organic Farm
From there it was about a 20 minute drive out to our cooking class in the countryside. Once we reached the farm, we got a bit of a farmer makeover. Wearing straw hats and red aprons, we followed Pern as she walked us through the grounds and showed us the various spices and vegetables growing there. We picked holy basil, Thai parsley, coriander, kaffir lime, bitter eggplant and a few other ingredients.
Let’s get cooking!
When it came to cook, we each selected the different dishes we were interested in making. What I liked about this school is that they didn’t have a set menu, but rather you had 3 different options for each different course, which meant no one was stuck cooking something they didn’t like.
I decided to go with my all time favourites and chose the yellow curry, tom yam soup, chicken with cashew stir-fry, spring rolls, and mango sticky rice for dessert.
Our first task in the kitchen was to prepare the paste for our curry, and I’m not talking about the ready-made option. No, we made ours from scratch using a pestle and mortar and we had to put some serious muscle into it.
Since I was making the yellow curry, my ingredients included dried red chillies, chopped shallots, galangal, lemongrass, garlic, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, turmeric, yellow curry powder and ginger.
I put all the ingredients into the mortar and pounded them with the pestle until everything was crushed, ground, and mixed thoroughly into a paste. The whole process took about 10 minutes.
Once I had the curry paste ready, it was time to start preparing the actual curry. That involved heating coconut milk and bringing it to boil before adding ingredients like the curry paste, potatoes, pumpkin, onions, spring onions, chicken, and sugar, salt, and soy sauce for flavouring.
The end result was good, but I probably could have put more chillies in! I think my palate has gotten used to Thai spice.
Curry options: Green Curry, Red Curry, Yellow Curry
Tom Yam Kung
I’m not a huge fan of shrimp, but it somehow works in this delicious coconut soup. The Tom Yam Kung was really easy to make and it’s one of the recipes that I would most like to recreate once I have a kitchen of my own.
To make it, I heated a pot with coconut milk and then added lemon grass stalks, onions, galangal, tomatoes, mushrooms, hot chillies, lime leaves, and soy sauce. I also added brown sugar and a pinch of salt of flavouring, followed by the shrimp which cooked in 20 seconds. The dish was completed by squeezing a fresh lime overtop.
This is the kind of soup where you can’t eat all the ingredients you put in since they are mostly there for aroma and flavouring, but with that in mind, it’s a pretty tasty soup!
Soup options: Tom Yam, Tom Kaa, Thai vegetable soup
Stir-fry with cashews
For my stir-fry I went with the chicken and cashew option.
We heated our woks and then added a bit of oil. First we cooked our carrots, onions, green beans, and mushrooms, and next we added the chicken which cooked in 2 minutes. Once the fire was off, we added spring onions and cashew nuts, and voila, the quickest stir-fry I have ever made.
Stir-fry options: Chicken stir fry with cashew nuts, sweet and sour stir fry, chicken and basil stir fry.
I was kind of expecting something similar to the fresh spring rolls I ate in Vietnam when I decided to make these (no other spring roll has been able to top the ones I ate in Hoi An!), and while these didn’t quite meet my grand expectations, they were still fun to make.
First up we prepared the filling for our spring rolls. This meant stir-frying grated carrots, cabbage, onions, bean sprouts, glass noodles and tofu. We also added a bit of soya sauce, salt and pepper for flavouring. Once our filling had cooled down, we rolled them up in a thick rice paper sheet and they were ready for consumption – except everyone was beyond stuffed at this point so we had to start packing our food into little containers to take home.
Noodle dish options: Spring rolls, Pad Thai, Pad See Ew
Mango Sticky Rice
And the best for last – mango sticky rice!
I was kind of torn about my dessert because I really wanted to learn how to make the bananas in coconut milk, but in the end I had to go with my all time favourite – mango sticky rice. I mean just look at that thing of beauty!
The dessert was surprisingly easy to make. While the rice was being steamed, we worked on preparing the coconut sauce. We mixed fresh coconut milk, sugar, and a pinch of salt in the pot and heated it without actually allowing it to boil. Once our rice was ready, we mixed it in the coconut sauce for a rich flavour, and then served it on a plate with ripe mango slices and some crispy deep-fried mung beans on top.
I prefer having extra coconut sauce to pour overtop (you can never have too much coconut!), but I have to admit this was pretty tasty.
Dessert options: Bananas in coconut milk, mango with sticky rice, pumpkin in coconut milk.
The cooking class cost 1,100 baht ($33 USD). This included transportation to and from the cooking school. Every student had their own individual cooking station and our lively cooking instructor, Pern, kept us laughing all day. Lemongrass tea and papaya salad were included with our meals. And we got to take home a cooking booklet with ALL the recipes of the day, which meant that even if you didn’t get to prepare the pad thai or the bananas in coconut milk, you still have the steps to try it out at home.
Would I recommend it?
Absolutely! Considering we made 5 dishes, I felt it was excellent value for money. I even brought some of my food home for dinner because I simply couldn’t finish it all. Plus the location was amazing! I can’t think of a better place to spend the day cooking than out in the Thai countryside.
Do you have a favourite Thai dish?
Do you ever take cooking classes when you travel?