During my recent cooking school holiday I decided to take one of my weeks off to visit one of the best-known cities in Northern Thailand: Chiang Mai (once the country’s capital city). By car, it is about an eight-hour drive from Bangkok. It can be done in one day, but we took two days as you never know how bad the traffic might be traveling around the greater Bangkok area as well as factoring in the conditions of the rural roads. So we took our time and over our entire seven-day trip stopped at the local sights including villages, outdoor furniture markets and shopping districts as well as the many temples along the way; we ate well and slept well, all at affordable prices.

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My Thai Cooking Class

Midweek, while the rest of my group explored the Old City of Chiang Mai, I decided to spend my day enjoying a local cooking class – I’m never out of the kitchen for long! I am just learning about Thai cuisine and I wanted a true local experience; I chose a small establishment versus a fancy, touristy, over the top cooking school with a professional chef in a big hat that offers lessons at a “country estate.” Yes, I was surprised to see the literature on that one, as well the offerings of nine other cooking schools in the area. Apparently cooking lessons are a very big draw for tourists in Chiang Mai! If it had not been one of the hottest times of year, I might have been tempted to take the cooking lesson at a nearby organic farm – several schools offered this experience versus an in-town location.

Here is a link to the school that was close by and available during my visit. The day was full of good surprises. All the ingredients used were fresh and purchased just before we were ready to cook at Somphet Market (see photos of the market here).

After the market tour we found that the cooking classes were offered in the traditional Thai style, meaning in a covered outdoor kitchen on the bottom floor of a family home – nothing fancy, clean and very practical. At this school, the classes can hold up to ten students with each student assigned an individual work area with a high heat cooking station (wok). The day of my visit we had four participants.

Kitchen set-up for our cooking lesson

Kitchen set-up for our cooking lesson

The schedule: We made two items in the morning session and four items in the afternoon session, with a one hour break or “rest time” in between. You get used to these breaks; Thais love any excuse for a coffee, snack or rest break. I used my time to get a quick foot massage a 5-minute walk from the school.

In this particular class, our instructor was like a coach; although she never demonstrated the dishes herself she explained the ingredients used and walked us through each step right at our side. I have to say, the dishes we made were super easy and not at all complicated. Once prepped, each dish could be made in ten minutes or less. All of these dishes are ones you can find on any local Thai restaurant menu. For those just becoming familiar with Thai cooking, these recipes are a perfect first menu – nothing too exotic nor too spicy. Each student could choose their own recipe to make; we did not have to make the same items.

Our instructor and photos from the outdoor market; only four kinds of hot peppers are found in Thailand.

Our instructor and photos from the outdoor market; only four kinds of hot peppers are found in Thailand.

Here were our choices (I highlighted my selections in bold):

Morning session:

Soup:

  • Hot and sour soup with chicken
  • Chicken soup in coconut milk
  • Clear vegetable soup

First main dish:

  • Pad Thai: Thai style fried noodles with chicken
  • Stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts
  • Stir-fried sweet and sour chicken
Making chicken with cashew nut

Making chicken with cashew nut

Afternoon session:

Homemade Curry paste:

  • Green or red curry (medium spice with Thai eggplant)
  • Massaman curry (an Indian-spiced curry with cinnamon, cardamom, potatoes and peanuts)
  • Penang curry (Malaysian curry with peanuts)
  • Jungle Curry (super-spicy curry mix)
  • Yellow curry (mild curry with tomato and onion)

Second main dish:

  • Full curry recipe with coconut milk; I chose to make mine with chicken

Additional Snack:

  • Spring rolls with shrimp

Dessert:

  • Bananas with coconut milk
  • Pumpkin with coconut milk
  • Fried bananas
  • Mango with sticky rice
Making curry paste and massaman curry with coconut milk

Making curry paste and massaman curry with coconut milk

Chef’s notes:

Most surprising for me was that the food we made was just for one serving! I did not know that was even possible. Unlike other cooking classes I have attended, there were no leftovers to take home.

All of these recipes serve four people:

  1. Hot and Sour Chicken Soup
  2. Massaman Curry Chicken
  3. Massaman Curry Paste
  4. Pumpkin with Coconut Milk
  5. Stir Fried Chicken with Cashew Nut

The cost of the full-day introduction to Thai cooking experience cost 1,000 baht, about $28 USD. I thought it was a great way to spend the day and learned a few new things about ingredients in Thai cooking that I did not know before. I now know that besides the coriander leaf (cilantro) I am familiar with, you can also find “saw tooth” coriander. As the literature promises, “Surprise your friends and family back home with a gourmet souvenir from Thailand.”

Mary Hathaway, owner of Dinner Diva, has been a personal chef since 2002. She cooks regularly for clients who have special dietary needs, value healthy cooking by using organic products where possible and those who want healthy family meals but have no time to cook. Whether it’s a dinner for 4, a holiday party for 20, or a set of meals for the week, all of the recipes are customized to her client’s needs or lifestyle. Go to Dinner-Diva.com for more info.