I love Thailand, what a gorgeous far-flung country filled with lush jungles, limestone cliff-lined beaches, and ancient temples. During my first trip in 2015, following a tip from a fellow traveler, I signed up for a Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai which is the best way to not only learn the culinary scene but get a glimpse into the culture. The experience remains one of the best of trip for myself and those in my travel party. In the years since, we’ve retold the story’s, recreated the dishes and shared the recipe book. Each time I return, a Thai cooking class is top of the itinerary. Here are a few reasons why you should add this can’t miss experience to yours.
Discover Thai culture through food.
Exploring a new cuisine is the best way to get a glimpse into their culture. During the class, the teacher shares practical cooking tips along with insight into the Thai way of life. Like why Thai people who live in big cities eat their meals out due to their small living spaces. Their world-class street food scene is a direct reflection of that. Never hesitate to plop down on a low-set plastic stool or claim a little elbow room at a nearby food cart, street food is often some of the best and freshest in the country. You’ll also learn fun facts like how chopsticks are saved for noodle dishes and everything else is eaten with a spoon and fork, just because you discovered a traditional Thai dish you love in Krabi that doesn’t mean you’ll find it on a menu in Chiang Mai and meals are almost always served family-style as sharing food is a form of connection. Lastly, food presentation is as important as a flavor, as gorgeous plating is a way to show respect and appreciation to the ingredients, as regionally menus are strongly influenced by fresh local produce.
Explore Thai markets
Thai markets are big, loud, crowded, hot and can feel a bit like organized chaos. Half the crowd (aka the locals) is flowing to a rhythm that feels natural and intuitive while the other half is experiencing full-on sensory overload. They are also delightfully energetic, welcoming and an experience not to miss for their fresh produce and great street food. It’s best to explore the markets with an expert guide who can also recommend the best ones to visit, their favorite stalls and how to pick the best produce. There are floating markets, weekend markets and smaller local markets with less crowds, so you can spend more time chatting to the stallholders, learning what to look for and how the flow of the market works. The thing about going with a guide is they’ll give you tips on negotiation, as you’ll quickly learn that in the markets of Thailand haggling on the price is not only expected, it’s encouraged.
Discover unique ingredients
Thai food is often filled with ingredients unique to Thailand. So taking a cooking class at the beginning of your trip, or exploring Thai markets with a guide is the best way to familiarize yourself with many of the traditional spices and fresh fruits. Tropical fruits are one of the first things you’ll notice as you’ll see them everywhere and the shortlist includes mangosteen, rambutan, dragon fruits, and guava. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, opt for durian, the world’s most polarizing fruit. Banned in many hotels and public spaces for its strong pungent scent, it’s beloved by the local people. A guide will also teach you the differences between ginger and galangal, the spicier Thai version, as well as kaffir limes and peppery Thai basil.
Learn new skills to take home
By embracing the opportunity to learn from a professionally trained Thai chef, you’ll master the art of cooking in a wok and why selecting oils like peanut, palm, or coconut are essential because they create very little smoke, something you’ll appreciate when it’s your turn to stand over the scalding wok.
It’s also an incredible opportunity to learn how to create dishes from scratch with fresh herbs and spices, Thai cooking uses very few canned or jarred ingredients. The delicious pastes are created by hand using the morning market haul in a mortar and pestle. Perhaps these newfound skills will serve as an inspiration to add a bit of Thai basil or lemongrass to your at home herb garden. Of course, the best part of mastering these skills is your love affair with Thailand and Thai cuisine can live on long after you board your flight home.
Best Thai Cooking Classes
Cooking Schools in Bangkok
Blue Elephant Cooking School Bangkok is the most respected and well-known cooking school and offers multiple daily classes which starts with a trip to the market in the morning to pick your produce before you prepare 4-5 dishes. Their menu is posted ahead of time and changes daily so check it out if there is anything specific you’re hoping to master. We also recommend Baipai Thai Cooking School, which is set in a relaxed garden just outside the city and this full-day class that includes a stop at the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.
Thai Cooking Schools in Chiang Mai
Sign up for a cooking class at the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai, which are held in their gorgeous indoor/outdoor kitchen surrounded by banyan trees. . The resort offers three small group classes each day and the morning class is our favorite because it includes a visit to the local market. We also recommend May Kaidee’s for those looking for a vegetarian menu or this half-day, chef lead class that stops at the Siri Wattana Market.
Thai Cooking Class in Phuket
There is also a Blue Elephant Cooking School in Phuket and if learning how to master Thai cooking from professional chefs isn’t enough, you will eat your handiwork in the restaurant, a renovated Sino-Portuguese style former governor’s house in the historic part of Phuket, after. Or order from the menu. We also recommend this small-group tour where you’ll spend an afternoon cooking in a local kitchen with a tranquil garden and this 4.5-hour class that includes food carving and a stop at the local market. Both classes are small, so you can expect individual attention and get to have a say in what dishes you want to master.
Thai Cooking Classes Online
To bring a touch of Thailand to your kitchen at home, you can sign up for a Thai cooking class online. The Spice Up Life with Thai Food class through Airbnb experiences lasts an hour and is offered in a class or private instruction format. You will be given a list of ingredients you need to gather beforehand and then cook along with your instructor. If you go for a private class, you get to select the dishes and techniques you want to learn like Panang curry, Tom Kha soup, how to make your own curry paste and homemade tempeh. We also recommend My Thai Cooking with options for private and group instruction as well as video tutorials you can follow along in your own time.