Learning how to cook Thai: in the classroom and on the street

March 14, 2012 in Places,Provisions,Thailand

This is the story of two Thai cooking classes: one planned for and paid for and expertly executed, and other, an organic connection that sprung up on the street in Chiang Mai.

Christine Amorose at Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School, Thailand

At Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School, we learned about the idiosycrancies of common Thai ingredients in a serene suburban kitchen. After watching a demonstration by a knowledgeable and fun Thai chef, we set off to replicate the dish with pre-cut veggies and pre-portioned sauces at our own mini cooking station. We cooked and enjoyed hot and sour prawn soup, green curry with chicken, fish cakes, pad thai fried noodles, minced chicken salad and water chestnuts with sugar syrup and coconut milk.

Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School classroom

Thai cooking is a lot simpler than I realized: with the right ingredients, proper preparation and healthy dose of spice, it only takes minutes to throw it all in a pot and cook it up. The cooking class at Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School sent me home with a new confidence to dare Asian cooking, and a recipe book full of the details I need to know.

Christine Amorose & new friend at Thai street food cart, Chiang Mai, Thailand

But I really learned about the nature of Thai cooking that night. Two nights before, I had plopped down at a street cart around the corner with my guesthouse and simply smiled and made “I’m hungry” motions. Sitting on her motorbike seat, the lady asked me “spicy or no spicy” and then started throwing together the ingredients for papaya salad. Perfect, I thought–made with shredded green papaya, it’s one of my fresh and fiery Thai favorites. As I ate my salad, the cook sat down with me and we had a conversation the only way you can when you don’t speak a common language: a lot of smiles, gestures and genuine appreciation for each other’s company. “Next time, you make,” she told me as I left–and I decided to take her up on that, even after a full day of Thai cooking and eating.

Kitchen on a Thai street food motorbike, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Her face lit up as I walked to the cart–isn’t it a wonderful feeling to be recognized? She immediately got off her motorbike, gave me a hug and then waved me onto the seat. So I made myself comfortable and looked in awe at the makeshift kitchen: everything she needed was within reach and strapped onto the side of her motorbike, the ultimate example of efficiency. We laughed as I slowly grated the green papaya, smashed the garlic and tomatoes with her mortar and pestle and mixed in some chili. Locals and foreigners alike stared as they passed: what was the farung doing making her own dinner?

Christine Amorose enjoys Thai street food cart papaya salad in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I couldn’t stop smiling (and sweating–perhaps I had been a bit too generous with the chili) as I ate my papaya salad out of a styrofoam dish on a plastic chair. The formal class that morning had been informative, and the food was delicious–but there’s something more intimately rewarding about building a bond and learning from a friend.

What’s your best learning-from-a-local story? 

If you’re staying at Gatwick Hotels or  Bristol Airport Hotels before heading over to Thailand, save up for appetite for once you get here! 

  • Great story!!  As an aspiring travel writer, I love the juxtaposition between your experience in class vs. the real deal on the street!  

  • I am really digging the street stall cooking class. Who has time to prepare something so big anyways. That is why the street food is probably more my style.

  • budgetjan

    An excellent post.  Maybe the idea of farang making their own dinner will spread amongst the street stalls!

  • Great post!  I’m planning on taking a cooking class when I visit Chiang Mai later this summer!  Do you have any advice on fool-proof recipes?  Or anything that can be made with ingredients available in the US?  I’d love to see some of your favorite recipes!

  • LostInCheeseland

    So fun! Is there any need to act with caution when it comes to street food in Thailand? In Shanghai, we would’ve been sick as dogs had we tried any (we know because a few of our fellow travelers took the risk and ended up miserable). Who takes the photos of you? So cute!

  • Very cool! I keep reading about people taking cooking classes while travelling and I so want to do that as well one of these days, but your impromtu food cart class sounds like the much more authentic experience.

  • camorose

    Glad you enjoyed it–it all happened on the same day, so it was just such a contrast in real life!

  • camorose

    Ha! I bet it would–people would love it!

  • camorose

    I’m going to test some out in the States this week–so I’ll be able to report back more soon!

  • camorose

    I honestly ate street food every day and didn’t have any problems! I prefer it because a) you can see them cooking your food and b) if it’s busy, you know the ingredients are fresh. And you would miss out on SO MUCH if you went to Thailand and didn’t eat the street food–had all of my best meals there! As for the photos…just random strangers! The one at the street cart was fun, it was a Thai guy who had no idea how to work a SLR and I had no idea how to explain more clearly what button to push. Adventures!

  • camorose

    One of my absolute favorite things to in a new place–love cooking classes! If only I could figure out a way to get those more authentic, impromptu connections in each city too…

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