Chiang Mai is a city for excursions and the only one I had booked was Thai Farm Cooking School. A full day course for 1100Bht on a farm outside of the city, trip to a local market and learning to make 5 different dishes plus we were even given time for a wee nap in between. My previous cooking class in Siem Riep was good but this one blew it out of the water.
I got picked up at my guest house, Awana House, by my teacher for the day Benny. An amazingly enthusiastic Thai lady. People think I am happy, I look clinically depressed next to the women who worked with us that day. There were 8 of us in total in our group from all different countries, Chinese, American, South African, German and me. Bundled into the back of a pick up truck, our first stop taken was the local market where we were explained about local ingredients and given time to wander around. Benny introduced us to fresh coconut ice cream. A good starter and they even put salted peanuts on top!
From there it was off to the farm. The other two groups shared a chalet but we were lucky and had our own deck and cooking area. Benny fitted us out with bright red aprons and straw sombrero’s, as you do while in Thailand, for the tour of the vegetable patch. Basil, tomatoes, coriander, turmeric, chillies of various sizes, pineapples ( I had never seen them grown before. It’s odd that they don’t come from a tree), bananas, beans – everything we would be using in our cooking would be coming from the organic farm. Everything was pointed out with a shout of exclamation as if that was the first pineapple or chilli Benny had ever seen.
Given our own work stations and all standing in bare feet so as to better feel the cold tiles on your feet, we began by making chilli paste. I was making yellow curry. Using a mortar really is hard work especially in the heat but satisfying when you see the paste all come together. We were asked for most of our dishes if we wanted Tourist Hot or Thai Hot. I went for tourist. One of the girls went for Thai for her curry and wow,it was spicy. I am the first one to admit I am a wimp with spice.. The first course was a soup. I made Thom Yum Soup with shrimp. There wasn’t a lot to it but it was maybe my favourite dish of the day. We all sat outside finishing our soups questioning how we were ever going to manage another four courses,
Curry followed by stir fry, I made chicken and cashew stir fry. Both dishes, not patting myself on the back too much, were delicious but by the end of them we all wanted to curl up in the corner and sleep/ explode or both. Our wishes were granted and we had twenty minutes to lie on the benches in the shade and study the inside of our eyelids.
For the last hour we prepared our desserts, mine was sticky rice and mango. My absolute favourite Thai dish. The sauce was surprisingly straightforward – coconut cream boiled with, well at home you would have to use a vanilla pod I suppose and then palm sugar added to it. It thickens as it cools. I could have just drank it straight without waiting for the mango and rice. Then the Phad Thai which I took home as left overs. I wanted the tiny bit of space left in my stomach for dessert.
Somehow I managed to fit it in but I am sure that the the truck was closer to the ground on the way back into the city after our day of indulgence. It was a brilliant day and I walked away actually feeling like I learnt loads and knew substitutes for things that maybe hard to find at home. Although I am under no illusion that any replication I make from my day at the farm will quite match how good it tasted the first time with home grown ingredients, sunshine and sitting on a balcony in the midst of the Thai countryside.