An Explosion of Flavor: Cooking Thai in Chiang Mai

The chef was asking us to back up.  It was hard to tell if he was serious after so much sarcasm during our class, but this time it wasn’t a joke.  The fire ball exploded from the wok, hitting the ceiling and leaving a flaming mushroom cloud above the stovetop.  This was really hot.  Even hotter than the green curry paste we had mashed by hand with ten chilies.  Maybe he was joking when telling us to add that many?

We left that day with full stomachs and something wonderful to bring along on our journey.  More than just the throbbing of our scorched tongues.  

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The difference was apparent from the start.  This cooking class was going to be unlike any we had taken before.  We were picked up from our hotel right on time and delivered to the home of the chef, Pot.  With no time wasted, we each chose four dishes from a lengthy list to learn in the three and a half hour afternoon session.  Our workstations were quickly stocked with the exact items we would need for our meals.  Each vegetable had been hand selected at the local markets, ensuring the most flavor for this experience.  The four students got to work cutting, chopping, mashing and smashing.  We learned that Thai women had once been judged for marriage on their curry making skill alone.  It turns out that Grant would have been an undesirable bride.

We signed up with Siam Rice Thai Cookery, one of the many highly rated cooking classes available in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  The private transfer shuttled us door to door, where we joined the full day students finishing their first course.  We were greeted with mock complaints from the others who groaned about the quantity of food they had already consumed.

The first task for the day was to make our curry paste.  Ingredients differed by dish, but chilis, shallots, turmeric root and garlic set the tone.  Variations were added with fresh Thai basil and fragrant kaffir lime peel rounding out the green curry paste and peanuts being mashed into the Phanaeng style.  Each addition had a distinct smell, which we could now distinguish amongst the familiar aromas.

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The cooking became more natural each time we returned to our wok.  Mix the curry paste in with the coconut milk, simmer the eggplant, throw in the basil.  Flash sauté the vegetables, stir in the noodles, toss in some sauce.  Nothing in Thai cooking seemed to take much time.

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Cook, eat, repeat.  Curry, salad, noodles, dessert.  Dish after dish, a full day of food crammed into an afternoon.  After the first meal, each person began trying in vain to pawn off some of their food on other students.  The meals became less about eating and more about gawking at the handiwork of each budding chef.  We cooked (and devoured) green and Phanaeng curries, spicy noodle and mango salads, and pad Thai and drunken noodles before finishing the day with mango sticky rice and coconut milk bananas.

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And with that, we were taken back to our hotel.  For a mere $22 each, we left with some cultural appreciation, a bellyache, and a couple tricks up our sleeve.


Can you smell the coconut curry simmering?  This definitely won’t be our last Thai cooking class!

If you are hungry for some more travel inspiration, take a look at other posts from our adventures including our trek through Nepalcamper van-cation around Tasmaniaeating through Malaysia and misadventures in India.  They are sure to inspire your lust for travel!

Ever think that long term travel should be in your future?  Stop by our Trip Planning posts, and learn how to prepare for a lengthy trip, see how to never check your bags on planes, find out about travel security and make sense of travel insurance.

6 thoughts on “An Explosion of Flavor: Cooking Thai in Chiang Mai

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