One of the most popular things to do in Chiang Mai is take a cooking class and learn how to make some of the regions most famous dishes. It’s so popular that there is an abundance of cooking schools to choose from in and around the city center.
I did a lot of research and weighed out the pros and cons of what each school had to offer. After collecting enough information, I chose the female-run business Asia Scenic Cooking School.
This school has both an in city and at farm cooking class, with both full and half day options. With the Lantern Festival done and the elephant sanctuary booked and paid for, I had little else planned in Chiang Mai. So I decided to opt in for a full day cooking class at the farm.
Depending on your time and budget restrictions, I highly recommend going all in for the full experience. (1200 Baht per person)
On this full day experience, you get transportation to and from your hostel or hotel, a local market and farm tour, and in class instruction on how to make seven dishes (five of your choosing).
It was easily worth every penny, in fact I would have paid more.
(Note: the school is located within the old city walls and I purchased my class right at that location. The first day I wanted was sold out, so I had to book two days out. Keep that in mind in you are limited on time in Chiang Mai)
The day begins like most organized tours – by being picked up from your hotel or hostel. My friend and I were picked up in the morning and driven to the school. There I waited for the groups to be organized by full and half day tours. Then I was on my way to the farm.
The first stop on the tour was a local Thai market. There we went to learn about typical ingredients in Thai food. The group got a feel for how locals shop for groceries at their neighborhood markets.
We learned the difference between curries and the many different types of rice. Then we were able to wander the market for a few minutes and to buy snacks or beverages if we wanted to and then headed back to the van.
The van arrived at the farm and we were immediately given coffee or tea. Then we began our cooking lesson by having Meang Kum waiting for us. We sampled it and learned about the dish. It’s a traditional Thai welcome snack of peanuts, betel leaves, coconut, ginger and palm sugar with a dash of chili. The flavors combine together in your mouth the make a truly unique and magical experience.
Everyone learns about the welcome snack however you don’t actually make it.
Once we all had selected the dishes we wanted to cook from the menu of options, we were taken on a tour of the farm. We walked through the organic garden to learn about and taste the different ingredients we would be cooking with.
Everything was grown right there on the farm and our guide went through each ingredient thoroughly. She offered an abundance of information about how and when each item is used.
When it was time to start cooking, it seemed a little strange to me that we would have so many different dishes being cooked at the same time. But the structure of the class is so well planned out. There was no lack of attention or confusing instructions throughout the entire class.
What helped with that process was making certain items in large quantities as a group. (Like spring roll filling, sticky rice and curry paste.)
Although you choose your own soup, salad, stir fry, curry and dessert to make, you get to watch others make different meals. So you really learn how to make the entire menu at the school. You also get a cookbook of all the dishes to take home with you.
Now about the menu items. Throughout the day you make a total of seven dishes. You stop in the middle to relax at the farm, have some tea or coffee and take a break from all the eating. (Be prepared to be very full at the end of the day).
You individually cook five dishes of your choosing. In addition, you learn how to make sticky rice and spring roll filling. It’s done as a group though and unless you volunteer, you won’t get the hands on experience here. You do roll your own spring roll though.
Let’s talk about the food. I made my decisions on what to cook quite easily as I specifically wanted to learn how to make my favorite Thai dishes. Starting with the Papaya Salad (Som Tum). I did go a little extreme on the chili and although it was good I didn’t finish the entire thing (it plated beautifully though, don’t you think?)
Not being able to finish my Papaya Salad ended up working out okay because it left plenty of room for the rest of my dishes. I had chosen my stir fry menu option after having just a bite of it at a restaurant the day before after my friend ordered it and it quickly became my favorite stir fry dish (probably ever).
Because I’m a sucker for basil, I chose Pad Kra Proaw (stir fried hot basil with chicken) to make as my second menu option. This time I added the perfect amount of spice and had no problem at all finishing the entire thing. It’s not good to waste food, right?
I decided as my soup to make Tom Yum (hot and sour prawn soup) mostly because it is one of the dishes that I had kept hearing about and hadn’t actually tried. Although it was good, it was hardly the highlight of my cooking adventure. That title is hands down saved for my last two dishes – the only two dishes that really matter in Thai food as far as I’m concerned.
Khao Soi and Mango Sticky Rice.
If you haven’t tried Khao Soi or Mango Sticky Rice, your life just isn’t complete.
Khao Soi, to begin with is a delicious creamy curry with the perfect balance of coconut milk and spice with noodles and chicken. It is specific to northern Thailand and is easily the first thing I missed when we left. I had a variety of versions of this dish while in Chiang Mai and although each tasted slightly different, they were all heavenly.
Finding good Khao Soi outside of Chiang Mai is a challenge, so do yourself a favor, eat it everyday you’re there and then learn how to cook it yourself.
Khao Soi is made with a blend of different Thai curries, which we learned that making fresh is a lot of work and a bit time consuming to get the right consistency. This is the one part of the class you’ll be happy that you get to work as a group.
We also learned at the market that it is not hard to find pre made curry, and it can also be easily made in a blender or food processor to get a fresh paste much quicker. Of course we did it the old fashioned way.
Our last item of the day to make was of course dessert. I chose Mango Sticky Rice, which is a staple for Thai dessert and I couldn’t eat enough of it while I was there. It’s simple in it’s ingredients – palm sugar, coconut cream, rice and salt, and is even simpler to make.
Now if you think you’ll miss the cakes and ice cream you’re used to as dessert in the states, trust me, you won’t. Learning how to make this was essential (now if only I could get mangos in New York that taste as good as the ones in Thailand).
Crammed full of food and information, I said farewell to the instructor and the other members of the cooking school. A school filled with women, teaching probably the most important lesson I learned that day – the importance of following your dreams and being independent and successful as women.
The day I spent learning to make Thai food was insightful, entertaining, and delicious. I don’t think a trip to Chiang Mai is complete without learning how to make the local food and I don’t think you can find a school that will offer a better cooking experience than Asia Scenic.
OTHER TOUR OPTIONS INCLUDE:
- (9am-3pm) FULL DAY IN CITY – 1,000 Baht per person
- (9am-2pm) HALF DAY AT FARM – 1,000 Baht per person
- MORNING (9am-1pm) HALF DAY IN CITY – 800 Baht per person
- EVENING (5pm-9pm) HALF DAY IN CITY – 800 Baht per person