For someone who likes to eat so much, I’m not a cook. Whenever anyone asks me whether I cook, I’d say “I make food, but I don’t cook.” I can whip up a delicious bowl of fried rice and make praise-worthy guacamole, but real cooking? Nah. I don’t have the patience nor a particularly developed palate to know when something needs just an extra pinch of salt or whatever. Of the two of us, D is the chef. He grew his own edible garden and enjoyed experimenting with new spices to change up the flavor profile or using new ingredients to put a twist on traditional recipes. And I enjoyed being his sous chef and then eating his creations.
But I gotta say, our new lifestyle doesn’t give us a lot of time to cook. Either our apartment will be ill equipped or we just don’t have the energy to grocery shop. And besides, it’s so much more fun to explore the local offerings! As a result, the days of cooking and creating have fallen to the wayside and if/when we do, it’s always just the simplest of foods. But while in Chiang Mai, we got the yearning to flex our cooking muscles once again. Furthermore, we figured that after years of eating Thai food, it’s about time we learned to cook some Thai dishes!
Chiang Mai has an overwhelming amount of Thai cooking classes. I was tasked with the job of picking a good one. I halfheartedly flipped through the brochures at the local tourism office, and all of them looked so… boring! All the same drab dishes, all the same dull format. So I took my search online and within 10 minutes, I had found the one. As soon as I landed on A Lot of Thai’s webpage, I just had a good feeling that it’d be special.
A Lot of Thai is a family run business and all classes are taught by Yui, a Thailand TV chef. Classes are kept small and intimate so that each student can receive individual attention. She has a few different courses available (menus here), and I picked the Tuesday one mainly because I wanted to eat spring rolls and mango sticky rice (yeah, I’m very out-of-the-box here). I also picked the full day option, because duh, I wanted to eat more food!
The morning of the class, Yui personally picked us up from our apartment on Nimmanhaemin Road. We arrived at her house in a quiet residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. She had transformed the side carport area into an outdoors kitchen. There were 10 cooking stations each with its own prepping surface, gas stove, wok, utensils, etc. Overhead bamboo rafters provided shade from the sun and formed an airy breezeway. Potted plants and softly swaying wind chimes created a cozy atmosphere. It felt more like hanging out at a friend’s house rather than at a cooking school.
Yui put the group at ease right away. She’s petite with a mischievous smile and eyes that sparkle when she talks about food (I’m seriously kicking myself for not getting a picture). Yui is actually a bit of a Thai celebrity, but you would never have guessed that based on her down-to-earth demeanor. But a quick scan of the walls will show smiling pictures with notable people, such as Gordon Ramsay. She also travels all over the world to teach others her traditional Thai recipes. She told hilarious stories about stuffing two giants suitcases with Thai ingredients and trying to get them past customs.
After brief introductions, we all put on aprons and were ready to be chefs for a day!
Even for those of us who are not cooks, Yui made it incredibly easy for us. For each course, her assistants provided us with the exact portions of ingredients for the dish. All would appear at our stations fully prepped – the veggies washed and peeled, and the meat already cut. It was like all the fun of cooking, but without any of the dirty work!
Before each dish, we would all gather at Yui’s workstation as she explained each ingredient, how to cut them, how to mix the sauces, and the cooking technique. She carefully demonstrated each dish from start to finish and then had us sample it so we would know how it should look and taste. Afterwards, we would go to our own cook stations to replicate the steps.
Sounds easy enough, right? Watching Yui do it, it all looked so effortless!
As simple as Yui made each dish look, I soon discovered that I was the worst chef of our group. I dropped ingredients, spilled sauces, forgot steps, and chopped my finger. And at once point, Yui jokingly said, “whoever burns the garlic fails this class.” Yep… moments later, I burned the garlic.
But even with all my small screw ups, I couldn’t believe that I was actually cooking Thai food! Yui broke down each step so simply that anyone could understand and do it. Sure, mine didn’t look at pretty as hers, but wow, I have to toot my own horn and say that they tasted pretty damn professional!
