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Let’s Start with Boiling Water: A Chiang Mai Cooking Class for the Domestically Challenged

If you asked me friends to describe me I would like to think they might mention my fierce loyalty, or my thoughtful gift giving skills. But in reality, they probably get in a jab about my creative driving or, more infamously, my total lack of skill when it comes to matters of the kitchen.

This reputation may or may not be the result of incidents including but not limited to: mindlessly putting a tin can in the microwave whilst chatting on the phone, surviving four years of college almost exclusively on frozen dinners, and once summoning the Cayman Islands Fire Department when I attempted to prepare boxed macaroni and cheese for dinner. (That last one happened to be in the same week that I dyed my ex’s full batch of work uniforms pink in the laundry, so at least I’m consistent in my domestic failures).

While swinging back through Chiang Mai for a weekend on my way back down to Bangkok, I decided to try to rectify my lack of basic life skills at one of the cities’ abundance of cooking schools. I called around to a few and while none of them took me seriously when I asked if they covered beginner-level chopping, I eventually settled on Asia Scenic.

Asia Scenic

The day started with tea at the school’s downtown location, where we met our classmates and planned our menus for the day. As part of the full day course, we could each pick from several options for each of the five courses. I chose chicken cashew nut from the stir fried menu, spring rolls from the appetizer menu, tom sab from the soup menu, massaman curry from the curry menu, and sticky rice with mango from the dessert menu. I immediately cursed myself for bothering to eat anything in the days leading up to the class.

Next, we popped to a local market to pick up supplies for the day and learn about how to spot the freshest ingredients. I was surprised to find the market hidden away in a corner of town I walked by all the time, but had never ventured into. And I was thrilled to find a Coke Light to wash my Advil down with — future note to self, don’t go out drinking and dancing all night before a full day activity that involves eating spicy food and handling raw meat.

Asia Scenic

Asia Scenic

Asia Scenic

Asia Scenic

Luckily I had a full twenty minute journey to both reflect on my poor decision making from the night before and also to suss out the skill level of my fellow chefs-in-training. I quickly inferred from my eavesdropping that all seemed knowledgeable on how chop an onion and none had ever been responsible for setting off the fire alarms of an entire apartment complex. Dismayed, I accepted that I was firmly at the bottom of this class’s bell curve.

We soon arrived at the charming organic farm where we would spend the day — one of my main motivations for choosing Asia Scenic over the plethora of other available schools.

Asia Scenic

Asia Scenic

Asia Scenic

Donning Vietnamese-style rice hats, our instructor Anne gave us a quick tour around the 1.6 acre farm. We learned about how local herbs differed from the the ones we might be used to from home (ha! they assume I know what herbs are!), and dutifully repeated the Thai names for vegetables we would be using throughout the day (as if I knew their English names).

Asia Scenic

Before I knew it we were ditching the hats and throwing on bright pink aprons, and Anne was doling out the ingredients for our first dish of the day. I liked that things were flexible — when I made an offhand remark about my dislike for mushrooms, Anne subbed in carrots for me instead.

Asia Scenic

Asia Scenic

Asia Scenic

Asia Scenic

After chopping up the ingredients and stir frying them together in the wok, it was time to eat. I was surprised how simple one of my favorite Thai dishes was — though I still managed to make mine a bit too salty (and if I’m calling it too salty, believe me, it’s too salty.) It was quite fun to tuck in and enjoy the tiny portions of the dishes we had all just made — and the portions definitely had to be tiny, because we would be doing nothing but eating all day.

Next up, spring rolls! I nearly burst with pride when the class voted my folding to be the best. Who knew all those years of crafting would finally pay off in the kitchen?!

Asia Scenic

Asia Scenic

Asia Scenic

I wasn’t overly excited by the soup course, mostly because, well, I don’t really like any Thai soups. Blasphemy, I know, but I’m more of a creamy broccoli soup kind of girl. Luckily, the soup lesson was followed by a much needed break time, or as I took it, kick-MM-out-of-the-hammock-and-nap time.

Asia Scenic

Asia Scenic

Next up was the highlight of the day: curry making time! My relationship with massaman curry is one of my great Thailand love affairs, and yet I couldn’t even begin to imagine how it was made. We went right down to basics, gathering fifteen ingredients in order to grind up our own curry pastes.

Asia Scenic

Asia Scenic

Asia Scenic

Fun as the whole mortar grinding process was, I don’t think I’d replicate that at home — it took ages! Luckily, I picked up some fairly authentic curry powder in the market that morning should I want to whip up an almost-homemade version at home. Oh massaman, how I love you.

I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to fit one more thing into my stomach when it came time to make dessert. Which dessert to make had been the hardest decision of the morning — I was torn between sweet sticky rice with mango, banana and coconut milk, and deep friend banana. I went with the first choice, and I wasn’t disappointed. This day completely reignited my love for this quintessential sweet Thai snack.

