Mastering Thai Cuisine

Trip Start Nov 20, 2013
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Thailand  , Chiang Mai,
Sunday, April 27, 2014

Before we even arrived in Chiang Mai, I knew I wanted to take a Thai cooking class based on what other travellers have told us about it. What I didn't expect was to have over a dozen different cooking schools to choose from. Thankfully, the staff at Junior Guesthouse where we are staying are extremely happy to help guide their guests. They showed us all the different schools and explained the differences between some of them. After we narrowed our search down, the staff recommended a couple more than others. We chose Thai Secret Cooking School. The owner of this cooking school, May, studied culinary arts in Thailand and in France. Her American husband, Jason, is also a chef, so we knew we would be in good hands with a well trained chef who speaks English fluently.

May picked us up in the morning in a songthaew taxi and after picking up just three other people, we were on our way to a local market. At the market, May pointed out various ingredients often used in Thai cooking like chilli peppers, vegetables, and noodles. We had a few minutes to check out the rest of the market on our own so we decided to look at the meat section. I've never seen so much raw meat from so many different animals. The full pig heads were the most disturbing as the poor animals seemed to be smiling. We also saw fish and frogs that were still alive in confined areas ready to be butchered. I had to leave this area of the market quickly or I would surely become a vegetarian.

We took another short ride to May and Jason's home and got right to work picking vegetables and herbs from their farm. It was interesting to listen to May's explanations of the different items we were picking and how they are used. Soon, we were headed into the kitchen ready to start cooking. Jason and I chose to make different dishes so we could learn more and also taste more. May and her young helpers had prepared all the ingredients for us for each dish on a plate, making our preparation jobs much easier and quicker. She went through each item on our plate and explained how to cut it and how to group them to make it easier to cook in the right order. Jason started by making chicken pad Thai and chicken in a coconut milk soup and I started by making cashew chicken and vegetable and tofu soup.

We sat down and ate these dishes before getting back to more cooking! Next, I made a papaya salad, which was the best one I've had in Thailand so far and Jason made vegetable spring rolls, which were also delicious. The next thing we cooked was the most challenging because it took physical strength. This was Thai curry pastes. Jason chose to make green curry and I chose to make Penang curry. Once the pastes were done, May had us smell the difference in the fresh pastes we had just made and a dry paste she had from a few days ago. We all easily agreed that the fresh paste smelled better and it tasted good too. After the curry pastes were complete, the next step was to actually make the curries. We learned that Penang curry doesn't use nearly as much coconut milk as green curry and that Penang curry is thicker because a few roasted peanuts are added to the paste. Similar to the papaya salad, this was the best Penang curry I've had yet, and I cooked it!

Throughout the day, May's husband Jason had been taking pictures of us all cooking and picking vegetables from the farm. At the end of our half day class, May was excited to give us a certificate along with a special recipe book. It was such a nice to surprise to each have our own picture on the front of our recipe book and a great group picture on the back. I really appreciated this nice touch and even more so how excited May was to see our reactions to the special books they made for us.

May's excitement is similar to the amazing staff and owners at Junior Guesthouse who really made us feel comfortable and well taken care of. I pointed out to Jason as we walked to the large Sunday night walking street market how amazing it is that the staff here are not only willing to help, but do so with such enthusiasm and happiness that you'd think we were their first and only guests. It really is a special group of people here, which is why we felt a little bad telling them about the cockroaches we found in our room each night here and most mornings. They sprayed the bathroom for us each day, but those little (actually not so little) buggers kept coming back. Jason became really good at using the hose in the bathroom to guide them down the shower drain. We won't miss these visitors at all, but we also didn't let it ruin the fantastic time and experiences we had in Chiang Mai! Hopefully we can remember some of the tricks May taught us the next time we try our hands at Thai cooking.

All of our dishes looked great and tasted wonderful. I especially love that everything we made here was healthy and organic.
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