One of the activities I was most excited to take part in while in Thailand was participating in a Thai cooking class. I wanted to learn more about Thai food and expand my obsession beyond Pad See Ew and Pad Thai.
We learned the importance of Trip Advisor and other third-party reviews pretty quickly in Thailand. There are a lot of “tour agencies” all around Thailand and they help you book activities, trips, and transportation. These companies are extremely convenient because they book everything from start to finish for you (including transportation), but there isn’t really a lot of information on the reviews and feedback of the tours that are offered.
We learned this the hard way after booking a snorkeling tour in southern Thailand only to find that almost all of the reviews were extremely negative. Since we don’t have cellular data (WIFI only) we weren’t able to vouch the company before booking the tour. This isn’t to say that every tour the companies sell are negative, it’s just that you really need to find independent verifiers. We only made this mistake once (and ended up switching tours) so while it takes more time, we’re always double-checking companies to ensure they have favorable reviews before booking.
So finding the cooking class was simple; we just chose the best and more frequently reviewed company in Chiang Mai. This brought us to the Thai Farm Cooking School. For about $37USD each we spent a full day with our instructor learning about Thai cuisine, food culture, and how to make popular Thai dishes.
Our day started at 8:30AM with a pick up from our hostel in Chiang Mai. There were nine students in our group under the care of our excellent instructor, Pern. Pern was awesome. She was funny, friendly, warm and helpful – everything you want in a teacher. Before heading to the cooking school, we stopped by a local market to learn more about how Thai people shop for food and learn about ingredients that aren’t as common in the US.
Once we arrived at the cooking school you could see how serious of an operation this was. Several other classes were going on throughout the farm. I was really impressed by the organization and flow of the entire day.
Before we started cooking we took a tour of the farm to see how the ingredients we were about to be cooking with actually grew. We saw mangoes, pineapples, cashew nuts, holy basil, eggplant, rice, coconuts and more.
When you sign up for the school you’re able to choose from a selection of dishes that you want to make for each meal. We were all able to pick a curry, soup, a stir-fry, and a noodle dish, and a dessert.
Thai food is based on a mix of five flavors: sour, salty, spicy, sweet and bitter. When balanced correctly these flavors create complex tastes and aromatic meals. The mix of these flavors and balance of the sweet vs. sour and sour vs. salty, bitter vs. spicy, etc., etc., can really change the entire flavor profile of the dish. Throughout the class we would experiment with our sauces to detect the difference in flavor if we added more fish sauce or squeeze more lime juice. Most dishes we made used the same group of ingredients, it was really the preparation and sauce that would completely change the taste of the meal.
Since most of our class didn’t eat breakfast, we started our day making the soup. The soup didn’t take long at all to make and it was a great starter to satiating our empty bellies. We had the option of either making Tom Yam (a slightly sour soup) or coconut soup (a creamier version of Tom Yam). I went with the traditional Tom Yam but mixed it up a bit with a few teaspoons of coconut milk to give it a creamier base. Adam went all out and made a coconut vegetable soup.
Tom Yam with Shrimp
1-5 crushed hot chillies
1/2 cup of sliced mushrooms
1 stalk of lemongrass ( slice into 3cm long pieces )
1/4 cup of sliced onion
1/4 cup of sliced galangal
1/4 cup of sliced tomatoes
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 tsp. of lime juice
2 tbsp. of fish sauce or soya sauce
1/2 tsp. of sugar
1/2 tbsp. of shrimp chili paste
2 cups of water
5 shrimps ( take the heads off and keep )
1 tbsp. of chopped spring onion
1 stem of coriander plant
1/4 tsp. of salt
2 leaves of Thai parsley
Put water in a pot, heat until boiling. Add lemongrass, galangal, shrimp chili paste, shrimp heads and onion. Cook until fragrant. Add tomatoes, shrimp meat and mushrooms. When done, flavor with fish sauce, salt and sugar. Stir thoroughly and finally add lime juice, spring onion, Thai parsley, coriander and lime leaves. If not spicy enough add hot chillies. Serve with rice.
Our second dish for the day was a curry. I chose red curry with chicken. Before the cooking began, we first had to make our own curry paste.
And the after:
The red curry was one of my favorite dishes of the day. I love how the spicy flavors of the curry work with the creamy and cool coconut milk. It’s refreshing and brings in the heat in tandem. The curry is the dish I’m most looking forward to recreating at home.
