One of our favourite things about South-East Asia and Thailand in particular is the food. There is truly an abundance of cheap, delicious and filling food at your fingertips.
Whether it be fruit, noodles, salads or curries that you crave – Thailand will have something for you. Many of the traditional dishes seem so complex with the five flavours (salty, spicy, sweet, sour and creamy) blending into a playful cacophony of flavours.
Of course, if you’re not careful a stray piece of chili could burn your tongue off. But that’s just par for the course with Thai food. Anyhow, we were intrigued by the seeming intricacy of Thai cuisine and on the advice of a friend decided to try a cooking class.
I am always a bit skeptical about such courses. For some reason I imagine a kind of impersonal, conveyer-belt scenario where you are just another number who needs to be shown how to add soy sauce to noodles. Luckily, I am nearly always wrong about these things.
We decided on May Kaidee cooking school. All of the 10 meals you cook are vegetarian and vegan. Their school doubles as a restaurant and is located right in the heart of Chiang Mai just outside the old center. You can book online and if you have any problems, just flick them an email and they’ll get back to you promptly.
May Kaidee is actually a world-famous chef who lives in New York. But her roots take her back to Northern Thailand. She was quite poor as a child and grew up on the not-so-vegetarian diet of rats and snakes. However, she reached a point in her life when she decided to become vegetarian and since then she has been spreading delicious vegetarian and vegan Thai food around the world.
The school is set in a nice location – opposite a beautiful wat that you can check out before or after the class. Although almost any place in Chiang Mai is within 10 meters of a wat it seems.
The street is quite quiet and there’s a lot of shrubbery on the roadsides as you walk away from the hectic center and to this little piece of tranquility. Don’t expect anything fancy. The tables and chairs are simple, made from wood and the walls are decorated with pictures in pastels.
When you arrive, your teacher will greet you and show you to your table where your ingredients and tools are waiting for you. We were lucky enough to be the only two students that day and enjoyed a really intimate lesson with a beautiful lady named Nim.
Nim started by getting to know us and explaining all the ingredients she had prepared for us, what you can use as alternatives if you can’t find that particular ingredient in your city and how we should cut these ingredients. Everything was laid back, fun and interesting.
After we prepared the first lot of ingredients, we headed through to another room that housed tiny little Thai kitchens – stoves, woks, oil, and egg flips – all you need to whip up extraordinary meals bursting with flavor. Although we started to cook by the recipe books we had been given at the beginning, Nim soon started adding her own hints and tricks about how to really give a dish FLAIR.
We weren’t just reading and doing like robots, she really encouraged us to work off intuition. “Don’t measure four teaspoons of soy sauce, just do four shakes like this with your hand” “Don’t add all the coconut cream if you think it’s too much, you can always add more later” We were constantly sampling our dishes and adding what we thought they needed more of. And it’s really incredible how much difference an extra teaspoon of soy sauce or sugar can make to a meal.
In no time at all we felt like we were actually cooking some decent stuff (by our standards). What an empowering experience. Pad Thai? Easy peasy! Papaya Salad? No problem! We spent four hours, from 9.00 until 13.00, walking back and forth between the kitchen and dining room, cooking and eating, cooking and eating until we could neither cook nor eat no more.
And to top it all off we were offered biodegradable doggy bags to take our leftovers home in. The course wasn’t cheap and you can probably find more wallet-friendly options in Chiang Mai. But we were happy that we paid a bit extra to have a really personalized, fulfilling (and filling) experience.