Friday is food day here at Amateur Vagrant (or it is when I am on the ball, anyway), so I thought I’d use this chance to tell you about our family trip to Thai Farm Cooking School in Chiang Mai while we were recently on holiday in Thailand.
There are so many cooking schools in Chiang Mai to choose from that it was hard to make a decision, but what sold our family group on Thai Farm Cooking School was that it was rated number one on Trip Advisor, it included a visit to the wet market before we started cooking, and it was all day.
That’s the thing with Trip Advisor, though, isn’t it? Once something becomes number one, then it becomes every traveler’s first choice. But how many people are actually able to go to multiple cooking schools and do a thoughtful comparison? Most of us don’t have that kind of time or money budget.
We had a good experience, as a family, at Thai Farm Cooking School, but nothing that made me think it would be categorically better than the other schools that offered shorter sessions and/or lower prices.
And if you already know how to cook, if you already know how to prepare some basic Thai dishes, and you already know your way around an Asian grocery store, I am not sure you need to go to any Thai cooking school at all.
Let me get real: I gave Thai Farm Cooking School five stars on Trip Advisor cause it was a nice day and my family liked it.
There are shorter classes, cheaper classes, and classes in town.
And if you really know how to cook, this won’t add much to your repertoire.
But if you want to have a nice day with friends or family, go ahead! I’ll vouch for this place. We had fun.
So the trip to the market was cool. I wish I knew what market we went to because it wasn’t too far from where we stayed at Galare Guest House near the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. We had croissant sandwiches for breakfast that day and I regretted it as soon as we got to the market because there was so much good local food being prepared and I wasn’t even hungry and I was getting ready to go cook like five dishes, too, so there was no sense in buying anything extra.
We did buy some fried bugs for a little experiment of our own, though.
At the market, our teacher introduced us to a few of the ingredients we’d be using and then left us on our own for forty minutes. I don’t feel like I got much from that hour at the market. But if you’ve never been to a wet market before or never used Thai ingredients, you will find it very interesting.
Anyway, I’d like to find out what market that was and go back because it was nice and neat and full of good food.
Then we drove about 45 minutes out to the “farm”. We did not see an actual “farm”, but we got a nice tour of a garden where we smelled lots of fresh herbs and were introduced to some other ingredients, like the bitter mini eggplants that are in red and green curry and the small, round Thai eggplants. I had never heard of or used Thai parsley before, so I was glad for the introduction to that very fragrant herb.
We made two dishes right away–I chose coconut soup and pad thai. Everything was pretty much already prepped in trays for us, and we measured the soy sauce and oil, etc, into a small bowl with either a teaspoon or a tablespoon. It was basically foolproof. Again, if you’ve never cooked Thai food before, I think it would be very interesting. But I have my favorite pad thai recipe already, and it’s a real Thai recipe and I’ve been using it for years, so I didn’t feel like I learned a lot at this point.
I don’t want to sound like I am claiming I know all about Thai food, but I want to say that even though this class was taught by a Thai chef, it was a class for noobs.
I know what a tablespoon is!
I have a gas stove!
Anyway, we made those two dishes pretty quick and then we were given about an hour to eat. Maybe by then it was already noon or close to it. We walked around the “farm” a bit, but really, there wasn’t much to explore.
After lunch, we all made our own curry paste with a mortar and pestle. That was cool! I’ve never made my own curry paste with fresh ingredients before. I made a yellow curry paste so I could make that heavenly yellow curry with potatoes.
Sweet baby Jesus, there is maybe nothing better to eat than Asian food with potatoes. That includes Indian dishes made with potatoes, Thai yellow curry, and mouth-watering “big plate chicken” (da pan ji) from Western China/Uzbekistan. Even French fries with Thai chili paste are awesome.
I love potatoes. So much.
Anyway, we made curry and I made chicken with basil but I was getting so full now that I couldn’t finish what I made. In fact, everyone was passing their leftovers to J, but not even he could finish it all. Our teacher demonstrated how to make green papaya salad with a mortar and pestle while we were eating, and we all sampled that as well.
We had about an hour to eat, and mostly we just sat and tried to get it in us. Then it was time to make dessert. By then, I was prepared to be kinda bored making “bananas in coconut milk”, but the teacher introduced us to pandan, another ingredient I’d never used before. She said it was also called “Thai vanilla” in English, and that I could use vanilla as a substitute.
Yay! New info!
Anyway, the bananas in coconut milk was simple, but it tasted like the most wonderful banana pudding you’ve ever had. I thought I was full, but I ate/drank the whole bowl.
Then we all got some nice little cookbooks including recipes we hadn’t even made. We were wrapped up by about 3:00. All in all, I’d say we spent about two hours cooking: the rest of it included the trip to the market, travel time, the introduction to the garden, and the extra time we were given to eat and occupy ourselves. It was very laid-back, which was fine, but if you don’t want to give up a whole morning and afternoon to a cooking class, I think you could certainly try a different cooking school. There were cheaper options, too. But this school was well-run, clean, the equipment all worked, the instructor was very knowledgeable and professional, and the food we made was delicious, so I still think we had a great experience.