Red Curry with Chicken
INGREDIENTS FOR CURRY PASTE
2-3 red dried chillies ( soak in cold water about 15 minutes before using )
1 tbsp. of chopped shallots
1 tsp. of chopped galangal
1/2 tsp. of chopped kaffir lime rind
1 tsp. of chopped garlic
1 tbsp. of chopped lemongrass
1 tbsp. of chopped krachai ( or ‘Thai ginseng’ )
1/4 tsp. of roasted cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. of roasted coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. of salt ( or 1/2 tsp. of salt if you would like to keep the paste longer )
1 cup of sliced eggplants ( or other vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli or potato )
1/4 cup of smaller pea-like eggplants ( MAKHEAU PHUANG )
1/3 cup of sliced onion
70 grams of sliced chicken
1 tsp. of sugar
1 tbsp. of fish sauce or soya sauce
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 stems of sweet basil ( HORAPAA )
1 cup of coconut milk
1 cup of water
PREPARATION OF RED CURRY PASTE
Put the ingredients for the curry paste in the mortar. Pound with the pestle until everything is mixed and ground thoroughly. You can also use a blender.
PREPARATION OF RED CURRY
Pour the coconut milk in the pot and turn on to medium heat. Stir until oil appears. Add red curry paste and chicken and stir until almost done. Add your vegetables, water, sugar, fish sauce, salt and turn the heat up. Stir a little. When everything is cooked, put the sweet basil and lime leaves. Serve with rice.
Posing with my red curry
To accompany our curries, we also each made a stir-fry dish. I made the fried chicken with basil leaves and Adam made the sweet and sour chicken. I love the smell and taste of holy basil so I was really excited for this dish.
Chicken with Holy Basil
100 grams of sliced chicken
2 tbsp. of oil ( soya bean oil or palm oil )
5 cloves of crushed garlic
1/3 cup of sliced long beans
2-3 hot chillies
1 cup of holy basil leaves
1 tbsp. of fish sauce
1 tbsp. of oyster sauce
1/2 tsp. of sugar
1/4 cup of sliced onions
3 tbsp. of water
Pour the oil in the wok on a low heat. When oil is hot, add garlic, onion and chillies. Stir until fragrant. Add chicken and turn the heat up. Stir until well done. Next add long beans, fish sauce, sugar and oyster sauce. Add a little water. Stir together well. When everything done, add basil leaves and stir once again. Serve with rice.
For our noodle dish, I opted for spring rolls over making Pad Thai. I’ve been eating a decent amount of Pad Thai (and watching a decent amount be made in front of me), so I wanted to try something new.
Also, at this point in the day, our class was starting to feel like zombies. The double curry and stir fry meals made everyone full and loopy. We were starting to all go a little stir crazy. We felt like little kindergarteners that really needed a nap. The spring roll was a little less intense than the Pad Thai, so I was happy to have a brain break.
1 tbsp. of grated carrot
1/2 cup of finely sliced cabbage
1/4 cup of finely sliced onion
1/2 cup of bean sprouts
1/2 cup of glass noodles ( dried glass noodles have to soak in cold water about 15 minutes until soft )
1/4 cup of sliced tofu
1/4 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of pepper
6 spring roll sheets
1 tsp. of soybean oil
1 stem of coriander
1 tsp. of sugar
2 tsp. of soya sauce
INGREDIENTS FOR DIPPING SAUCE
1 red chilli
1 1/2 tsp. of vinegar
2 tbsp. of sugar
1/4 tsp. of salt
1 clove of crushed garlic
1 tsp. of flour
1/3 cup of water
PREPARATION OF SPRINGROLLS
Heat up the oil in the wok. Add tofu, cabbage, onions, carrots, bean sprouts, sugar soya sauce and salt. Stir fry until vegetables are soft and dry. Turn the heat to low. Add glass noodles, coriander and pepper. Stir fry again until mixed well. Set aside to cool.
Take a spring roll sheet and put some filling on it. Fold the sheet over the filling. Roll a bit, then fold the sides in and roll up tightly. Before closing, glue with some mixed egg. Deep-fry the spring rolls until golden brown.
PREPARATION OF DIPPING SAUCE
Crush garlic and chili. Put in a pot together with water, salt, sugar and vinegar. Heat on a low fire to boiling. Mix flour with some water and add to the mixture to make thicker.
For dessert we made one of my favorite things in the whole wide world, mango sticky rice. It’s incredible, two months ago I didn’t even know mango sticky rice existed and now, I don’t want to live in a world without it. It really needs to become more popular in the US. It’s so good and delicious and it just makes you happy. Luckily, now I know how to make it if I’m ever hit with a craving.
Mango Sticky Rice
1 cup of steamed sticky rice
1/2 cup of coconut milk
1 ripe mango ( peel, remove the seed and slice into pieces )
1-2 tbsp. of sugar
1/4 tsp. of salt
1 tbsp. of roasted mung beans
Put coconut milk, sugar and salt in a pot. Heat until boiling. Turn the heat off. Add steamed sticky rice. Mix together well. Let it cool. Serve with mango and top sticky rice with mung beans.
We really had the best day at the cooking school. It’s up there in the top of my favorite activities while traveling list. It was definitely great to make these classic Thai dishes, but my favorite part was just hanging out with a great group of people and goofing off and learning together.
All recipes via Thai Farm Cooking School