Asia Scenic

When it came time to leave the farm, I was pretty sure they were going to have to roll me back to Chiang Mai. But first, Anne gave each of us an adorably designed cookbook with recipes for each of the dishes we had made that day — such a sweet touch.

Asia Scenic

Asia Scenic

During the class I posted a photo of one of my dishes on Facebook, which immediately garnered a few comments asking how I handled the water boiling portion of the course. I answered that “boiling water went pretty well, I have a lot to learn with chopping though.” The amount of likes that comment received makes me think that people didn’t realize I was being totally sincere.

I left the farm excited — for one of the first times in my life — about cooking! I’m so looking forward to make big Thai dinners for my friends and family when I get home this summer. I might have to trick them into coming though — or at least assure them that I have a fire extinguisher at the ready.

Asia Scenic

Have you ever taken a cooking course on your travels? Did you use what you learned back home?

Asia Scenic in no way paid or perked me for this post. In fact, they had no knowledge of either my profession or my incriminating kitchen history.

46 Responses to “Let’s Start with Boiling Water: A Chiang Mai Cooking Class for the Domestically Challenged”

  1. Roy Cavanagh says:

    Congratulations on the spring rolls, Alex! Judging by the photos you’ve been hiding your light under a bushel (or a Vietnamese-style hat, at least). All of the dishes you prepared look great to me and I love the idea of the cookbook at the end. I keep saying I should do a cooking course in Chiang Mai so reading this might be the final kick up the backside I need to sign up for one. reading this has tempted me even more.
    Roy Cavanagh recently posted..A Unique Way to Recycle Beer Bottles on Ko Lanta

    • Alex says:

      Ha, thanks Roy! Yes, I’ve always been good at presentation…. but taste-wise, I should probably run through these recipes one more time before presenting them to the public!

  2. Jen says:

    Haha, that last picture of you in the rice hat is adorable! You should make that your profile picture across the board.

    I tend to think, unless you have a true passion, that cooking skills are born out of necessity. You are never going to be a good cook if you don’t have to cook, and since moving out of my parents’ house, I have found that my cooking skills have become better and better — along with my creativity in building dishes.

    Keep at it, and you’ll be fire extinguisher free in no time! These dishes look amazing.
    Jen recently posted..#scintilla13: More than a mentor

    • Alex says:

      That’s a good idea Jen, I might use it to replace that one in my About Me widget… which is years old! Also it’s true that I’ve never really been forced to cook… in college my metabolism was amazing and I survived on frozen food unless my boyfriend at the time was in town and cooked, and then traveling in Asia food is so cheap that I ALWAYS eat out. So yeah, a bit stunted in that department :)

  3. Kathryn says:

    And your friends and family stateside are excited, too!

  4. Nathan says:

    I took a cooking class in Bangkok– surprisingly in a little shop right off of Khoa San Rd. I was the only person that booked it that day so I had the instructor all to myself. It was fun and I’ve definitely used some of what I learned since I’ve been home.

    • Alex says:

      Awesome! Sometimes its fun to have one-on-one time with an instructor and you definitely learn more, though often I like social aspect of getting to know the other people in settings like this.

  5. Amy says:

    Hey!

    I really like your blog! I’ve been reading it of and on for a bit and I really like what you’re doing.

    I saw under your “gear” page that you have camera and backpacking equipment listed. What kind of computer (and/or) phone do you use to post blogs?

    Thanks,
    Amy

    • Alex says:

      Hey Amy, thanks! Currently I have a MacBook Pro that I shudder to admit will soon need replacing! It’s really the only computer I’d consider based on my needs for storage and video editing. Also as of Christmas I travel with an iPhone — previously I had a Blackberry. I miss typing on the Blackberry’s keyboard but that aside the iPhone has been so much fun to travel with!

  6. What a great idea! I don’t think I’ll find any here on Roatan, but I love taking cooking classes when I travel. Japan was awesome for it!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..Hey stranger. It’s been awhile.

    • Alex says:

      Yeah, can’t say Honduran cuisine is one I’d be lining up to learn to cook! Not that there is anything wrong with it, but I wouldn’t put it up there with Thai food ;)

  7. Olivia says:

    OOO excited you’ve acquired these new skills!!

