Whenever someone comes to visit Chiang Mai I suggest they take a Thai cooking class. There are courses throughout the country, but it seems like an especially popular thing to do up here in the north – in fact there are continually new classes and ‘schools’ popping up to help share the secrets of Thai ingredients and cuisine with foreigners.
I had done four classes before with various friends and family members, but still jumped on the chance to try another one at one of the newly opened programs, Lemongrass Cookery School. I love cooking and have appreciated both reviewing what I have learned in previous classes as well as always learning something new, whether it’s about a certain ingredient, the way chiles grow, making a new dish or how to measure different sauces, in each class I’ve taken.
When people ask for recommendations on which course to choose, I usually say they can’t really go wrong as all the courses offered are pretty similar. You can either cook for a half day or full day, you normally tour a local market discussing ingredients and buying what you will need later, you choose between three to six dishes to cook usually consisting of an appetizer, soup, curry, stir fry, noodle and dessert dish. The options of what to cook don’t vary much from place to place (phad thai, stir fried chicken with cashew nuts, green curry, spring rolls…), the prices for a full day are between 900-1,200 baht (about $30-40), and the people running the courses are always friendly, encouraging and knowledgeable.
That said, each place still has their own little charm and in Lemongrass Cookery School’s case, that charm comes in the form of Jiab, the bubbly teacher, and the feeling that you’re not just doing a class, but being welcomed into someone’s life since the course takes place in the absolutely gorgeous outdoor kitchen of Jiab and her husband’s actual home.
While some of the other classes I’ve taken were running three different groups of 9-12 students at the same time, this class felt much more personal, relaxed and enjoyable, like you were collectively helping put on a dinner party for friends. There was more personalized attention and interest taken in each of the participants and, not surprisingly, the food did not disappoint.
We collected herbs and vegetables from their own garden, learning how to recognize certain plants and how to pick them when they’re ripe, then we each chose any six dishes we wanted out of twelve options and got busy chopping.
One of the incredible things about Thai food is, once you’ve got the right amounts of all ingredients needed, how quickly it comes together and is done. Most things took less than five minutes to cook, though the chopping and measuring of each ingredient, sauce and flavoring took much more. After each round of dishes was ready, we all sat done to test what we had made.
No matter which cooking school you go to, go hungry! Do not eat before you go and pace yourself, because you don’t just make little portions to taste or share, you get the whole plate. Then another one…and another one…
At the end of the day I was lazily content, full and tired from all the food and sun – it was the kind of feeling you get after a big holiday meal where all you can do is sit back and relax…then Jiab brought us all mango and sticky rice that she had just whipped up, as if we hadn’t eaten enough already.
Details: Lemongrass Cookery School offers day-long courses from 8:30 a.m. – about 3:00 p.m. The class costs 1,000 baht which includes all ingredients, transportation from your accommodation, recipe book, certificate of completion and complimentary coffee and tea. For more information check out their website, Facebook Page or reviews on Trip Advisor. To make a booking contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: I was a guest of Lemongrass Cookery School, who kindly sponsored my class, however all opinions are my own and now one of my life goals is to have an outdoor cooking/cabana/party area just like theirs.