Cooking up a storm in Thailand – our cookery school experience

Whilst we’re on the road we’re determined to pick up as many skills as we can to take back home with us and being the food lovers that we are, we wasted no time in signing up for a Thai cookery lesson.

It’s not hard to find a place to learn to cook here in Chiang Mai – we collected several leaflets for cookery schools in town and then chose the right one for us based on price and the number / type of dishes that we would learn to cook.

In the end we decided to sign up with BaanThai. They run two classes per day with the morning class running from 9:30am – 4:00pm and the evening class 4:30pm – 8:30pm. Both classes include a tour of a local market plus free drinking water but the morning class also encompasses a lesson in cooking jasmine and sticky rice plus the chance to taste some additional Thai snacks.

The school is easy to spot

We opted to attend the evening class seeing as it was 200 baht per person cheaper and neither of us were interested in making dessert (deep fried banana, mango with sticky rice or water chestnuts in coconut milk) – quick, somebody pass the chocolate cake!

If you visit Chiang Mai and aren’t staying for long then book up quickly. We made our booking by e-mail and though our preferred date was available, on the day we found that the class was fully booked at 27 people! Don’t worry about numbers – whilst 27 people seems like a lot we were actually split into three groups and had plenty of one on one time with the chefs. It was also a great opportunity to make new friends.

How to get there

You can find BaanThai just north of Thapae Gate in Rajadamnern Road. It’s pretty close to the action and if you’re staying in town you could walk there in no time, however BaanThai provide a free pick up and drop off service if you are a little further out.

We arranged to be picked up from our apartment at 3:50pm and the truck arrived bang on time. We were the first to be collected and we went on to make 3 more stops picking up a total of 9 people (including us). It was a great way to start the lesson as we immediately got chatting to our classmates and felt comfortable with each other before we even reached the school.

Arriving at the school

Upon arrival at the school we were first invited to leave our personal belongings in lockers before being shown to our table where we were all able to sit in a big square and get to know each other a little better. Performing the introverts worst nightmare we each had to introduce ourselves and state whether we wanted to eat Thai spicy (super hot) or farang spicy (foreigner spicy – a bit more manageable!) food. Only Glen and one other chose Thai spicy and the rest of us conservative types began to look forward to the aftermath of their risky decision. Would heads literally explode? The excitement was palpable!

Our teacher explained a little about how the night would run and then we were each asked to write down the names of the dishes we had chosen to cook so that they could get everything set up whilst we were at the market.

We each chose different dishes to get the most out of the lesson

Visiting the market

The market is only a 5 minute walk away and is such a great addition to the lesson. Our teacher for the day took us to a total of 3 stalls where she explained what ingredients she needed to buy (most of them we had never heard of) and why those ingredients are used to help us to understand more about the flavour combinations. The market we went to was pretty compact and some of the explanations became lost in all the hustle and bustle but overall it was well worth the trip and gave us something to do whilst the kitchens were being prepared for our first dishes.

Some of the ingredients were questionable..

Cooking

BaanThai split their dishes into 6 categories; curry paste, curry, stir-fried, soup, appetizer and dessert. Under each category there are 3 dishes and you get to choose a dish from each category to learn to cook (note the dessert is only included in the morning class).

The first dish we were tasked with making was from the stir fried selection with the group all making either (1) fried noodle Thai style, (2) fried chicken with cashew nuts or (3) stir fried prawn with curry powder.

I was starting to get a little worried when we were split into groups because I’m not exactly known for my cooking skills and I didn’t have Glen to lean on but I needn’t have worried. The amazing staff had already run around setting up cooking stations for each of us with our individual ingredients already separated, and soon our chef was guiding us through how to chop and prepare each ingredient before walking us through making the dish itself over a hot wok. It couldn’t have been simpler and there was no chance to be confused because the chef was never far away and always ready to help.

Glen went with option (1) and I made option (2). We then all reconvened at our table to eat the dish we had prepared. Whilst we didn’t make any rice, the chef dished some out for us all to enjoy.

The rest of the class followed in the same pattern with the group being divided into 3 to cook our chosen dishes and then returning to the table to sample them.

Over the course of the night we went on the make papaya salad, spring rolls, chicken in coconut milk, Chiang Mai noodles with chicken and Paneang curry with pork.

Glen’s very photographic Panaeng curry

My Chiang Mai noodles

My spring rolls

Glen’s chicken in coconut milk

Every dish was simple to make and with the chefs making the whole process fun and enjoyable it really didn’t feel like school at all. I would really recommend having a go if you’re passing through.

Sadly both Glen and our other brave classmate survived the Thai spice just fine, much to everyone else’s disappointment!

Price

Morning course: 1,000 baht / £20 per person

Evening course: 800 baht / £16 per person

For more information or to book onto the course yourself go to the BaanThai website.

Now we just need to spend the next week trying to get the smell of garlic off of our hands (we used handfuls of the stuff) and maybe then we’ll be on our way to being Thai cooking masters.

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