Thai cooking class ranks high on just about every list I’ve seen about activities in Chiang Mai. Moreover, whenever I ask people for ideas on what I should do in Thailand, Thai cooking classes always came up as a suggestion. I didn’t get it at first because I generally don’t care much for cooking classes. After all, why do you need to take classes for something that can be self-taught at home for free? But considering how I was spending quite a bit of time in Chiang Mai, I thought I’d give it a go.
After doing tons of research and reading reviews, I chose to book at Zabb E Lee’s cooking class. I mean, it’s ranked as #2 on Trip Advisor so I figured I can’t go wrong with this decision. And for 900 baht per person, which works out to be $30 CAD ($22 USD), the price is not bad either.
The verdict? I’ll tell you now.
My opinion on cooking classes has completely changed after attending this class. This activity surpassed my expectations, and I had a great time while honing my cooking skills. And the food… the food… it was plentiful and the dishes I cooked were almost as good as any Thai restaurant I’ve ever had!
Early morning pickup and menu choices before the cooking class
We were picked up from our hotel by our instructor, Bow in a songthaew. If you are wondering what a songthaew is, it’s a pickup truck with benches and a roof over the back of the truck. Bow then drove around Chiang Mai to pick up the remaining participants.
Our class had a total of seven adults and one adorable five-year-old. Once we arrived at the cooking class, we had a chance to choose what we would cook from a variety of dishes.
I chose the following:
- Appetizer: Spring roll
- Stir-Fried: Cashew nut with chicken
- Soup: Tom yum kung (Hot and sour prawn soup)
- Curry paste: Panang curry paste
Shopping for food
We then left to Ming Muang Market on the east side of the old town where Bow introduced us to some Asian ingredients.
Bow was hilarious, and her English was impeccable. She also offered practical substitutions for ingredients that aren’t common outside of Thailand.
Time to cook Thai food
You will learn something regardless of your cooking skill level. If you are a newbie, you’ll learn basic skills like prepping and organizing ingredients. On the other hand, those who are decent at cooking will see new ways to structure the cooking process. That was the case for me at least.
For anyone who likes to experiment with new dishes, the pain of trying to cook a new dish is figuring out what to do with the leftover ingredients…what do I do with the extra onion? I don’t have enough ___ to cook this dish. Not the case here.
Bow simplified the cooking process. For example, she would ask us to split ingredients into piles and had us cook ingredients in that order.
We each had a station with a gas burner and started cooking our dishes. The setup was perfect for one-on-one time with the instructor. Bow often came by to check on our cooking and offered minor suggestions that helped perfect our dishes.
How did the dishes turn out?
All the dishes tasted as good as it looked! We cooked and ate one dish at a time.
While I’ve made spring rolls many times with my mom as a child, I learned a few tips that never occurred to me:
- Use water to seal the roll (you’ll know what I am talking about if you’ve made spring rolls). I’ve always used a raw egg to seal the spring roll!
- Cook the stuffing first before rolling it into the spring roll wrapper. I never thought of that! I’ve always rolled up the stuffing in the wrapper while the ingredients are still raw!
We had an adorable five-year-old attend the class, and Bow made sure to keep him engaged. He had his own apron and she gave him simple tasks to help his parents with the meal preps. From the looks of it, the boy had a lot of fun.
The transitions between dishes were seamless. While Bow was teaching us how to cook the next dish, two ladies quietly took away the dirty dishes and would lay out the ingredients for the next meal.
The class was very relaxing. The slow pace of the class allowed me to get to know the other guests over meals.
My new appreciation for Thai curry dishes
I developed an obsession for panang curry while in Thailand. My Thai curry obsessions seem to go in phases: Green curry was my go-to dish ten years ago while khao soi was my addiction for the last few years. But now, panang curry has won my heart.
If you want to learn more about the differences in all the Thai curries, you can read my post about delicious food you’ll want to try in Thailand.
I’m now very appreciative of Thai curry dishes because it’s a lot of work! Ingredients are pounded for quite some time to create a curry paste. Even though the task of grounding the ingredients using mortar and pestles was shared amongst myself and two other participants, we unanimously agreed it was a tiring process. Another interesting tidbit we learned while making curry paste is that future wives need to be able to make good curry paste in order to be considered wifey material.
As we left, Bow gave us cookbooks with detailed instructions and photos about the dishes we learned to cook that day.
The facilities at Zabb E Lee’s Thai cooking class
The facilities were clean and modern; you can tell that this cooking school was designed with the guest experience in mind. Little things, like lockers, the variety of drinks, and other thoughtful details made the class enjoyable.
Other tips to keep in mind
- There are lockers with keys at the facilities so you can lock up your stuff if need be
- Water, tea, and coffee are complimentary. If you want to buy soda or beer, bring some cash
- There are two class times, a morning class that runs from 9am to 1:30pm and an evening class, from 4:30pm to 9pm. The morning starts to get hot by 11am, so if you don’t like heat, an evening class might be preferable to you
- You’ll go into a mini food coma. Seriously. The dishes look deceptively small and unfilling, but that’s not the case!
- Each person gets their own wok and mini cooking station! There’s a visitor fee if you don’t want to cook – you still get to enjoy all the meals we do, just no cooking
Stories from the other classmates
What I love most about traveling is meeting new people from different parts of the world and learning their life stories. When I see people, I get curious and ask lots of questions. While I don’t always get the chance to get to know them at a deeper level, I am still in awe with the way they live their lives.
One guy was a solo traveler from Detroit! He told us how he barely traveled for the first thirty years of his life. But then when he turned thirty, he decided to change that and booked a one-way ticket to India. He spent a few months there before hearing that Chiang Mai is another great destination to check out. When asked when he will return home, his answer was “I don’t know, I’m just going with the flow”.
Another couple was from Slovenia and talked about all the places they lived in their younger years. Now that they have a son, their pace of travel is slower, but that doesn’t deter them from going to foreign places. People always say “it’s hard to travel with young children”, but this couple proved the opposite. What I learned was that it is possible to travel, even with a young child; you just learn to adapt to their needs. But that doesn’t mean you can’t travel and have fun with young children.
Thoughts of my first Thai cooking class
And so I left, feeling happy and full. As a matter of fact, I was so full that I went against my original plans and took an afternoon nap. I initially planned to walk back from the cooking class to my hotel, which is about a forty-minute walk. I wanted to pass by more temples but was so tired and so full that I decided to head straight to the hotel. No regrets from the afternoon siesta – I had been traveling for three weeks straight at this point and enjoyed the slow pace.
After this experience, I can understand where cooking classes fit while in Chiang Mai. Between elephant interactions, a day trip to Chiang Rai and days of temple hopping, Thai cooking classes are a great contrast to the other activities.