A cooking class in a foreign country is a great way to experience local markets and learn to make popular dishes. In our Thai cooking class during our last trip to Southeast Asia, we were able to shop in a market frequented by Thai locals and try our hand at making Thailand’s most popular dishes, including Pad Thai and Tom Yum Soup. Today we’ll share our experience at Thai Cooking Hua Hin and help you decide if a cooking class in a foreign country is right for you!
What to Expect When Taking a Thai Cooking Class
We were excited to learn how to make Thai dishes from locals during our cooking class in Hua Hin. Watching street vendors quickly throw together some of the best Pad Thai we’d ever had made us feel like we could learn to make killer Thai food at home! We hoped that a cooking class would provide us with the inside scoop on techniques for preparing and cooking popular Thai dishes.
If you’ve talked to anyone who’s vacationed in Thailand, they’ve probably had a lot of great things to say about the food. While Thai food has a reputation for being spicy, it’s really based on a balance between different flavors – spicy, sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Each dish combines several of the flavors, and a meal can incorporate a contrast in flavors between two or three different dishes. This is one reason Thai people often share meals among an entire group by eating family style.
One distinctive aspect of Thai food is the use of fresh ingredients in every dish, with special attention to vegetables, herbs and spices. Most restaurants throughout Thailand offer expansive menus of Thai and western fare, but there are regional variations in typical Thai dishes. This is primarily due to the influences of neighboring countries such as China, Laos and Myanmar.
Learning About The Ingredients of Thai Food at a Local Market
Most Thai cooking classes start out at a local market where instructors will take the class through crowded stalls to explain how Thai people do their grocery shopping. Locals often shop daily to get the freshest ingredients. We enjoyed checking out the market with a guide who was able to describe many of the more unique foods and explain how the diverse array of ingredients are harvested, prepared or processed on their way to the market.
One big surprise from our visit to the market was that most Thai markets offer ingredients like rice noodles and coconut milk fresh, which I hadn’t even considered as a possibility. When making Asian food in the USA, I was very accustomed to picking up a can of coconut milk or a package of rice noodles. Realizing that even these items were made fresh in Thailand went a long way to helping me understand why Thai food tasted so much more vibrant in Thailand than it did at home.
Making Our Own Tasty Thai Dishes (With a Lot of Help)
After the market, a van picked us up to transport us to the cooking school to begin preparing all the ingredients for our dishes. We started by learning how coconut milk is made fresh in Thailand. Families used to prepare the coconut pulp using a manual grater (and we got to try the technique out ourselves), but now machines are used to grind the coconuts.
We chopped and prepped a bunch of herbs to make green curry paste. The instructors demonstrated how to prepare each ingredient, and we each took turns prepping a little of each. It was a great way to learn how to make curry paste from start to finish. Once our curry paste was ready, we assembled the rest of the ingredients we needed to make green curry chicken.
Our next dish was Tom Yum Soup with shrimp. The process of preparing the ingredients was even quicker after we had built up our technique while making the green curry with chicken, so we were eating our soup in no time.We liked that our instructor gave us a couple options on how to make the soup – notably that some Tom Yum recipes use a coconut milk base while others use a water and chicken, fish or mushroom stock.
At this point, we were already feeling full! But, who can’t make room for Thailand’s most ubiquitous dish – Pad Thai! We got to work preparing ingredients for our last dish and were surprised at how much ingredient prep went into Pad Thai. The many times we had ordered it prepared in street stalls or restaurants it seemed to be ready near instantly!
Once we turned on the burners of our cook-stoves, we realized that properly cooking Pad Thai happens at a frenzied pace. I have to give credit to our instructors for watching all of us prepare the dish simultaneously and urging each of us to add the ingredients at the correct time. The five minutes cooking felt like a blur (and a bit like dinner rush in Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen), but everyone’s Pad Thai turned out great!
Now we were officiall ready to throw in the towel and take a nap…. until our instructor told us that mango sticky rice was the last thing on the menu. She demonstrated how to prepare the dish but did most of the work. This gave us a welcome rest since we were stuffed and a lot of effort goes into making this awesome and authentically-Thai dessert.
Our instructor had already soaked the rice, which needs to be done for 6 hours before it can be prepared. She began by showing us how to steam the rice in a basket lined with cheese cloth. Next, the rice is mixed with coconut cream, sugar and salt. This may not seem like a big deal, but we all took turns mixing in the rice. It took quite a bit of effort to get to a consistent end-product.
Once we had the rice ready to go we cut up some mangoes and noshed on our dessert. Above all, the experience made me very willing to pay the few dollars for mango sticky rice when we wanted it. Knowing that the dessert is laborious to prepare and must be served fresh (within a couple hours of being made) makes good mango sticky rice that much sweeter.
Taking a Thai cooking class was a highlight of our trip to Thailand, and we would highly recommend Thai Cooking Hua Hin. With the many classes offered all over Thailand, we would love to hear about your experiences. Where did you take a great Thai cooking class? What was your favorite dish? What surprised you about Thai cooking? Leave us a comment!