After a 10 hour bus ride north on possibly the nicest bus I’ve ever come across, complete with neck pillows, blankets and free meals, we arrive in Chaing Mai bright and early at 6 am. Chaing Mai is the trekking capital of the north with 1,2 and 3 day trekking options available for those looking to see isolated hill tribes, ride elephants and kayak down the river.
Since we’re pressed for time in our last days in Thailand, we decide to book into one of the other activities Chaing Mai is famous for – Thai cooking. There are at least a dozen schools in the area with similar offerings and set prices of 900 baht for a full day (about $30). Most courses include a trip to the market, a few choices from a set menu and then some group dishes. We decided on “The Best Cooking School in Chaing Mai” where the co-owners personally teach the class.
The day starts early as we meet at the local market at 9 am to learn about the fruits and vegetables we will be cooking today. There are so many more options for fresh fruits and vegetables than back in Canada – the hot and humid climate of Thailand provides fertile grounds for a much bigger variety of food. Although with more and more Asian immigrants coming to Canada, we may be able to find some still in the fresh form in Asian grocery stores (think T & T). After about an hour at the market we are piled into the back of a pickup truck for our transport to the school.
In the kitchen each student has their own work station complete with a set of pots and pans and cooking utensils. We dive right into our first dish – a choice of soups. Within minutes we are all chopping our set of ingredients getting ready to cook our first Thai dish. We learn tricks on how to cut garlic and remove all the skin without handling the garlic itself, and how to cut those famous Thai chilies without getting the spicy hot seeds anywhere on your hands. Thai food is heavy on the prep work, but short on cooking time. Most dishes, as you notice from the street vendors, take only minutes to cook in the high heat they use, which leaves more nutrients (and flavour) in the food. 30 minutes later we are sampling our soups – not bad for my first Thai dish. After that it’s onto to spring rolls, mango sticky rice and papaya salad – you are definitely going to want to come hungry to these classes.
Then it’s a short break before cooking 3 more main dishes each. I’ve chosen green curry, stir-fried mixed vegetables, and pad thai. The highlight of the class comes as our teacher shows us how to make an impressive flame in our woks – simply heat your oil on high, add water in with your vegetables, then carefully add the two together and voila – giant flame in your wok. A great trick for dinner parties.
The best part of the day comes in mid afternoon, when all our dishes are cooked and we sit down to eat in the garden outside. With so many dishes to sample, I only wish we could have taken doggie bags home.