The food in Thailand is easily one of its biggest selling points. Irrespective of where you are in the country, you’ll find several different local dishes that are well worth trying. Although Thailand is probably most famous for its green curry, Pad Thai and Tom Yum (shrimp soup), it doesn’t stop there. The best part is that in most regions, you’ll be able to take a cooking class to learn traditional Thai cuisine yourself.
If you decide to visit the north of Thailand, Chiang Mai is a popular choice for tourists. With a lot of history and nature in the area, there’s an awful lot of things to do in Chiang Mai, and a cooking class may not be at the top of your list, but it’s well worth the time, and you’ll come away with a better understanding of the local cuisine. Here’s what you can expect from a Thai Cooking Class in Chiang Mai.
Choosing a Cooking Class
One of the most overwhelming parts of the whole experience is deciding which cooking class in Chiang Mai to choose. There are many different options available, all with their own unique offerings and prices.
You’ll find courses held on organic farms that grow some of their own ingredients and others in the city centre that often include market tours before the class. Generally, a cooking class in Chiang Mai will take half a day, either in the morning or evening, but if you are really into the culinary arts, full-day classes are also available.
Prices for cooking classes in Chiang Mai range from around 700 Baht to 1100 Baht per person for half a day. Full day classes range from 800 Baht to 1600 Baht per person. After feeling more than satisfied by a half day class, I would personally recommend that option. You’re guaranteed to walk away full of Thai food from just half a day!
Classes are available to book online or pretty much every hotel or guesthouse will be able to suggest one in the area. For our cooking class, we chose the highly rated Thai Akha Kitchen.
Thai Akha Kitchen
Akha people are a hill tribe who live in the mountains of northern Thailand as well as across other nearby countries including Laos and Myanmar. Around 80,000 Akha people are living in Thailand, and this cooking class is run by some of them who were born in Thailand.
We chose this class because it combines Thai classics with some Akha food, which is considered healthier and fresher than Thai. The Thai Akha Kitchen class includes:
- Hotel pickup and drop off
- Chiang Mai Gate Market Tour (morning classes only)
- Learn 11 dishes – 3 of which are Akha
- Free water, tea and coffee
- Souvenir cookbook
The hardest part of doing a morning class is waking up early; probably not something everyone wants to do when on holiday or while travelling. The worst part about our day was that neither of us had gotten much sleep. At this point, we’d already been in Thailand for two months and had had no problems adjusting to the food.
However, the day before our cooking class, our luck ran out. We all know what happens so we’ll skip the details but, needless to say, on the morning of our Thai cooking class, we weren’t exactly in the mood for eating.
We were the first ones to arrive at the meeting point near to the market. This gave us a chance to enjoy a peaceful walk around a decorative pond before the rest of the class turned up, and the market tour began. Once everyone arrived, our teacher for the day, Niti, introduced herself and led us towards the busy market. Thai food markets are exciting places; they’re often very busy with a wide range of products from the staples to the obscure.
Niti took us from stall to stall, showing us the local ingredients and buying the ones necessary for the morning’s cooking class. Along the way, we were encouraged to try some of the stranger foods available. Given the misfortune of our previous evening, we were less than enthusiastic about this part of the tour but persevered and gave things a go as far as we could stomach.
Thai Market Food
Some of the genuinely nice highlights included deep fried pumpkin, jackfruit, baby mangoes and Chiang Mai sausage, a local favourite often eaten with sticky rice. However, the market tour doesn’t avoid the foods that we in the west would likely consider to be ‘disgusting’.
Niti picked up a handful of century eggs to have back at the kitchen. Century eggs, identified by their pink shell, are preserved in a clay mixture for weeks. The process turns the egg yolk grey and the egg white into an odd brown jelly. Very unappealing.
We also had the opportunity to try a stew of ‘mystery meat’ as Niti put it. One look at the stew and it was clear that the pieces of ‘mystery meat’ were a suspicious oval shape. We all knew what it was without confirmation, yet we all still tried the meat which was, unsurprisingly, pig testicles. I genuinely struggled to keep it down. It’s not that it tasted terrible. Instead, it was more the thought about what it was that nearly got the better of me.