We learned to make 6 authentic Thai dishes in total. Here is what I made in order!
Pad Thai – It surprised me how easy this dish was to make. The entire cooking time was only about two minutes. The hardest part would be getting the ingredients to make this. This was made with palm sugar and tamarind sauce mashed/squeezed from fresh tamarinds. The taste profile for a true authentic Pad thai should be tangy (from the tamarind sauce), salty (from fish sauce), with a little bit of sweetness (from the palm sugar).
Green panaeng curry – This dish should be creamy (from whole coconut milk), spicy, and with a hint of sweet + salty. We also used tiny eggplants that had a bitter taste. There were two versions of this dish: red curry and green curry. D and I made one each so that we could try each others. The green one was mouth-on-fire spicy.
Tom yam goong (prawn soup) – Not very pretty, but I swear it’s good! Whole shrimp heads provide more of a rich seafood flavor, and the flavor of the broth was derived purely from the ingredients: lemongrass, keffir lime leaves, shallots, galangal (kind of like ginger), and lime juice. It had a wonderful clean, tangy herby flavor.
Non greasy spring rolls – This was probably one of my favorites! Aside from the store bought wrapper, everything else was home made. We stir fried the glass noodles & pork filling, and after wrapping, the spring rolls were slowly deep fried at a medium temperature until a golden brown. They turned out perfectly crispy. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that they were the best spring rolls I’ve had ever!
Chicken cashew – I had a hard time wok-ing this for some reason and D ended up cooking it for me. I’ve come to learn that Thai’s love their cashew nuts. I must admit that this wasn’t my favorite dish (I’ve never liked cashew that much), so I let D have most of mine too.
And for dessert: mango sticky rice – Okay here’s the truth: THIS here is the reason I signed up for this class! I just really wanted some mango sticky rice. And this did NOT disappoint, and this is the BEST mango sticky rice I’ve had in Thailand so far. Just imagine soft ripe mango and whole coconut milk served over organic sticky wild rice grown by Yui’s father. I could have had bowls of this stuff.
About halfway into the class, Yui took us on a market tour to give our tummies a break. She drove us to her local market where she buys most of her ingredients. It was a treat to see where she does her shopping and have her further explain the ingredients we were using. The market also sells ready-to-eat food, and she pointed out her favorite vendors to us. As if we didn’t have enough to eat already, D bought a little bag of Northern Thai sausage.
Yui’s class is proof that not all Chiang Mai Thai cooking classes are created equal. Her class is not just about learning to make some Thai dishes. It’s rooted in a passion for food, for teaching and spreading the recipes, for the Thai culture, and for life. She didn’t just want to collect some money from us and send us on our way; she truly wanted us to understand the significance of each ingredient and the cooking technique so that we could continue to make it back in our home country. She treated us as friends, sharing her stories and life philosophies.
I truly believe that Yui’s class was one of the best things we did on our travels so far. It’s so true that one of the best ways to learn about a culture is through the food. With Yui, we were able to get a slice of true authentic Thai culture, with a side of deliciousness and a sprinkling of laughs and heart.
At the end of the day, we all left with our tummies stuffed full (some people brought home take-out boxes of anything they didn’t finish, but knowing the two of us, we polished off every single morsel) and her self-made cookbook containing all the recipes from her classes. It’s really the best kind of souvenir: a new set of skills that will allow us to carry a bit of Thailand with us wherever we go.
- Price: full day class runs at 1500 baht, which is roughly US$45 per person. Includes transportation, all ingredients and materials, market visit, and recipes book. I thought this was very reasonable.
- Hours: this will be a full day activity, roughly from 9:30 am to 6 pm (pick-up to drop-off). Her classes are available Monday-Friday only.
- All dietary needs can be accommodated. Vegetarians/vegans don’t worry!
- Come hungry and you will leave STUFFED!
Have you taken a cooking class? What did you make? What other ways do you connect to a culture through food?
This post is linked up to Travel Tuesday with adventurings.