We've decided to write separate blog posts about the experiences that we have chosen to do with our wedding gift money so that we can write about it in a bit more detail to remember it more in the future. It may also help if anyone decides to travel to any of the locations that we visit and wants recommendations. So here goes with the first one…
Whilst visiting Chiang Mai everybody seems to do a cooking school experience, so we figured that as I'm a massive food lover it just had to be done. A long search on Trip Advisor later and Tom Yum Thai Cooking School looked like the best option – it was roughly the same price as the other cooking schools (800B per person which works out at about £18 per person), but seemed to be much more personalised than the other cooking schools. The experience was booked directly through the Tom Yum Thai website and all that was left to do was wait to be picked up (yes pickup was included in the £18! – you wouldn't get that service in the UK).
At exactly the right time a minibus arrived at the hotel, a friendly looking Thai guy jumped out with an umbrella to welcome us in the pouring rain. He introduced himself as Oun and explained that the course starts with a visit to the local market to buy the fresh ingredients for the dishes that had been picked by us. He also let us know that it was just us two on the course today – fine by us!
Once we arrived at the market (after having driven through roads which had effectively turned into rivers during the downpour), Oun presented pieces of paper where we had to choose our selections of courses to make.
First course – noodles: Pad Thai for Josh and Pad See Ew for me
Second course – soup: Chicken in coconut milk for both
Third course – appetiser: Spring roll for both
Fourth course – curry: Panang curry for Josh, Khao Soi curry for me
Once Oun knew what was being made he was able to make a quick list of ingredients, give each of us a shopping basket and then showed us to the market. He explained that the market was only used by locals to get ingredients to make their own food as well as getting takeaway food. He was right, there were no other tourists to be seen and the market was the most 'authentic' experience we'd had so far – including the rat we spotted running from the rain!
Once inside the market there were so many new sights and smells to take in that it was a little overwhelming! But Oun made it all easy by making us smell and touch the new Asian foods that can not be found easily in Europe, some of which don't even have a name in English. Oun explained that the little green round things that on the outside looked a tomato and had the texture of something we'd never come across before were actually aubergines (we'd had them in a lot of Thai dishes prior to the visit and had eaten them with no idea as to what they were). Once all the fresh ingredients were bought Oun then bought snacks for us of Thai doughnuts (do not be fooled by the doughnut name – one had pepper in it!) and rice crackers (much sweeter than the ones found in the UK).
Once safely back in the minibus and away from the rain, Oun picked out the safest route back to his house to avoid any very deep rivers where there used to be roads. During the journey Oun chatted to us about Thai culture and answered all our questions as Thai newbies.
Shortly after Oun pulled up at Tom Yum Thai cooking school (his house) and showed us to the room where the cooking would begin. Oun gives aprons and bandanas to every student to keep clothes clean and sweat (yum) out of the cooking! He then prepares the ingredients (e.g. getting the right amount of aubergines per person) whilst we could snack on the market treats.
Once all the ingredients were ready, cooking commenced for the first noodles course. Oun was a great teacher and showed us how to use a knife properly (particularly me who can't chop for toffee!) as well as explaining why each ingredient was used and where it came from. All the preparation of the courses happened in the indoor kitchen area and then the cooking happened outside at the cooking station underneath a shelter to make it a little bit cooler. Once we had successfully made our first dishes Oun took us back to the dining table so that we could enjoy our freshly made noodles – they were delicious!
The evening carried on in the same way, cook a dish whilst Oun gave handy hints and little anecdotes and then eat the dish and be surprised at how tasty the thing you just made was. It was a perfect evening for someone like me who loves cooking and loves eating food even more. Each portion was well sized which made it very difficult to eat the last portions as my stomach was super full!
Once all the cooking was finished Oun prepared us mango sticky rice with the coconut milk soaked rice that we had helped to make earlier. Whilst eating our dessert Oun joined us to answer more questions about Thailand and to explain what he hopes his future may hold for the business. It was lovely to get to know him and Thai culture a bit better, it was an experience that I hope I never forget as I truly did enjoy every minute of it.
Once the evening came to an end we had group photos and then Oun gave us a recipe book to take home which included the dishes we'd made that night as well as all of the other dishes we could have chosen to make. It was a lovely touch and much appreciated! Oun then drove us home to our hotel and we said our goodbyes.
If anyone finds themselves in Chiang Mai and wants a recommendation for a cooking course, I would wholly recommend Tom Yum Thai Cooking School. I doubt you could find a nicer host or a more personalised experience.