Time and time again as I’ve returned to Chiang Mai, I have returned to the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School. I have multiple reasons for this. To begin though, this was my first visit to Thailand. I knew nothing ultimately of Thai food, except what the average ‘farang’ thinks they know. Falling in love with some basic flavours of Southeast Asia at my job fresh out of culinary school is what inspired this trip. I got a taste or so I thought. I’d done some research and I arrived with more than an open mind. Fearless to try whatever they put in front of me.
This first trip is what has further inspired all my other travels around Asia and the world. I had just arrived in Chiang Mai and knew cooking classes were on the menu. Finding the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School made my decision easy. I immediately signed up for three full days of classes. This gave me what I wanted, but opened a flood gate of desire for knowledge of this unbelievable cuisine.
Back to Cooking School – Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School
A few of the reasons I chose the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School are that they offer a variety of different classes taking place in a 5 day rotation. Each day, lessons are provided for 6 Thai dishes. Some common such as Pad Thai and Som Tam, while others may be lesser known. Unfortunately, I only had time for the first 3 lessons.
Along with the menu rotation, which gives you the choice on what to learn based on particular interests, there is also a change in ‘activities’. Many schools in Chiang Mai and there are many, bring you too the same touristy market on Moon Muang, Soi 6 for an ingredient introduction. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but on 2 of the 5 days, Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School brings the group to a local market on the edge of the city on route to the school. The other activities vary between grinding curry paste from scratch and an introduction to basic vegetable carving.
The last one I’ll state now and I’m sure this won’t matter to most, but the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School was founded by a well known and established Thai chef. Many people throughout Thailand cook phenomenal food. This goes without saying, but I was looking for that little something more. If you are as well, the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School is definitely the one for one as well.
Day 1 – Introduction to Thai Ingredients
It was 8:00am and not feeling too great presumably from some dicey, late night Indian food I ate, I had quite the urge to stay face down in my not so porcelain throne. I knew I had to push through this as it was the primary reason for coming to Thailand. Hotel pick up arrived so with a couple Imodium in the back pocket and the little jingle from Billy Madison going through my head, I was off.
“Back to school. Back to school, to prove to Dad that I’m not a fool. I got my lunch packed up, my boots tied tight, I hope I don’t get in a fight.”
Upon entering and being offered coffee and tea, I was immediately surprised how much this looked like a small culinary school. A few different demo rooms with a classroom setting and slanted mirrors above the instructor for viewing. Multiple different cooking stations, with small prep tables and propane burners for all the students individual woks. I really did feel like I was back in school.
The demo began with an introduction to the basic Thai ingredients. The different chilies and basil varietals were passed around along with kaffir lime, lemongrass, galangal, coconut milk and cream. Wok fired up, the cooking began and with it another jolt back to school. Pen and paper out, I started scratching notes as he worked.
The dishes today were quite recognizable beginning with Tom Yum Gung and Thai style fish cakes. Next up before lunch, was Thailand’s most famous dish for foreigners, pad Thai followed by green curry chicken. With no real need for more food, it’s not over yet.
Back to our stations, minced chicken salad was next and water chestnuts with coconut milk and crushed ice for dessert. Luckily something on the lighter side. Stuffed and ready for a nap, I was excited for tomorrow!
Day 2 – Making Curry Paste
I was looking forward to today’s lesson. Using my favourite kitchen tool, the mortar and pestle to make authentic curry paste. Every chef I have ever worked with just purchases it pre-made. While these make great substitutes, there is no comparison to freshly made.
This also opened my eyes to a few new ingredients I had never personally seen. Thai cardamom, fresh mace and Indian long pepper were among other spices going into our paste. There is a technique to grinding the chilies and spices down into a paste, but I worked away with vigor to ‘master’ it as best as I could in one lesson. With a tired arm and a proud smile on my face, my Panang curry paste was ready for the wok.
Our first four dishes of the day consisted of a Panang curry with our freshly made paste as well as a very regional curry called simply Chiang Mai curry. Sharing the table was deep fried fish with a simple, but extremely flavourful chili and basil sauce along with the familiar sweet and sour stir fry with chicken. Even more food then yesterday’s lunch, we luckily had a bit of a break to digest after the feast.
With no room to eat more food, I was happy dessert was at least said to be a different stomach. The final savoury dish of the day was a Thai salad or ‘yam’. Spicy glass noodle salad and thankfully it was on the lighter side as well.
