A Day at the Thai Farm Cooking School in Chiang Mai

by Audrey on January 25, 2014 · 40 comments

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.

Wooden chopping board with vegetables.

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.

A local market in the outskirts of Chiang Mai.

Shopping at the local market before our cooking class.

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.

The Thai Farm Cooking School in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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.

A bowl of Thai yellow curry with chicken.

Yellow Curry

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

Cooking Tom Yam Kung, a coconut based soup with shrimp.

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 chicken, cashew nuts and vegetables.

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.

Fresh spring rolls wrapped in strips of bamboo leaf.

Spring rolls

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 topped with crispy mung beans - a wonderful dessert!

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.

Details:

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.

At the Thai Farm Cooking School in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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?

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Arianwen January 25, 2014 at 9:23 am

I’m not a big fan of Thai food (I know, most people who hear me say that think I’m crazy!), but I still think this looks like great fun!
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Audrey January 25, 2014 at 10:26 am

WHAT!?!? I’m sure there’s at least one Thai dish out there that you would enjoy. ;)

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Vanessa January 25, 2014 at 9:35 am

Omg! This sounds right up my alley! I still can’t get over how cheap everything is in Thailand. Such a perfect budget destination for food lovers. :D Your post made me feel brave enough to use the green curry that I picked up in Thailand over the New Year. Here’s to delicious curry!
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Audrey January 25, 2014 at 10:30 am

That must’ve been a fun holiday! Did you spend it in Chiang Mai or elsewhere in Thailand? P.S. Go easy on the curry powder. ;) I’m yet to order a green curry that doesn’t leave my throat on fire.

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Mallory January 25, 2014 at 9:43 am

Ah! I’m currently looking into traveling to Thailand in the winter and doing a cooking class is one of the things I would love to do. This looks like such a fun experience, not only cooking, but being able to go to the market and the farm. I will definitely have to look into this as I research more options.
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Audrey January 25, 2014 at 10:33 am

Chiang Mai is a lot of fun! I would recommend it as a stop on your Thai itinerary. Aside from the cooking classes, there are also lots of great of activities like zip-lining, jungle hikes, and plenty of temples to visit.

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Ivana January 25, 2014 at 11:29 am

Oh wow, Audrey, look fantastic!! well done!
We were thinking for the Thai farm cooking class too and we did a macrobiotic one in the town at the end, as you could see.
But this looks much fun outside Chiang Mai :)

Greetings from beautiful Luang Prabang!
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Audrey January 26, 2014 at 5:52 am

The macrobiotic course sounded really interesting! I was considering that one too, but in the end heading out to a farm for the day won. ;)

I hope you guys are having a great time in Luang Prabang. I’m following the updates and getting ideas for when I head out there next month!

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apol | WanderfulTogether.com January 25, 2014 at 12:11 pm

this pregnant reader craves for that mango sticky rice.
OMG i have to ask my husband to make it.
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Audrey January 26, 2014 at 5:53 am

Haha, it’s really not that hard to make. So long as mangoes are in season wherever in the world you are… ;)

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Sam January 25, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Oooh! Yum yum yum. I’d really love to learn how to make yellow and green curries from scratch, so this will be high on my to-do list when I make it to Chiang Mai. And those spring rolls…just so cute!
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Audrey January 26, 2014 at 5:54 am

Curries are a lot of work – especially when you’re making the paste from scratch! I have a feeling I may end up buying pre-made curry paste once I have a kitchen to cook in, but shhhhh, don’t tell my cooking instructor! ;)

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Maria January 25, 2014 at 4:24 pm

I’ve not taken a cooking class while traveling (or at home) but Audrey, you have inspired me. Classes, even just one, would be a great way to learn more about where you are. Btw, I can easily picture you with you own full-on cooking show… I’d watch every episode.
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Audrey January 26, 2014 at 5:56 am

Well, I tend to burn things in the kitchen, so it would certainly be entertaining to watch! I’ll let you know when the Food Network comes calling. ;)

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Heather January 25, 2014 at 6:01 pm

This looks like such a fun experience! I loved everything I ate in Chiang Mai (and Thailand for that matter) and would love to be able to recreate the dishes at home. We only had five days in Chiang Mai, and since it was also Loy Krathong, taking a cooking class never occurred to me. But I will absolutely go back one day and delve deeper into the food culture!
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Jackie D January 25, 2014 at 8:59 pm

When I was in Portugal there was a cooking/photography class I wanted to take — you learn how to make these gorgeous, delicious dishes and then after that they teach you how to photograph them. Basically every blogger’s dream. Unfortunately they were closed for the few days I was in town!
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Shanna Schultz January 26, 2014 at 2:24 am

