I have quite a number of reasons why I love Chiang Mai. One of the reasons, perhaps the most important, is the food. Thai food is good. I don’t need to convince anybody of that. And it is outrageously inexpensive, too! So I thought, what better way to celebrate this spectacular reason than with signing up for a class at a cooking school in Chiang Mai. So I did. And I loved every minute of it.
Learning to Cook Thai Food in Chiang Mai, Thailand
There are a lot of cooking schools in Chiang Mai. I mean, a lot! So I asked around locals and expats about the most recommended ones. I decided on Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School in Chiang Mai. A half-day course at this cooking school in Chiang Mai costs 700 Baht (23 USD). You learn to prepare four dishes. Categories include salads, snacks, main dishes, desserts, etc. There’s a trip to the local market, too, to introduce you to local ingredients. The cost even covers a free ride to the cooking school if you are staying within or close to Chiang Mai old town.
The Welcome Snack
Before you begin the cooking class, you first need to have a toast with a Thai welcome snack, meang khum. It is made with slices of shallots, lime fruit, ginger, roasted coconut shavings, roasted peanuts and, of course, chili. One whole chili, if you are up for it. You wrap all these ingredients in a betel leaf and pour sweet syrup with it. You raise your snack to the air and shove it all in your mouth. It incorporates all Thai tastes in one single bite: spicy, sour, sweet, salty, and bitter. I mean, the explosion of flavors! My mind was officially blown.
The Trip to the Garden and Market
Once the toast is done, you begin the whole cooking school experience in Chiang Mai by heading to the garden out back. There you get introduced to all kinds of herbs and spices, mushrooms (which they grow out back, too), different types of chili (does that even surprise you?), and the leaf that smells of Thai food heaven—kaffir lime leaf. Sweet, sour, and fresh. If Thailand had a smell, kaffir lime leaf would be it (a fact that my cooking instructor found funny).
You then head to the market a few blocks away from Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School in Chiang Mai and wouldn’t you know it? It’s Sompet Market! One of my favorite markets in Chiang Mai. It is interesting in that many of the things I see in markets back home (I’m from the Philippines) are there, yet a few items still caught me off-guard. It was the first time I saw a dragon fruit and the first time I saw fermented fish wrapped in banana leaves (I know, I should get out more).
Thais like to eat in small meals or snacks many times in a day. In Thailand, snacks don’t really mean cookies, crackers, or chips. Snacks in Thailand mean noodles and spring rolls. Hey, I’m not complaining here. So one of the dishes we chose to learn in our cooking school in Chiang Mai is that most quintessential of Thai snacks, the dish that reminds everyone of Thailand: pad Thai.
As expected, it is very easy to prepare. All you need is to line-up the ingredients beside your wok: tofu, meat (optional), egg, rice noodles, water (to soften the rice noodles), bean sprouts, spring onions, and seasoning (oyster sauce, soy sauce, and fish sauce). It is basically just a matter of stir-frying everything in one wok in very quick succession over high heat. I was proud of myself of having produced such a delicious (albeit very simple) meal. Trust me, it was delicious.
The Main Dish
Now, this was the dish I was most excited about. One of my favorite Thai dishes of all time is Penang Curry. I know, it isn’t even from Thailand. It’s from Penang, Malaysia. But the Thais have adopted it and made it their very own calling it gaeng pha nang. As I was preparing it which chicken, it is gaeng pha naeng gai. I’m practically fluent!
The curry is complex in that it involves a whole lot of ingredients: fresh red chili, dried red chili, peanuts, and many others. Most of these you pound into a paste—the Penang curry paste. No, we did not buy the paste readymade. That is not how awesome Thai cooking schools in Chiang Mai do it. You learn to make the paste in class, of course!
Once the paste is done, you wipe your sweat off your forehead (I mean, the pounding and grinding is a workout!) and start cooking. It’s basically just tossing the oil, chicken pieces, curry paste, and coconut milk onto the wok and letting it simmer until it reduces to a thick sauce. Have I mentioned the smell was heavenly? I haven’t? It is. As soon as it’s done, you serve it with rice and savor all your hard work.
I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed this cooking school in Chiang Mai experience. Cooking is something I really enjoy doing. And eating? Who doesn’t like eating? Especially when what you’re cooking and eating is as good a cuisine as that of Thailand. There is a reason why Thai food is well-loved my many. It’s simple, fresh, and yumbers. That means “delicious” in my head, by the way.
Note: This is a guest post.
About the Author
Paul Xymon Garcia is a Filipino international backpacker and travel photography enthusiast exploring Asia and beyond, capturing the sights and telling the stories aiming to inspire others to go out and see the wonders of Asia for themselves. He blogs at WalkFlyPinoy.com
Follow his Twitter account here: twitter.com/walkflypinoy
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soloflightEd.com is a travel blog by Edcel Suyo. He enjoys performing headstands and crazy stunts during his trips in the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. Now based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and working to earn a living, he takes time to enjoy the city and travel during weekends.
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