Cooking With A Bad Attitude in Chiang Mai

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Everyone takes a cooking class when they go to Chiang Mai, no? For that reason alone, I didn’t want to do one. I had my fair share of cooking in Jerusalem to hold me over for a little while, and before this, I had signed up to take a cooking class in Malaysia. Lesson re-learned: what you resist persists.

Come 9am, I found myself riding in the back of a shared taxi on my way to what was originally supposed to be a half day cooking class. Everyone else in the group had signed up for the full day course so in the interest of having something to be even more cranky about, I gave into the pressure and just decided to endure the full day.

If you haven’t picked up on where this is going yet, I ended up being a debbie downer jerk the whole day, refusing to talk to anyone, not budging when everyone else around me was laughing & having a good time, dodging every opportunity to take photos, and not even thanking our hosts for what would’ve been a great day save for my mood. Disrespectful, disrespectful, disrespectful. Can we blame this one on PMS? No? Alright then.

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If there was one day I wish I could have a do-over, this would be it. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Whatever negativity you’re hanging onto that could destroy a great day, let it go, and let me tell you how to cook a delicious full-course meal and have fun doing it while in Chiang Mai.

Siam Rice Thai Cookery School is the company my friend and I chose for our cooking class although I’m certain no matter what company you choose, the course and menu are roughly the same across the board. Anyway, there are 4 time slots to choose from:

  • 9am – 1:30pm (Half-day / 700 Baht)
  • 9am – 3:30pm (Full-day / 900 Baht)
  • 12:30 – 3:30pm (Half-day / 700 Baht)
  • 4:30pm – 8:30pm (Evening course / 700 Baht)

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We were picked up from our hotel and taken, first, to a market near the school where we learned to identify different spices and vegetables. We had about 10-15 minutes to explore the market grounds on our own, and quite honestly, it was an unnecessary stop. Everything we learned could’ve easily been presented back at the house, but I understand that our hosts wanted to introduce us to the ambiance of an outdoor produce market.

Once we arrived at the house, shoes came off at the door, aprons were slipped on at the table, and we were handed a list of 6 dishes to choose from. Each person was able to create their own personalized menu of what to cook, and my full course meal consisted of:

  • Mango salad
  • Spicy basil soup
  • Chicken stir fry
  • Red curry with pineapple
  • Pad See Ew
  • Sticky rice with mango for dessert

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I know what you’re thinking, and yes, that is A LOT of food. Luckily, whatever we couldn’t finish, we were able to take home with us along with a certificate of completion and a recipe book of all the food we had prepared. Once everyone had their order in, our host for the day, Pot (I kid you not), went to prepare all the ingredients as the rest of us stocked up on water, tea, and coffee for what was sure to be a spicy meal.

The process of cooking went a little something like chopping up veggies/preparing ingredients for 2 dishes, frying everything in the woks, setting something on fire every now and again, sitting down to eat, and repeat. As we went along, Pot would demonstrate how everything should be cut, sliced, diced, etc. by chopping everything up at lightening speed without even looking down at the cutting board. He would look up at us with a “well what are you waiting for? get to it” look and then jokingly laugh at us laymen.

He would walk around and help us while repeatedly commenting that any girl who smashed the chilis and garlic with anger had to be single. His hyena pitched laugh weaved its way around the table, during each cooking session, as we learned all about how his first love from Japan, motorcycle accident, and his pride for Thai boxing.

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At one point, during our break for the day, we sat out in the front garden and carved flowers out of carrots. It turned out to be so pointless and frustrating that it only added to my mantra of “I have no idea what’s going on anymore.” We didn’t even get to eat our carrots which was all I could think about after my attempt turned out to be a disaster and I ended up stabbing it with a knife.

We chopped onions, green onions, and smashed garlic and peppers with 4 inch butcher knives. After everything was in pieces, we threw it all in the wok and doused it with oyster sauce, palm sugar, oil, coconut milk, and whatever else our stomach’s desired. For the curry dishes, we went really old school and used a mortar and pestle to mash up all the spices into a thick paste. Before even taste testing it to ensure it was at our ideal spice level, it was burning the hell out of our eyes and nasal passageways.

Cooking Tip: Longer chili peppers tend to be less spicy. Use 7-10 peppers for “western” spicy and 20-40 for “thai” spicy.

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In between sittings, the staff changed out the pots, woks, and utensils so swiftly they had it down to a dance. As I impolitely slurped my soup and stuffed food in my face like there was no tomorrow, my eyes watered and sinuses cleared making me regret nearly every bite I took.

For me, cooking is an art that requires concentration, and as much as I love it, I lose my patience and focus when there are others in the kitchen with me. Cooking is my escape. The kitchen is where I go to get away from the world and take my stress out on the cutting board. Cooking loses its joy when there is someone standing over me saying I’m not doing something properly. The element of professionalism to a cooking class takes the pleasure out of it, for me personally anyway, which is why I was reluctant to take the class in the first place.

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My advice is to just take it slow. Nobody expects you to make a perfect meal. It’s simply a delight to learn about the blood, sweat, and secret sauce that goes into an authentic Thai dish.

No matter what happens, the food will be so tasty you won’t even care because you made it with your own two hands. By the end, I had eaten about 2 days worth of food, and even though I took the remains of my curry home, I wasn’t able to finish it on account of not having access to a microwave. Even though I couldn’t force myself out of my bad mood, it was still an enjoyable experience that I’ll always look back on with fondness.

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