After tasting dessert, I was hungry all over again. Rice Pudding at home is nothing too special usually. This on the other hand, was on a whole other level. Warm black sticky rice pudding with fresh coconut cream on top. It was divine and sadly something I have never seen since this day.I made sure to savour every mouthful.
I had one more day of cooking, learning and gluttony left and I could barely wait until morning.
Day 3 – Local Thai Market
On our way to school, today’s activity was a tour of the local market. With so many of the ingredients unfamiliar to me at this point, it was extremely beneficial to have an expert to answer my countless questions. I was like a kid in a candy store. Too many flavours, smells, textures, and sights to take in. It was almost overwhelming.
We watched fresh coconut cream being made. There was buckets of blood curd, something I had yet to taste. Squirming fish and bags of frogs splashed the walkway. I became mesmerized by the smorgasbord of pig, while I watched a women de-bone a hing leg with ease. Vegetables and herbs piled on tables with a freshness I could barely imagine compared to the imported produce of our grocery stores. Fragrant spices and chili pastes in baskets aromatized the stalls. It was a little paradise of unexplored tastes.
Arriving at the school, we dove right into cooking. Chicken in coconut milk soup, which would become my standard soup while feeling ill filled with lemon grass, galangal and kaffir. Never a small lunch here, there was also red curry with fish, mushroom stir fry and fried big noodles in thick sauce or ‘Raad na’.
I think my stomach was getting used to this amount of food as I was eager to keep cooking and eating. Another style of mortar and pestle was brought to our stations, while we prepped the ingredients for som tam (papaya salad). Another well known dish and popular among Thai people, except many prefer the variations that most Westerners shy away from. We learned the basic, which could then be taken in multiple different directions.
Yet again, dessert seemed to elevate another familiar sweet from home to a new level. Making banana bread ultimately, this was completely different from how I’d been taught. Done with rice flour, coconut milk and shredded coconut, we then folded banana leaf into a ‘boat’ and spooned in the batter. Steamed for approximately 30 minutes, it was unbelievably moist. A much different texture then a traditional baked good, it gave me a whole new perspective on the potential of baking.
Until Next Time…
Sadly, these last two dishes concluded my time at Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School. Receiving an apron, cookbook and my last ride back into the city, I sat reflecting on the last three days. Gaining a lot from this experience with so much new knowledge to bring home, I had no idea at the time how it would effect my life and career trajectory. I have now found myself returning to Thailand in pursuit of culinary knowledge and I’m sure this will continue for the duration of my life.
It was only a couple years and I was back. Of the dozens of cooking schools in the city, do yourself a favour. If you’re interested in Thai food, choose Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School.
Day 1 – Introduction to Thai Ingredients: Hot and Sour Prawn Soup (Tom Yum), Green Curry with Chicken, Thai Style Fish Cakes, Thai Fried Noodles (Pad Thai), Spicy Minced Chicken Salad, Water Chestnuts in Coconut Milk
Day 2 – Making Homemade Curry Paste: Panaeng Curry with Pork, Chiang Mai Curry with Chicken, Fried Fish with Chilies and Basil, Sweet and Sour Vegetables, Spicy Glass Noodle Salad, Black Sticky Rice Pudding
Day 3 – Tour of the Local Market: Chicken in Coconut Milk Soup, Red Curry with Fish, Fried Mixed Mushrooms with Baby Corn, Fried Big Noodles with Thick Sauce, Papaya Salad, Steamed Banana Cake
Day 4 – Shopping at the Local Market: Yellow Curry with Chicken, Steamed Fish in Banana Leaves, Chicken with Cashew Nuts, Fried Big Noodles with Sweet Soy Sauce, Spicy Prawn Salad Northeastern Stye, Bananas in Coconut Milk
Day 5 – Vegetable Carving: Clear Soup with Minced Pork, Spring Rolls, Roast Duck Curry, Fried Chicken with Ginger, Chicken in Pandanus Leaves, Mango with Sticky Rice
Cost Per Person
1 Day – 1450 Baht
2 Days – 2800 Baht
3 Days – 4050 Baht
4 Days – 5400 Baht
5 Days – 6700 Baht
Address: 47/2 Moon Muang Rd. (opposite Tha Phae Gate)
To learn more about Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School or book your cooking class click Here.