If you’ve already seen as many temples as you can handle in Chiang Mai and you’ve spent a day at an elephant center or sanctuary, or have gone ziplining through the jungle, you might be looking for a less busy activity to fill up your day. If that’s the case and you’re looking for a relaxing day while still learning something new about Thailand’s local culture, you should book a cooking class. There are tonnes of cooking schools in Chiang Mai that offer either morning or afternoon cooking classes, which are engaging, informative, and (most of all) fun!
When I was in Thailand on my previous trip before this one, I traveled to the south where I spent time in Krabi/Aonang, Phi Phi Island, and Koh Lanta. I had looked into cooking schools in these areas, but they were all upwards of ฿1,500. Considering I don’t cook very regularly (those who know me well can attest to my home-cooked meals only consisting of eggs and salad) and instead eat out, as my Instagram clearly shows, I didn’t feel like I could justify spending that much money on something I may likely never use. Thankfully, the cooking classes in Chiang Mai are about half the price of the ones further south.
I decided to go with Tom Yum Thai Cooking School since it had good reviews on Trip Adviser, the brochure looked relatively professional, the menu was appealing (gotta have that Pad Thai and mango sticky rice!), the venue looked clean and spacious, there would be no more than 10 people per class, and the price was reasonable.
Picking Up Our Ingredients At The Local Market
After the van had picked everyone up, we all went to the local market to purchase our groceries for the days cooking. Kae, the head chef and one of the owners, brought us around to talk about the different fresh produce used in the ingredients, showed us variations of vegetables and fruit found in Thailand, and looked at different spices.
We then had 15 minutes to wander the local market and make any purchases we wanted. I walked away with a handful of curry sauces in the hopes that I’ll actually be able to replicate some of these dishes in my bite-sized Hong Kong kitchen.
I was slightly surprised that the “cooking school” was actually right in Kae and Oun’s own home, but it almost made the experience more authentic and welcoming. Kae was approachable, charismatic, knowledgeable, and very funny!
There are three separate areas: the dining area where you get to feast on the countless number of courses you make, the pre-cooking area where all of the cutting, chopping, and mashing takes place, and finally the cooking area where you work up a sweat cooking over the stove.
Once inside, we all helped ourselves to coffee, tea, and water while a plate of Thai snacks and fruits was being prepared for us. On the platter there was jackfruit, wax apples, pomelo, shrimp crackers, and rice crackers. The jackfruit was by far my favourite.
During the course, we made a total of five dishes of our choosing out of three dishes per category.
First Category: Stir Fry
The three options in this category were Pad Thai, cashew nut with chicken, and fried rice. Obviously, I chose the Pad Thai, along with the vast majority of the other sous chefs.
Most of the ingredients came pre-cut for this dish, so we made the sauce from scratch instead. Once we were done making the sauce, we went outside to the cooking area to fry everything up – first the oil, garlic, tofu, etc. into the pan. Then comes the sauce and noodles, and finally the egg. I was actually surprised at how easy this dish was to make!
Second Category: Soup
The three options for this category were: hot and sour prawn soup, chicken in coconut milk soup, and hot and spicy pork soup. I went with hot and sour prawn soup.
We began by chopping up some vegetables, mushrooms, and ginger. We then brought everything outside to the cooking area where our pots were filled with coconut milk. Once the coconut milk began to boil, we tossed our ingredients in, added a few more spices and the fresh shrimp, and in less than five minutes our soup was finished.
We put our soup aside for a moment and went back to the pre-cooking area to make our next dish so that we could eat it along with the soup.
Third Category: Salad
The three options were papaya salad, cucumber salad, and mixed fruit salad. I’m sure you can guess which one I chose – the traditional papaya salad. After already having a taste of how to make a papaya salad here in Chiang Mai, I was looking forward to learning the finer details involved in prepping this dish.
We chopped up all of the ingredients, sliced up our tough green papaya, and added as much or as little garlic, hot pepper, and fish sauce as we wanted, depending on how much spice you could handle.
After we tossed all of the ingredients together in the massive wooden bowls, we put our salad onto a plate and brought it over to the dining area to eat along with our soup.
Category Four & Five: Curry Paste And Curry
For the fourth dish we would be eating today (good thing I’ve got lots of room in my belly!) we made a curry paste from scratch, which we then used to make a curry. The three options were: green curry, Penang curry, and Khao Soi (a popular and traditional Thai dish found predominantly in northern Thailand). Since this trip had introduced me to one of my new favourite Thai dishes, I had to choose Khao Soi.
Before I started with my Khao Soi curry paste, I went to the cooking area to quickly blanch the fresh egg noodles for my curry dish and then leave them in a bowl of lukewarm water so that they would be ready to go into the soup after we were finished making the paste.
The curry paste took a lot of arm strength, since we were continually grinding down the ingredients as much as possible. Ten minutes and sore arm muscles later, our paste was finished. We quickly cut up a few ingredients for our curries and then we were off to the cooking area to transform our paste into an actual curry.
Dessert: Mango Sticky Rice
A four-course Thai cooking and eating frenzy just wouldn’t be complete unless mango sticky rice was present. We didn’t actually end up making this dish, since it apparently takes almost an entire day for the sticky rice to set. We did, however, get to see how the sticky rice is steamed to make this tasty Thai treat!
Overall Thoughts Now That I’m Pretty Much A Thai Chef
I had so much fun doing this cooking class and would highly recommend doing yours at Tom Yum Thai Cooking School if you want to learn how to make some delicious Thai dishes with a funny chef in a relaxed environment.
We left with bursting bellies, a cookbook so we can attempt these dishes at home, and big smiles on our faces!
Morning Course: 9:00 am – 1:30 pm
Afternoon Course: 4:00 pm – 8:30 pm