Learning how to cook in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Growing up, I’ve always loved cooking, and besides that one time I accidentally used the garlic olive oil to make box brownies, I’ve been a fairly decent cook in the past. Making pies and holiday treats with my mom is one of my favorite parts of the holidays, I used to be that girl in school who would bring bags of homemade cookies for her friends every Friday, and I’m that girlfriend who goes all out for anniversary dinners and birthdays. Taking culinary classes and learning about food culture at Apicius Culinary School in Florence, Italy for a month a couple summers ago amplified my curiosity about cooking even more, and is one of my most cherished life experiences.

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I have a passion for creating things, cooking is no exception. Therefore, I knew when I was planning my trip to Thailand, a cooking class would be high on my list of things to do, and it also helps that Thai food is one of my favorite types of food. I heard that Chiang Mai was the best place to the learn the ways of Thai cooking, so I started researching different cooking schools that would be the most all encompassing and still within my price range. The cooking school I chose and would highly recommend is Basil Cookery School.

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I chose to attend the morning class, but there’s also an evening class offered if you’re short on time or it works better for your schedule. The morning class includes transportation from your accommodation, 7 dishes (curry paste is one of those), and costs approximately US$30 or 1000 baht. The class goes from about 9am to 3pm, including a 1 hour break between the starters and the main course, and at the end you take away your own cookbook of the dishes you made for the day.

The instructor spoke perfect English, and was the right amount of sass and professionalism. The class size was small, manageable and everyone was friendly. The actual school, located in her home, is clean and well set-up, and it was cool to walk around a local Chiang Mai neighborhood that was void of tourists during our break.

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I was picked up by a tuk tuk from my hostel around 8:30am, there was one other girl already in the back from Taiwan, and we preceded to pick up a couple more people, including an English girl and a German, and traded our respective back stories on the bumpy ride. We were all handed a sheet of paper with the possible dishes we could make for the day, and were asked to circle one from each of the categories: curry, soup, stir-fried, appetizers, and desserts.

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After we made our selections, our first stop was a local market near the school, to grab fresh ingredients for our dishes. And when I say local market, I mean one where no one speaks English and you can pick your own live fish from a tub to take home. Our instructor gave us a run down of the ingredients we would be using for the day, and explained the major differences between Thai vegetables and their well known western counterparts. And let me tell you, Thai baby eggplant, looks and tastes nothing like western eggplant. Mind blown.

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After some time spent at the market, we all jumped back in the tuk tuk and made our way to the cooking school and got to work, the smells from the kitchen were already incredible. Throughout the day I made drunken noodles, panang curry paste and curry, hot and sour prawn soup, stir-fried minced pork with holy basil, fried spring rolls, and sweet sticky rice with mango. Everything was delicious, especially the panang curry and drunken noodles, two of my recent obsessions while in Thailand.

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The school is very much geared towards beginner cooks so it’s not a problem if you have no experience in the kitchen. One of the aspects I didn’t like as much about Basil, was the fact that all of the ingredients were already pretty much measured out and chopped up for us at the start of each dish, meaning we just had to cook it, add the right amount of spice,and we were done. Although, I do understand why this was so with time constraints and the amount of dishes we made. The only “hard work” we had to do was making the curry paste with a mortar and pestle by hand, but even that was actually pretty fun.

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I haven’t had a chance to make any of the dishes since arriving back in Australia, but I hope to start cooking again soon once I have some more free time, and I’ll have to report back if the dishes are just as good when made at home. Regardless, taking a cooking class in Chiang Mai was definitely one of my favorite and most delicious experiences in Thailand, and my travel companion was happy about the leftovers I brought back to our hostel later that night, so really, it was a win-win day.

Have you ever taken a cooking class in a foreign country? Image

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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