  8. Gaelyn says:

    Always good to acquire new skills. I don’t really enjoy cooking much anymore but at least am capable. Never took a class, yet in Mexico tried to replicate certain dishes. I’d basically rather eat out.
    Gaelyn recently posted..Five reasons I do not travel on holidays

    • Alex says:

      Ha, Gaelyn, me too! That’s one of my favorite things about Southeast Asia… being able to afford every single meal out. But I did enjoy this behind the scenes peak at my favorite foods :)

  9. I love love love taking cooking class during our travels! I’ve taken 7 in Thailand and now have an obscene amount of Thai recipes! Hoping to take a bunch of cooking classes in Laos and Cambodia! I used to cook dinner every single night back home so I miss cooking while we travel but being able to take cooking class at least allows me to prepare my own meals once in a while!
    Vicky from acoupletravelers recently posted..Trekking From Kalaw To Lake Inle

  10. First of all these photos are gorgeous!!! Second of all I would have loved to have taken cooking classes when I was in Asia. Amazing! I took some in Italy and it didn’t go so well haha.
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Cayman Islands: Day 3

  11. This is such a gorgeous post, your spring rolls were perfecto my dear! Oh, and when I grow up I want to take photos like you… the images here are just so beautiful!
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted..Yucatan Road Trip: Merida, Uxmal and Beyond

  12. Cooking in costumes looks like fun!
    Emily in Chile recently posted..A taste of Boston history

    • Alex says:

      I am probably the biggest costume party fan in existence… when I had to pack up all my remaining belongings before going off traveling, obviously I was pretty concerned about space. So the friend who was helping me did a major face-palm when he found a full box of costumes. Whoops.

  13. Sam says:

    AHHHHHH I love the photos, and this post. I know somebody who went to the same cooking class! And got the same little book. So sweet! Such a clever one you are everything looks so delicious. I refuse to learn to make sticky rice, it’ll be a one way road to sweatpants from here on in for me when that day comes.
    Sam recently posted..Fast Food {Asparagus + Blue Cheese + Chilli + Filo Tart}

    • Alex says:

      Hahahah Sam, you kill me. I made a similar comment recently when someone was talking about about fashion blogging and I said that there’s a reason I’m not a fashion blogger — it starts with “swea” and ends with “pants”

  14. I could live of sticky rice and mango. Learned how to cook it in a cooking class in Phnom Penh and I have eaten it so many times since, but I am still not sick of it.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Everest Base Camp chronicles

  15. Erica says:

    I LOVE cooking. I used to only know Hamburger Helper and Mac and Cheese and when I quite my job so focus on the blog, I found myself at home with a bit more time.

    It does take some time and I’ve had my fair share of disasters but when you do get the hang of it, you can’t ever go back.
    Erica recently posted..Diving For Sunken Treasure – Gypsy Punk in Berlin

    • Alex says:

      Erica, you give me hope for the future :) Maybe one day I’ll list cooking as one of my hobbies! Right now I haven’t made it past baking…

  16. I took a Malay cooking class in South Africa with my mom and then never wound up replicating it at home, even though it was delicious!

    And I feel the exact same way about Asian soups in general (other than wonton)–not enough cream!
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..What I Read 2013: Part I

    • Alex says:

      MMmmmmmm now I’m thinking about creamy soup. Speaking of, if you ever make it to the Le Meridian in Chiang Rai, order the asparagus cream soup there. Almost died.

  17. Pete says:

    I love that it was from market to plate, and the cookbook is a great finishing touch. Very cool!
    Pete recently posted..In a Field of Concrete

  18. Jenna says:

    This looks like so much fun! I like how they started the tour in the market, and ended with giving you the cookbook. It would be fun to take a cooking class–Ilove to cook, but I am horrible at baking. Everything you made looks delicious! Nice job on the spring rolls :)
    Jenna recently posted..A Canal Ride Through Ghent

    • Alex says:

      Jenna I’m the opposite! I’ve always loved baking, I think because it’s very precise and mathematical. Cooking on the other hand requires a lot more input!

  19. Ayngelina says:

    So happy you did this, as you know I believe food = culture and being able to make a dish you love is a special thing.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Bistro Sinne – There for your senses

    • Alex says:

      Taking this class felt a lot like the Thai massage class I did…. getting to know the secrets behind some of my favorite things :)

  20. Kristen Noelle says:

    You look adorable in the Vietnamese rice hat! The cooking class sounds so much fun, and the photos look amazing as always. I am drooling over those perfect spring rolls right now.

    • Alex says:

      Yay, I made someone drool with my cooking! That’s got to be a first :) Good thing you didn’t actually taste them or you might have changed your mind… just kidding!

  21. Abby says:

    You had me at “domestically challenged.” Strangely, the only cooking class I ever took was Thai. Then I retired. ;-)
    Abby recently posted..My favorite birthday gift: conquering a fear

  22. Bron says:

    I just discovered your site and am loving your adventures so much! We also did the course with Asiascenic and it was brilliant. I am currently in Siem Reap with my family of three kids xx

    • Alex says:

      Thank you so much Bron! Asia Scenic was indeed amazing, and kudos to you for traveling with kidlets, I’m always impressed by families that do so! Enjoy Siem Reap, it’s a really special place!

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