Prove your humanity

I love Asian food, mainly for its fresh, zingy, punchy but sweet flavours.  We’ve already written about our obsession with India, Japanese and Vietnamese food, so I couldn’t wait to sign up for a cookery course to learn some Thai culinary tips from the local experts in Chiang Mai!  As you’d imagine, it’s a popular activity in Thailand, so there are lots of places offering classes in Chiang Mai, and deciding where to learn is very difficult!

After reading some great reviews (and loving the sound of their menu), we decided to go with ‘Smart Cook’ Thai Cookery School – we didn’t regret it!  We opted for the full day course which amongst other activities, involved travelling out to the countryside to cook at an organic farm with freshly grown ingredients!  Here’s a little summary of our Thai cooking adventure…chiang mai cooking

Chiang Mai Thai Cooking School

First stop early in the morning was a visit to the local market to meet our cooking buddies for the day and get a lesson on those key ingredients and the all important differences between their six kinds of rice and five kinds of noodle – I had no idea there were so many in the first place!

Everything looked so wonderful and fresh – if only our local grocery store at home was as good I’m sure we’d be inspired to use more ingredients!Chiang mai cooking classOur experienced guide explained the all important herbs, spices and sauces used to inspire yummy Thai flavours, the most important being basil, coriander, galangal (ginger root), ginger, garlic, kaffir lime, lemon grass and mint.  She also introduced us to our ‘friend’ for the day…the chilli!  Did you know that orange chillies are in fact the strongest?  Our mouths were watering at the thought of sampling all these incredible ingredients – this was definitely my kind of activity for the day!Chiang mai cooking classAfter our market tour, we headed to the train station to catch our local train to the countryside…given this was our first train journey in Thailand I was quite excited, and also looking forward to getting away from the bustling busy town for a day!Chiang mai cooking classOne fairly slow journey later, with lots of random stops (I’ve now learned this about trains in South East Asia!) we arrived in the countryside, and we were driven to our farmhouse for the day which was beautiful!  We felt at home as soon as we arrived, and toured around the beautiful garden, sampling the locally grown fruit.  Everything in the house was set out perfectly, and we sipped on a refreshing drink as our guide carefully prepared our ingredients for our five pre-selected dishes.  Earlier in the day, I had chosen Hot & sour prawn soup, followed by Spring rolls (appetiser), Fried noodle Thai style (Pad Thai), red Panang curry with chicken, and Sweet sticky rice with mango for desert – yummy!Chiang mai cooking classAfter being set up with an apron, knife and chopping board we were ready to go!  Our guide began talking us through the preparation for our individually selected dishes and passed around the fresh herbs and ingredients, most of which were freshly picked from the farm and looked delicious…Chiang mai cooking classAfter lots of careful preparation of our many ingredients and all the important curry pastes for our dishes, we were ready to get cooking in our lovely, clean open air kitchen…Chiang mai cooking classI really liked how simple it felt to cook our dishes.  Of course it took time to prepare the ingredients, but cooking time was no more than 10 minutes for each of our dishes, whilst still producing very healthy and delicious results.  We definitely have a lot to learn from the Thai cooking way…pick the best ingredients, chop and bash them with care and then throw them all in the pan – voila!!  The tricky part of course, is getting the balance right between the five essential tastes – sweet, sour, hot, salty and bitter, which we certainly haven’t mastered, but at least have a much better idea on how they do it!

And here were the results of our ‘hard’ work…I have to say that as I’m not much of a cook at home, I was quite pleased with myself!

Chiang mai cooking class

Hot & sour prawn soup

Chiang mai cooking class

Spring rolls (simple but brilliant!)

Chiang mai cooking class

Fried noodle Thai style (Pad Thai)

Chiang mai cooking class

Sweet sticky rice with mango (heavenly sweet and fresh at the same time!)

Chiang mai cooking class

Red Panang curry with chicken – so delicious!

The best part of the day was when we got to eat everything we’d cooked – we’ve never felt so full but equally satisfied!  And we were delighted when we found out our afternoon activity was taking a relaxing bike ride around the beautiful countryside, we certainly needed some light exercise after all that eating!Chiang mai cooking classOur bike journey took us around other local farm houses, a local temple, another great food market and also some stunning fields full of the herbs we’d been using for our dishes earlier that day.Chiang mai cooking classOur guide introduced us to the intense aromas of sweet basil (the one with a slight aniseed flavour), holy basil (slighter hotter in flavour and smell) and the slightly hairy hoary basil (a milder form often used in soups and salads).  Unfortunately I don’t think we have such an array of choice at home but I’ll definitely be stocking up on sweet basil when I get home!  To finish the day off we were presented with a cook book of recipes for everything we cooked that day, so that we can recreate our Thai experience in our own kitchen!  (Disclaimer: may not taste anywhere near as good.)

We had a brilliant day learning to cook Thai food and would certainly recommend this course by ‘Smart Cook’ in Chiang Mai!  We would also love to know if you’ve ever done a cookery course in Thailand and what your experience was like?  What’s your favourite dish?

We’d highly recommend anyone who is planning a visit to Chiang Mai enrols in a cooking class, as learning how to make authentic Thai food on your own is a skill that will last a lifetime. Aside from the course, there are over 300 Buddhist temples within the city, including the world famous Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and Wat Chiang Man. Those who want to experience culture in Chiang Mai further should choose to visit during Loi Krathong, at which time thousands of lanterns are released into the sky, or Songkran, which is when Thailand’s New Year celebrations take place.

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