After searching the internet for cooking schools in Chiang Mai, I finally settled for the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery Course, the first cooking school in Chiang Mai and run by Thai tv celebrity chef, Somp.. It was the most expensive (TH 1, 450 as against TH 1, 000 ) but my decision was largely based on three things: (1) I liked the menu, (2) you get a free apron if you sign-up for 2 classes, (3) you get a free certificate if you sign up for 3 classes. I signed up for 3 out of 5 classes. I scheduled them about a day apart (Dec 29, 31, and Jan 2) as those were the slots that had the least number of people joining.
We were brought to a local market and shown some herbs we were gonna use by our chef-teacher, Pom (“you can call me Pomtastic”) who was also our van driver who picked us up at the cooking school office across Thapae gate.
Finally learned the difference between the three kinds of basils–lemon basil, Thai basil, and sweet basil.
This is lemon basil which smells truly lemony.
This is sweet basil. See the purple stems?
Kaffir lime leaves which are added just before the dish is served or at the end of cooking.
After the brief intro, we were given a few minutes to wander around. The market was clean and had none of the usual nasty market smell. I liked the section where the delicious pork cracklings were.
From the market we proceeded to a subdivision where the cooking school was located. It was spacious and surrounded by greenery. The open cooking stations means no trapped smells so you don’t smell like a kitchen after the class. Super plus points!
A group of about 15 people were already cooking in another section of the school. There were just 5 of us in our group: the friends Janine and Kay, and two other solo travelers, Natalia and Ref.
And this is my spot.
The class format was: we watch while Pom taste while one of us lends him a hand, we taste what we cook, we go to our stations and cook it ourselves, sit down at the dining tables and eat, then cook the next dish.
It was really fun as Pom was always cracking jokes. I also learned many tricks on how to slice vegetables faster and how to squeeze lime with a knife so you extract more juice. It was also only that time where I learned that you discard the hard middle stalk of the lemon grass stem which you get by crushing the stem. Pom also explained the ingredients thoroughly, letting us guess what they were. He let us taste and touch them.
We cooked a total of 6 dishes plus dessert. My favorite was the first one, Paenang curry pork which also involved making our paste.
Like all othet pastes, it involved much pounding on the mortar and pestle. It still was much easier than the spice paste I made in Bali. Less ingredients to pound and smoothen into a paste.
Here’s the Paeenang Pork Curry which, unlike other curries, is cooked in coconut milk resulting in a thick sauce.
After eating the Paenang curry, it was time to cook the Fried fish with chili and basil. Simple yet delicious. Totally ups the fried tilapia.
After finishing the 2 dishes, we were told we were gonna cook lunch? Whaaat? I thought that was lunch already. We made Sweet and Sour vegetables. A little more sour than Chinese sweet and sour.
and red curry pork. Then we sat down to eat both dishes with rice.
After lunch, it was time to make our salad and dessert.
Glass noodle salad with minced pork. Very easy to prepare.
Dessert was black rice with coconut. Surprisingly, the black rice was cooked as is. No sticky rice added. It was also kindy soupy.
That ended Day 1.
Just 5 people again today. A couple from France and a couple from Australia. Great company! At the market, Pon let me roam by myself as I had already done the market tour. So I bought some fruits and ingredients such as chili paste and dried nutmeg to bring home.
Saw these lunch canisters similar to the ones sold in Penang.
Thai sweets. Been controlling my sweet tooth so I resisted buying them. I’ve tried them before and they’re saccharine sweet.
Arriving at the school, we headed to the herb garden to play with the resident gibbon.
Our first dish of the day was the ….. gibbon! ! ! Nope. Just joking. He was so cute. We made big noodles with brown sauce. Now I know how they mix the egg in.
This was a good first dish as I was quite hungry.
For lunch we made 3 dishes.
The steamed fish in banana leaf was a little more complicated as it involved wrapping it in a pouch.
While the fish steamed, we made the yellow curry pork.
This curry dish is really delicious because it is served with a sweet and sour sauce. See the heart-shaped coconut drops?
The chicken with cashew nuts is really really tasty. So simple to do but so so seriously tasty.
We were also taught how to make a decoration using lemon grass leaves.
After that heavy lunch, we made prawn salad
and a really sweet banana in coconut dessert.
This ended the cooking class today.
Unfortunately, it was also Pon’s last day as an instructor as he was opening his own cooking school on the rooftop of his friend’s guesthouse over by the Ping River.
Just 5 people again. The group of 8 French people backed-out as they only had 2 hours to do the cooking class as they needed to be back at the hotel by 12nn to go to the airport.
Our instructor today was the female instructor of the large group on Day 1. There was no market tour. The van driver simply bought the ingredients while we waited in the van.
The class today was boring as the chef wasn’t very engaging. She simply demonstrated the dishes with none of us assisting. I really appreciated how Pon made it very interactive for us, letting us experience the whole cooking class set-up. All throughout the class, the difference in the quality of the instruction was glaring and I really started to miss Pon. The instructor didn’t also look very tidy unlike Pon who was in a chef uniform.
I didn’t really cook well today as I was quite disinterested. Anyway, this is what we did.
Pad Thai, a classic. Unfotunately, I burned the tofu. Still tasted good, though.
Tom Yum Soup. Surprisingly easy and not too many ingredients. I also learned there was a version with coconut milk.
My favorite, fish cakes. So easy to do.
We made a green curry with chicken for our lunch.
Today’s salad was Minced Chicken Salad. Mine came out dry as the fire was too strong.
Dessery was water chestnuts in coconut milk. Now I know the secret to the crunchy gummy texture in all those desserts. Unfortunately, it was so delicious I ate it all up as soon as I made them. Didn’t even reach the dining table.
So it’s a wrap for my 3 day cooking adventure. I really enjoyed them and I was lucky my classmates were all very nice. What did I discover about Thai cusine?
1. Herbs, particularly lemon grass, basil, and galang figure prominently. They give that distinctive Thai taste so familiar to us.
2. Fish sauce and soy sauce are best friends. We also never used salt in any if the recipes. This, I guess, is there is enough saltiness in the fish sauce and curry.
3. Vinegar and chili are best friends, too. Chili cuts the vinegar’s sourness and vinegar cuts the chili’s hotness. Used together in Thai sweet and sour sauce, it’s a winning combination as a dip for fried food.
4. The saltiness and hotness of Thai cuisine is balanced by palm sugar. We used this a lot.