Last May 2018, I was finally able to tick something off my bucket list! I enrolled in a cooking class in Chiang Mai, northern city of Thailand, to experience and learn how to prepare authentic Thai cuisine. I love Thai food! I love the combination of sweet and spicy flavors with the exploding aroma from different herbs and spices. I also like the spicy coconut milk-based Thai dishes as I hail from Bicol region in the Philippines where we also use a lot of coconut milk—whether in meat, vegetables, fruits, or just about anything!
It is generally expensive to eat Thai food in the Philippines, and sometimes it does not meet my expectations. So why not learn how to prepare my own Thai food, right?
Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre
My boyfriend and I joined the evening class of Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre, the first cooking center in Chiang Mai. It is conveniently located at the heart of Chiang Mai at 32 Loi Khroa Road, Soi 1. T. Chang Klan. A Muang, Chiang Mai. We paid 800 baht each for the evening class, which includes a hands-on experience—from chopping to cooking five traditional dishes. We also got to experience going to the local market where the locals buy their ingredients.
Ming Muang Market (Somphet Market)
After picking up all the students, the class started with a market visit at around 5:00 in the afternoon at the Ming Muang Market, also known as Somphet Market. It is an old-style wooden-structure and an open-air market. It is also one of the oldest local markets in Chiang Mai. The market visit was done to familiarize the students with local Thai ingredients. The cooking instructor accompanied us and showed us some of the common Thai ingredients and explained their uses and characteristics. He also let us smell and closely examine the ingredients. Our Thai instructor was also well versed in English so he was able to explain about the ingredients very well.
I really appreciated the market visit as I was able to familiarize myself with Thai ingredients, which I needed when I get back to my country to know what ingredients I have to look for, or what I can substitute it with if I cannot find the same ingredients. It is important to know what the fresh ingredients look like, instead of just buying the dried ones that are already packaged.
Honestly, it is not as hard as I thought to find the same ingredients in the Philippines. For example, galangal—one of the main ingredients in Thai dishes—although not as popular in the Philippines is actually also available in some local Philippine markets. In fact, my grandmother used to cook galangal together with alamang (fermented krill). We call galangal as langkwas in Bicol. Although Thai dishes have strong flavors that are different from Philippine dishes, I’m glad to know that there are still some similarities in terms of ingredients that I can relate with. The Philippines and Thailand are both South East Asian countries anyway.
In Metro Manila, I buy my ingredients at Farmers’ Market in Cubao. I found a stall there named Beth Lolita which sells all the ingredients I needed for Thai cooking—kaffir lime and kaffir lime leaves, galangal, coriander leaves and seeds, cumin seeds, and other spices. There are also other stalls there that sell some of the ingredients, but kaffir lime is pretty hard to find.
After the market tour, we headed back to the Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre. We had to pick the five dishes that we want to make ahead of time so they can prepare the needed ingredients. We were then ushered to a long table where we had to process the ingredients. There were two instructors explaining for the five students showing us how to chop and handle the ingredients. They then let us complete the rest after they showed us how to do it. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, they can tweak the ingredients of the dishes for you as well.
Upon preparing the ingredients, we were assigned to our individual stoves to cook our own dishes. We were arranged based on the dishes that we wanted to cook, so it was easy for the instructors to coach us. For the first dish, we all had to prepare Porpia Tord or Spring Rolls with beansprouts and tofu. We also have beansprout spring rolls in the Philippines, which is commonly sold in the streets of Manila for around 5 to 10 pesos. But the Thai spring rolls have a sweet and savory taste, while the ones we have in the Philippines is just savory. They also have a sweet and spicy dip for the Thai spring rolls, which unfortunately were given to us already prepared. In the Philippines, we usually use spiced vinegar as a dip. I definitely dig both, though I really hoped we were able to prepare the Thai sauce as well.
The second dish category was soup-based. I chose the famous Tom Yum Goong or prawns in coconut milk soup. Tom Yum Goong was the first Thai dish that I ever tasted, and I fell in love with Thai cuisine ever since! We started by making our own Thai Chili paste, which is one of the most important ingredients in Tom Yum. I am happy to learn the basics, even though you can easily buy Thai chili paste in a jar at Thai groceries.
It was exciting to prepare Tom Yum Goong as it was coconut milk-based. I learned the difference in how they prepare coconut milk-based food the Thai way. In Bicol, we had to overcook the coconut milk until the coconut oil comes out. On the other hand, we were taught how to do it differently in the cookery centre as they do not like overcooking the coconut milk in Thailand. Knowing how to prepare my own Tom Yum Goong is one of my achievements in 2018! Haha. I cooked it a few times after I went back home.
After the second dish, we had to bring our food to the dining table and eat the food we prepared. Just a tip, you can bring your own container to take home your leftovers as you have to eat all the dishes you prepared. Although I’m a voracious eater (a.k.a matakaw) myself, I was still not able to finish the last dishes as I was already full from the Spring Rolls and Tom Yum.
For the third and fourth dishes we had to prepare our own curry paste, and then use it in another dish—that is counted as two dishes already. I chose green curry paste or Namprik Gaenkieow Wan and used it to cook Chicken with Green Curry or Gaeng Kieow Wan Gai. There are also a lot of ready-made curry pastes that you can buy in different Thai groceries and markets, but the home-made one is still much flavorful. Also, whenever I want to buy Thai curry paste packets, it is now easier for me to choose a brand as I can compare the ingredients that were used by different brands.
The last dish was noodle-based. I of course chose the famous Pad Thai or Thai Style Fried Noodles. I was honestly not a fan of Pad Thai before, but after trying the Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre’s recipe, I became a convert! After cooking our last dishes, we again went to the dining table to eat the food we prepared. We did not get certificates as certificates were only given for the whole day classes, but we ended with full bellies and lots of knowledge.
Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre’s kitchen is pretty basic and does not look fancy at all, but they will definitely teach you well out there. You can also ask more questions to the instructors and they will gladly explain to you what you want to know and give you more cooking tips. It also helped that the class was small and we had two instructors for a class of five, so the instructors were able to focus to each of the students although we chose different dishes to cook. You can also lessen the chilies if you are not into spicy food. Although they had fixed recipes, they were always asking the students if we want to tweak some of the ingredients based on our own liking.
We were also given a free Thai cuisine Recipe Book based on the cookery centre owner’s family recipe. I definitely needed the recipe book more than the certificate. It was really handy when I started cooking Thai dishes at home. Also, their family recipe is definitely tasty!
Even if you do not know how to cook fancy dishes, you will definitely learn a lot from the class like I did!
Hi! I’m Gale, a Crocheter, Crafter, Wanderer, and Researcher/ Ethnographer from the Philippines.
Let me share with you my crochet and craft projects, work side-trips, local recipes and food picks, and language and cultural tidbids– basically my struggle to find sparkle of joy in this world.