Chiang Mai, Thailand, is absolutely filled with food. Everywhere -- everywhere! -- there are restaurants, street carts and sidewalks packed with food vendors. Sprawling open-air markets are filled with fresh fruits, dried fish, sweet treats and kaep mu (which you may know better as pork rinds). Night markets spring up all over the city, with vendors frying chicken, ladling curries or cooking sweet desserts like the addictive kanom krok.
The entire city, especially after nightfall, is filled with the wonderful aromas of all these foods -- smoky charcoal-grilled meats, spicy chile sauces, savory noodle dishes.
We have never in our lives seen a place so intertwined with eating. It's amazing.
So it was a no-brainer that we would take a cooking class while we were there. Chiang Mai boasts more than 30 cooking schools and culinary classes, according to a TripAdvisor search.
A friend had recommended Siam Rice Thai Cookery School -- she said it had been a wonderful experience when she was in Thailand earlier last year. So we'd reserved a couple spots before we left for our trip.
On the day of our reservation, a songthaew pulled up to our hotel. (A songthaew is a popular mode of transportation in Thailand -- a converted pick-up truck with benches in the bed and a roof. You see them everywhere.) We piled in with the six other tourists taking the class with us, and we sped off.
Just like the cooking class we took in Yangshuo, China, this class began with a visit to a food market. Our guide showed us all the ingredients that make up a traditional Thai pantry: basil, lemongrass, galangal (which is like Thai ginger), turmeric, shrimp paste, fish sauce, chiles, kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk.
Then we left the market and headed up into the hills outside of town for our day-long cooking class.
Here's what's great about Thai cooking: Because there is such a standard playbook of flavors (the aforementioned basil et al), many dishes are variations on a theme. A yellow curry, for instance, is only a few ingredients off from a red curry, which is also just a couple of flavors away from a massaman curry...
What that means in a cooking class is that it's very easy to make tons of different dishes. At Siam Rice, we each made a meal composed of five different courses. But for each course, we got to choose from four or five -- or in some cases, eight or nine or ten -- different dishes. So Clay got to make completely different recipes from Zach, and the other folks in our class made still more dishes.
So what'd we make?
Here are some of our favorite dishes from the day:
One of our favorite dishes was khao soi. As we wrote the other day, this is the traditional dish of Northern Thailand -- egg noodles swimming in a rich yellow curry sauce, along with chicken or pork or beef, topped with crunchy egg noodles.
We each got to make a different curry from scratch, which was very cool.
Here are step-by-step photos of one of our curries:
Here's a little video of Clay (angrily! forcefully! mightily!) making his curry paste:
One definite highlight of the day? When Zach got to make drunken noodles. Because this dish is intended to get a little caramelized when it cooks, you throw a little water in when you add your ingredients to the hot oil in the wok ... with fiery results!
Here's an Instagram video of Zach playing with fire.
(Not following us on Instagram? Come over and join the party! We have fun over there.)
So that was our day at a Thai cooking school! We had a blast at Siam Rice. We're sure there are plenty of great culinary courses you can take in Chiang Mai, but here are the things we really liked about Siam Rice (and these are good things to think about anywhere you're considering taking a cooking class):
- a full day of cooking. (Siam Rice offers half- or full-day courses. Our full-day course lasted from 9 to 4.)
- small groups. Our class was only 8 students, including us.
- options! Like we said, we've never seen so many options in a cooking class, and getting to taste each other's dishes (and to taste the dishes from others in the class) was great.
- recipe books to take home. We left with a full little booklet of the recipes we'd made, along with 40 or so additional Thai recipes (and a diploma!). Stay tuned -- you'll most certaintly be seeing some of those dishes here in the future.
See a dish here you'd especially like to learn to make? Or have you taken a cooking class abroad that you really enjoyed? Let us know in the comments!