Finally, onto our last stop and another stew, this time made with chicken and red ant eggs. I politely declined this invitation, but Katie stepped up and gave it a go. Red ant eggs are famous in the north of Thailand and pop in your mouth when you bite into them, or so I’ve been told. If you’ve ever tried Popping Boba, the popular topping for frozen yoghurt, then imagine that, but ant flavoured. After this, we were happy to leave the market and get on with cooking some more ‘normal’ food.
Thai Cooking Class
The Thai Akha Kitchen cooking class takes place in an enclosed courtyard, so you’re basically outside. However, we had fans to cool us down. Despite the early start, I still believe that doing the class during the morning is better to avoid the many mosquitoes during the evening.
Everyone in the class had their own station and a menu to choose the dishes they wanted to make. A wonderful thing about Thai Akha Kitchen is that you work independently, so you’re not forced to cook recipes that other people want.
First up were the appetisers and one of the highlights of the day, spring rolls. I can get bored with many foods, but I’m always in the mood for a deep-fried roll of awesome. To be honest, I’d be happy doing a cooking class where all we did was make different types of spring rolls.
The best part about spring rolls is that they’re not that difficult to make. It’s like preparing a baby burrito of pork and vegetables, and then gently deep-frying it to perfection. Unfortunately, we only got to have one each, but with the amount of food we’d eat that morning, I couldn’t complain. Our spring rolls came alongside a spicy papaya salad and our choice of soup.
Curry & Stir Fry
For the main courses, I opted for a massaman chicken curry, one of my favourite foods in Thailand, as well as stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts. The curious thing about Thai food is that it looks quite simple, yet every dish seems to include a hundred different ingredients. The spices used in each were fascinating, especially when creating the curry pastes.
We threw together our meals using a combination of familiar elements such as garlic, shallots and lemongrass along with others we don’t get back home like galangal and kaffir lime. Galangal looks a little bit like ginger, sometimes referred to as ‘Thai ginger’. In the UK, it’s easy to find dried kaffir lime leaves, but the actual fruit is pretty impossible to come by.
Akha Dishes & Dessert
To get a little taster of Akha food, we got to learn three different side dishes. Sapi Thong, an Akha salad and an Akha Soup. Sapi Thong is a spicy tomato dipping sauce that Akha people eat on most days, and the Akha salad is a fresh combination of tomatoes and cucumbers with a citrus seasoning. The soup is made using winter melon known locally as ‘fuk kiow’ and is pronounced ‘fuk you’ much to everyone’s amusement.
In fact, you’ll see a lot of ‘fuk’ in Thailand since it means squash or any member of the pumpkin family. Niti is well aware of how much this innocent word amuses us westerners and likes to use it as much as possible!
If all the courses so far weren’t enough, we finished our meal with desserts of pumpkin in coconut milk and a classic mango sticky rice. Personally, I’m not a fan of the pumpkin dessert as it’s very soupy, but there’s always room for mango sticky rice.
Finally, after all the cooking concluded, we all sat down together at the table and ate as much as we humanly could. However, there was plenty of leftovers by the end of it, and many participants ended up taking some food home. When booking our class, we wanted to get our money’s worth of food, and we definitely weren’t disappointed!
Despite having a difficult start to the day, a few hours and 11 dishes later, we were full. Not wanting to think about any more food, we probably left a few pounds heavier than when we arrived.
All in all, a cooking class in Chiang Mai is a great experience to include in your visit. Not only is it a helpful and new skill to learn, but you get to understand the local cuisine better once you prepare it yourself. Moreover, getting a proper market tour helps you identify the strange foods you’ll see a lot of in Thailand.
The experience of a Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai is a must for gourmands but is also a brilliant insight into the local culture and traditions that never fail to impress and amuse.
About the Author: Oli is the British-born creator of Not Brits Abroad. He has been travelling full-time with his partner, Katie, since September 2018 when they both quit their jobs to explore the world. They have since spent most of their time travelling around Europe and Asia. Although Oli enjoys travel and new experiences, he is often overly honest with his disappointments, as is the British way. You can follow their travels on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.