After several days exploring the sights and eating our way around Bangkok, we headed to the mountainous north, to the city of Chiang Mai. A refreshing change of scenery brought with it a slower change of pace, one that is worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the capital city. Whereas in Bangkok we were on an endless eating adventure, in Chiang Mai, we would cook it.
I am a bit squirmish around raw meat and Simon is a chopping master, so naturally the first thing we wanted to do in Chiang Mai was to take a Thai cooking class. A popular tourist activity, the city is abound with cooking schools, so it’s quite easy to book reservations upon arrival. Although we scoured the internet to determine the “best” school, Simon and I eventually went with Asia Scenic Cooking School because it was recommended by our hostel.
We were the last ones picked up in the morning, and boarded a small van already filled with travelers from all over the world: South Africa, Indonesia, Taiwan, and the United States. Our instructor was a young lady about our age, though I forget her name now. We first went on a local market tour, where she explained the key ingredients used in Thai food, from the uses of different types of noodles and rice to the varying firmnesses of tofu. It helped clear up many of the questions I had about the mystery produce and products I had seen at Or Tor Kor and Amphawa. Although I am familiar with some of the ingredients as they overlap with Chinese cuisine, there were still a few that were completely foreign to me. We explored the market a bit on our own before heading to the cooking school afterwards.
Asia Scenic’s cooking area was a large open air lot with an overhang. Small rows of cooking stations were set up to host several cooking groups. Another class had just started their session when we arrived. Surrounding us on all three sides was the school’s own organic farm and garden, where they sourced many of their herbs and produce. Donning conical hats, we continued the food lesson in the garden. Our instructor pointed out plants they commonly used in their dishes, and plucked fragrant herbs like basil and lemongrass from the dirt ground and passed it around for us to smell and touch. Thai chilis, galangal, kaffir lime, large squash, and succulent eggplant – the garden was alive and abundant with produce, and also with buzzing insects all around us.
“More spicy, more sexxxy,” our instructor said in a cheeky and humorous tone, which elicited laughter from the table. She was referring to the level of spiciness we could adjust according to our taste. I am definitely not the sexy one, and added only one pepper to everything I cooked. Simon has no problem bringing sexy back, and proceeded to use three or four peppers in his dishes.
We all got the chance to customize our menu, which was a seven course meal. Between the two of us tag teaming it, Simon and I got to cook and sample 14 different dishes. It was a well run cooking show, with woks ready for stir frying set atop the gas ranges, and some ingredients like protein already prepped for us. Still, a fair amount of chopping was involved, and I tested my forearm strength at the mortar and pestle to pound my own curry paste.
We cooked and ate everything under the Thai sun, and quickly became accustomed to using a combination of fish sauce, palm sugar, and oil to start off many our stir frys. We learned how to make well known Thai dishes like papaya salad (som tum), stir fried noodle (pad Thai), and hot and sour prawn soup (tom yum koong), as well as local dishes, such as Chiang Mai noodle soup (khao soi) and hot and sour soup local style (tom sab). To top off the multi course meal, dessert consisted of sweet sticky rice with mango (khaw neaw ma maung) for me, and deep fried banana (glauy tod) for Simon, both of which we made ourselves of course.
At the end of class, I passed out on a hammock swaying next to the farm, smiling in my sleep as I dreamt about the time I cooked a seven course meal in Thailand.