Monday, November 19, 2012

Baan Thai Cookery School in Chiang Mai

          After fending off unruly Canadians in Chiang Rai, my tour of the north continued by backtracking three hours by bus to Chiang Mai. The last time I was in Thailand's “City of the North” was over two years ago and in an entirely different situation.

During Songkran, you can run but you can't hide!
(photo credit:
          In April of 2010, I first visited Chiang Mai with a couple of friends during songkran on our way to Laos and Vietnam. Songkran is the annual water festival held in celebration of the Thai New Year. Chiang Mai happens to be home to the biggest and wildest songkran hullabaloo (I love that word) in all of Thailand. What was once a simple and traditional celebration has grown to be a week-long music and beer fueled water war. Every April thousands of Thais and foreigners, young and old, pillage Thailand's old capital for six or more days of drenched revelry. Unfortunately, this time my stay in Chiang Mai would accommodate no such debauchery.

Songkran insanity!
photo credit:
          No jungle trekking, no Muay Thai fights, and no late nights staring down empty beer bottles. Nope. This time, my four days in Chiang Mai were spent relaxing, reading, writing this blog, and hammocking in the garden of my guesthouse (Choke Dee Guesthouse- 350 baht/night). In fact, the most exciting thing that I did was take a cooking class. Scoff away, but taking a Thai cooking class is something I've wanted to do for a long time. I've mentioned many times that one of my favorite parts of living in Thailand is the incredible food, and it would be a shame to leave the country without at least attempting to acquire some of it's culinary wizardry.

          For 700 baht (about $22 USD) I attended a 4-hour "half-day" course at Baan Thai Cookery School. It was great. First, the instructor walked us through the local day market and showed us how to find the different fresh ingredients that we'd need for each dish. When we returned to Baan Thai we broke up into groups depending on what dishes we were cooking. There were three courses in all. We started with an appetizer, then a soup along with a rice or noodle dish, and with a curry for the grand finale. For each dish, the instructor showed us how to prepare the ingredients and follow the recipe. Then... Cook. Eat. Repeat.

the new sauce boss
For my appetizer I made som tam (shredded, unripened papaya salad with lime juice, fresh-ground chillies, peanuts, fish sauce, and palm sugar).  And for my soup creation, I made tom kha gai (chicken soup with coconut milk, basil, ginger, lemongrass, and chilli paste, lime juice, and cilantro)...
tom kha gai (left) and som tam (right)
Next, I mastered Thailand's most renowned noodle-dish, pad Thai (Thai-style stir-fried noodles with egg, shrimp, peanuts, coriander, lime, and fish sauce)...
not even flexing.
I finished strong with my masterpiece-curry, khao soi gai (a northern-style curry famous in Chiang Mai, made with egg noodles, Indian curry paste, coconut milk, pickled cabbage, and ground chillies fried in oil). One of my favorite dishes in Thailand the world...
food porn
After we cooked each dish we took it back to the table to taste test our creations. By the end of the class I had learned how to cook four awesome Thai meals, in less than four hours total, and devoured every one of them.  I was stuffed. 
imm maak maak!  Sooo full...
It was a fun experience and I'm glad I did it.  Not only did I get to eat some awesome food, but I learned a lot.  We even got to keep our own got our own copies of the cookbooks we used.  What's that old saying?  You can shear a sheep once, but if you teach it how to fish you'll never be hungry... yeah, something like that.  I know that one day the time will come when I'm somewhere else in the world, and I'll have an insatiable som tam craving but can no longer walk across the street and buy a plate for a buck.  I'll be ready!

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