I second the recommendation for the Thai Farm Cooking School in Chiang Mai! It was a wonderful experience, I learned so much about Thai food (and seeing how much work goes into good Thai food, it gave me a whole new love and respect of Thai food!) Being able to pick many of the ingredients fresh from the farm and go shopping for the rest at the market made it a really special experience. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
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MollyG January 26, 2014 at 9:25 am

I didn’t take a cooking class in Chiang Mai, but I did take one in Bangkok! We took May Kaidee’s vegetarian cooking class, seeing as we are both vegans. We had great fun, made and ate about 8 dishes, and made some friends in the process. Highly recommended!
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Amanda January 26, 2014 at 1:55 pm

Sounds like a great class! And your photos are great.

I just signed up for a cooking class in Hoi An and am really looking forward to it! Maybe I can make a cook out of myself yet…
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Audrey January 29, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Nice! I also took a cooking class in Hoi An (it was in the back kitchen of a little family owned restaurant) and it was so much fun. My favourite item was the fresh spring rolls. Yum!!! :D

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Laura @Travelocafe January 26, 2014 at 2:12 pm

I love cooking lessons. It’s clear you had so much fun enjoying the Thai countryside and the great food. :)
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Rashad Pharaon January 26, 2014 at 3:12 pm

I think it’s so cool that you get to shop for the ingredients in the market – a complete experience, from start to finish. I’ve seen cooking classes but they always seemed to have already bought what you need. Next time I’m in Chiang Mai I’ll be sure to check out the Thai Farm school, thanks!
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Natalie January 26, 2014 at 5:07 pm

This cooking class looks so cool! We did something similar in Siem Reap, Cambodia but it didn’t include a trip to the farm. That would’ve been really interesting. Great pictures, too!

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Cheryl Howard January 26, 2014 at 8:29 pm

What a fun way to spend the day! Everything looks so yummy. :)
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Carlene Lowe January 27, 2014 at 11:29 am

Tom Yam is my favorite food second to Pad Thai. It is always easy to find great Thai food and taste yummy as well. I’d love to go back to Thailand again.

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Julie January 27, 2014 at 4:02 pm

I attended cooking classes when I was a teenager during an exchange program in Mexico which I just loved. Since then I’ve only done a cooking class in my home city. Cooking school abroad is definitely something I’d love to experience one day, think it would be so memorable. Your photos are definitely enticing!
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Alex @ ifs ands & butts January 30, 2014 at 5:12 pm

Ah I have seriously addicted to making Asian food lately and I feel like half of my paycheck goes straight to the nearby Asian market, but this, THIS is a dream. I’ve particularly been keen on perfecting Tom Yam lately but I know I could never come close to this freshness.

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Stephanie - The Travel Chica January 31, 2014 at 4:59 am

When I get myself to Thailand, I’m going to take a cooking class every day.
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Beth February 1, 2014 at 5:28 am

Sold! I’ve been looking into taking a cooking class when we get to Chiang Mai, and this one sounds right up our alley :)
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northierthanthou February 3, 2014 at 12:39 am

That curry looks fantastic, and now I am SOOOO hungry.
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Denise February 9, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Experienced Songkran in Thailand yet?

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Lauren Meshkin February 14, 2014 at 12:52 am

I love a good food tour or cooking class! This one sounds fabulous. Thanks for sharing, Audrey!

Happy travels :)
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becky hutner February 14, 2014 at 9:23 pm

Hi Audrey! Thanks for bringing back amazing memories from my cooking course here in 2010. It was the highlight of my Chiang Mai trip & I’ve since made the dishes at home (incidentally, Valentine’s Day was the last time…). Beautiful photos!
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Jenny @ Till The Money Runs Out March 1, 2014 at 6:12 pm

I have to third (or fourth??) the recommendation for the Thai Farm Cooking School! I had often cooked Thai food (or thought I was) at home before I started traveling. This class taught me that the key to great Thai food is doing everything more simply. I was adding so many unnecessary steps and making everything take FOREVER before. I couldn’t believe how easy Thai food actually is to make, and how much better it tastes when everything is fresh and not overcooked. Beautiful photos!
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jennifer September 26, 2014 at 4:36 am

The food and experience looked really fun. I’ll be in the area later this year and will have to track them down. Thanks for the post!
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Seong October 1, 2014 at 6:47 am

I think I am going to take the cooking class too, when I am there!!
your stories brings me smile :)

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Audrey October 2, 2014 at 6:54 pm

Enjoy! It was a really fun cooking class. :)

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