So we all know how much I love food. While I’m always going on and on about all the amazing things I eat on my travels, the only thing I’m really great at cooking is spicy Chinese stirfry (that’s what happens when you live in the middle of nowhere and have two restaurants within walking distance). Well, guess what guys. I did a cooking class IN THAILAND. Be prepared for mouthwatering food photos because there are loads.
I took a cooking class once upon a time back when I studied in Xi’an, China. Every time I visit Southeast Asia I’m always tempted to take another cooking class, but for some reason I never do! It’s just so expensive, and usually, my travel partner isn’t as interested as me.
Well, you know what’s great about not having a travel partner? I can do whatever the heck I want. Cooking class, bring it on!
A half-day cooking class is one of the top three most popular activities in Chiang Mai (along with elephants and trekking). I knew I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to cook real Thai food, so I booked a class through Withlocals.
While most people just book a cooking class through their hostel, I really wanted to try out Withlocals, and this was my perfect opportunity. Withlocals is a new startup that helps travelers find local experiences. They have everything from massage therapy and cooking classes, to motorbike tours to home stays.
All experiences are “with locals” (hence, the name), and offer great insight into the local country’s culture. I really love companies like this because I’m a huge proponent of supporting the local economy when I travel, and I love working towards positive, sustainable tourism, especially in developing countries. I would much rather spend my money on a locally owned business than a giant foreign enterprise.
How does it work?
After a bit of research, I chose Classic Home Cooking School with Vannee. She had excellent reviews and the price was extremely affordable compared to what I normally see for cooking schools in SE Asia. $24 USD for a half-day cooking class and a visit to the local market? SIGN ME UP! Most of the cooking classes I’ve seen advertised in Vietnam and Malaysia are all $50 USD or more!
My host Vannee was amazing! She runs the cooking school out of her house with her husband as a partner. Everyone at the market knew who she was, and greeted her as we passed by. She’s basically the sassy grandma you never had (but wish you did). She also speaks English, Japanese, and French, which is really impressive!
My cooking group had six people, which was the perfect size. In addition to me, there was a young British couple and a group of three Japanese tourists. Honestly, Japanese tourists are my favorite tourists in the entire world. They are THE BEST. There’s just something about them that makes me so happy. They always seem to be having an amazing time, and they really want to get to know the local culture. These three did not disappoint, and they also spoke perfect English, so we got along very well.
The Market Visit
After an early morning pickup, Vannee gave us a list of dishes to choose from. We could choose one curry, one main dish. and one appetizer or dessert. One of my favorite things about this class was that we were all allowed to chose different items on the menu, meaning we could all try one another’s dishes at the end. That’s 18 dishes to try! I chose spring rolls, green curry (my favorite!), and stir fried chicken with hot basil leaves and chilies (pad krapao gai).
Once we reached the market, Vannee set about choosing our ingredients as we followed her around. She showed us how to pick the right vegetables, which spices were fresh and which weren’t and joyfully tossed bags of meats and vegetables into our arms. She even had a woman give us a demonstration on how coconut milk and powder are made!
Overall, the cooking class was really great! Vannee was such a great teacher, and she made the day really fun. I really enjoyed learning how to crush my own curry spices and chop my ingredients in just the right way, and now I even know how to fry things in a wok!
I’ll be sure to fry up some dumplings now that I’m back in China. Yum Yum!
I think Vannee did a really great job managing the group of us, especially since we were all cooking different things. I can’t believe none of us burnt or ruined anything! I was most surprised by how my sweet and sour dipping sauce for the spring rolls turned out. It was literally the best sweet and sour sauce I have ever tasted in my life.
The best part of the class was the feast of food that came at the end. Since we all cooked different dishes, we all had so many dishes to try! At first, the portions of the dishes you cook seem very small. But at the end, I was so stuffed I couldn’t finish anything! There was so much food leftover, the Japanese group took it to go! I honestly wish I had a second stomach like a cow or a goat…
The cooking class was also the first time I tried mango sticky rice. It was sooooo good! Oh wow. I’m salivating just thinking about it.
The best part? Vannee gives you a cookbook with SEVENTY different recipes. That’s right: 70. You’ll never have a boring dinner again!
click a photo to open the gallery
You HAVE TO Go
If you’re heading to Thailand, you HAVE TO take a cooking class. Trust me, once you get to Chiang Mai everyone and their mother will be reiterating this statement. However, if you don’t have time in Chiang Mai, there are also plenty of incredible Thai cooking classes in Bangkok, too!
My only complaint/suggestion for Classic Home Cooking School is that it would be awesome if they had someone taking photos of us. I only have two photos of myself from the entire afternoon, and only because I asked one of my fellow student chefs to take a photo of me rolling spring rolls. I’m super jealous of some of my friends that got actions shots of themselves cooking stirfry.
Granted, I would still choose Classic Home Cooking School again despite the lack of photos. Bring a friend who likes photography and you’ll be set. I took so many awesome photos of the other chefs (lucky them).
If you’re heading to South or Southeast Asia, be sure to check out Withlocals’ other activities. I can’t wait to test out another activity next time I go to a country on their list. I’d love to do dinner with a local family or an off-the-beaten-path hike or city tour.
Withlocals is also branching into Europe, so if you’re headed there be sure to check out their website over the next few months as they start adding countries and experiences. All I really want to know is when they’re coming to China!
Thanks to Withlocals for hosting me on this incredible experience!