Last week we got ambitious and decided to sign ourselves up for a cooking class.
If you've ever been to Chiang Mai, you probably have a decent sense of how many cooking courses there are around here - I'm guessing hundreds. We hunted around, read countless reviews and finally decided to book ourselves in for a full day at Siam Rice Cookery School.
They day started off at a morning market north of town where we all met to explore, buy the day's produce and get a quick introduction to some of the more unusual Thai ingredients we were going to be working with.
Yum. After thirty or so minutes at the market, we were picked up in the school's song tao (basically a pick-up truck with two rows of seats in the back) and on our way to Nancy's family home just outside the city where the class would be taking place.
There are several more famous cooking courses in Chiang Mai, often boasting Thai celebrity chefs and countless newspaper reviews, but we were looking for something a little more homey. Siam Rice completely fit the bill - taught in a courtyard outside the owner's home, all the staff are family and with only ten people in our class it felt very relaxed, while still incredibly well organized.
The first task of the day was choosing our menu. Not easy.
Even though we would each be cooking six dishes (yes, six!) the options were limitless. I couldn't believe the staff would possibly be able to instruct and supervise all of us making quite different meals, yet somehow everything ran very smoothly.
In the end, I decided to cook spicy chicken soup with basil, fried big noodles, papaya salad, stir fry holy basil with chicken, massaman curry, and sticky rice with mango (obviously) while Jesse went with creamy chicken soup, pad thai, papaya salad, stir fry chicken with cashews, red curry with pineapple and sticky rice with young coconut. And off to our woks we went!
The class was structured so that we cooked two courses at a time, sat down to eat them, cooked another two, ate, and then took a short break before whipping up our final two, eating, and then heading home for a very long nap.
First up, soup. It was here that I quickly realized that although we were all making different dishes, they often shared the majority of ingredients in common. While Jesse's creamy soup looked and tasted almost nothing like my spicy broth, in reality the only difference was coconut milk and a few vegetables and spices.
What was really most amazing about the class was how completely delicious everything turned out. With zero exception, every dish was fantastic and we had a wonderful time dicing, chopping, pounding, frying, munching, joking around with Nancy (who was quite the personality, often imploring us to swivel our hips as we we stirred) and chatting with our fellow students, all of whom were also in their twenties or thirties and able to give us some fantastic tips for a few of our upcoming destinations.
After finishing off our first soup, which took all of thirty minutes, we were on to chopping up vegetables for our noodle dishes.
This is where I made a very embarrassing cooking error - cracking my egg all over my hands and the floor rather than into my wok. Not very Top Chef of me, but luckily Nancy was not phased, pulling another egg out of her apron and silently handing it my way.
It went better the second time - I'm blaming sweaty hands and an overly soft egg.
Soup and noodles done, it was time to each lunch #1. All delicious.
Jesse's soup was particularly tasty - sweet, creamy and spicy all at once - but my favorite was my big noodle dish. Piping hot and chock full of veggies, I could have eaten far more than my small portion, but we still had four courses to go! Self control is important here.
And back to the woks we went.
We pretty quickly whipped up our papaya salads and then this is where it got exciting - we got to make fire, and lots of it.
Needless to say, our stir fries were plenty hot.
After lunch #2, we had a short break in which Nancy taught us how to make flowers out of carrots. Mine did not turn out well enough to earn a place on the blog while Jesse's, on the other hand, was quite elegant.
And then back to the kitchen for the last two courses of the day! By this point it was around 2p and our stomachs were feeling pretty done for the day, but the thought of sweet sticky rice kept us going.
Sticky rice into the pan, soon to be combined with a gluttonous mix of palm sugar, white sugar and thick coconut cream, cooked and reduced for twenty or so minutes, then combined with mango for one of my very favorite desserts ever.
Not sure if I can continue to eat this everyday after seeing everything that goes into it (ignorance is bliss...) but that doesn't mean I didn't fully enjoy my entire heaping portion even after three lunches.
All in all, a fantastic course and we all left with our own darling cookbooks and diplomas. Nancy very sweetly made no mention of the egg fiasco and Jesse and I are both now very proud Siam Rice Cookery School graduates.
After six meals in several hours, I did have to take a good 24 hour break from Thai food. Thankfully it was Friday night, and jazz and wine for dinner with a few cooking school friends worked out just fine.