“Harder! Faster! Don’t slow down!”
It was impossible not to laugh as “A”, our instructor, was playfully shouting commands at the three hardworking male students, as they powered away with a mortar and pestle to make various curry pastes. I was hoping that my boyfriend would forgive me as he was working up a sweat while I was enjoying an ice cold Singha. Trust me, I really wanted to help out but couldn’t because of a minor injury (that’s a whole story in itself). Needless to say, Thai cooking lessons at Asia Scenic Cooking School are a bit more colorful than your average class back home.
So what brought us to a cooking class…in Thailand? I had just wrapped up two weeks of work travel in Indonesia, and decided to extend my trip an extra week to explore Thailand with my boyfriend. (Take a peek at my Instagram to see some highlights from the trip!)
One of the places we visited was Chiang Mai, a town in the lush countryside of northern Thailand, bordering Burma and Laos. As I was researching popular things to do and see in the area, one of the top activities was a Thai cooking class. Yes please! It seemed pretty rare for a cooking class to be one of the touristy things to do, but I was obviously up for it. I heard about Asia Scenic Cooking School through a friend who had recently gone and had great things to say about it. We signed up for the 4 hour evening class, which was the perfect length of time and worked as our dinner plans too.
Coming into the class, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew 2 things for sure: 1) I love to cook and 2) I love Thai food. So, this just HAD to be good. Our cooking class started out with some intense decision making, and I’ll just say it was one of the more awkward parts of the class. As a group of 10 people, we had to pick 3 categories of dishes we wanted to make, but then individually choose from an assortment of dishes per category. Our group opted for the stir fry, appetizer, and curry categories. The only awkward and uncomfortable moment was when one of the people in our group *really* wanted to make Tom Yum soup, but no one else cared to select from the soup category. So, she was overruled. I was very excited to cook my menu which included Pad See Ew (stir fry), Yum Woon Sen (glass noodle salad / appetizer), and Red Curry.
After selecting our dishes, we had a short tour of the Asia Scenic garden and ventured over to the nearby market. At the market, we checked out the vegetable, seafood, noodle, rice, and spice vendors. It quickly became clear that so many of my favorite Thai dishes start with the same ingredients, especially fish sauce and oyster sauce. Here are some photos of the market with our tour guide:
Once we came back to the school, we jumped right into cooking! What I really enjoyed about this class was the sequencing. We would cook one dish, sit down together to eat it, and then move onto cooking the next dish. It was a relaxing way to break up the cooking, enjoy the dish, and think about what I liked or would change up next time around.
The first dish I made was Pad See Ew, which is one of my favorites as I love the rich flavor of the dark soy sauce and the silky texture of the wide noodles. It came together rather quickly once we were stir frying it up in the wok. I was really impressed with how easy it was, but I think the challenge at home will be getting the right ingredients. Here’s a photo of our instructor “A” giving a stir fry demo:
My Pad See Ew – Made with kale, carrots, garlic, chicken, and wide rice noodles.
Next up, I made Yum Woon Sen aka Glass Noodle Salad. I had high hopes for this dish, but it sadly fell short. I love glass noodles and was even more excited to make this salad when I learned that glass noodles are naturally low carb (made from bean sprout starch). But, this salad recipe just didn’t cut it for me. The ingredients included poached chicken, chopped tomatoes, onion, and chili peppers – ingredients I all like, but the combination just felt off. The dressing made up of fish sauce, sugar, and lime juice was really tasty though, so I might change up the ingredients to come up with something I like.
Lastly, I cooked a Red Curry dish. Once the curry paste was made, it was super fast and simple to cook the dish. Just simmer some coconut milk with the red curry paste, and add vegetables until they’re cooked through. But don’t be fooled – the real work came into make the curry paste. This was a serious labor of love, since the curry paste ingredients were ground up by hand using an old-fashioned mortar and pestle. I don’t know if I’ll ever care to make curry paste from scratch again, but it was awesome to see it how it came together by hand. When mixing the curry paste into the coconut milk, the level of spice is based on how much paste you use. Our instructor started asking each of us, “How sexy are you feeling? From a scale of 0-10?” Being the spice wimp that I am, I proudly called out “I’m not that sexy at all. I’ll take 3.”
Finally, at the end of the class, we each got a cookbook with all of the recipes we made and many more. Aside from being incredibly entertaining, A and his crew were very helpful and even offered to answer any questions we may have once we head back home and try to recreate the dishes on our own. My cooking class experience at Asia Scenic was one of a kind, and nothing like the classes I’ve taken anywhere else. If you travel to Thailand, especially Chiang Mai, definitely be sure to check out a class!