When Kate and Kris did a cooking class at Galangal Cooking Studio, Chiang Mai
Cooking courses are all the rage in Chiang Mai. Along with spending time with elephants, trekking and exploring temples, most visitors chose to learn how to cook their favourite Pad Thai or Tom Yung Gung, dreaming of impressing friends back home.
We were in Chiang Mai for a few days with my parents, on a trip around Thailand. We were showing them some of our favourite places like Kanchanaburi, as well as checking out the national park at Khao Sok and the beach at Khao Lak. A Chiang Mai cooking course seemed like a fun and delicious way to spend an afternoon.
Galangal Thai cooking school, Chiang Mai
We were quite last minute at booking the cooking course, deciding the day before we wanted to do it. The range of courses available in Chiang Mai is quite overwhelming, but with a bit of thought and investigation we got it down to a choice of four. Galangal Cooking Studio were the first to get back to us via Facebook, so we went with them.
As it turned out Galangal Cooking Studio was a great choice. Organised, knowledgeable and friendly, with the ability to teach us to cook great food. One of the reasons that they got put on the shortlist was the variety of dishes on offer. Kris and I have done a cooking course before, so we wanted to learn some different dishes. You may boo and hiss at us for saying this, but we don’t really like Pad Thai much, or chicken with cashew nuts. As these seem to be the most popular dishes for visitors to Thailand, a lot of courses had these on their menus. We wanted to learn more about our favourite foods – laab (spicy pork mince salad from North-East Thailand), various noodle dishes like Pad Siew (flat rice noodles with kale) and Khao Soi (North-east chicken curry with noodles).
We chose to do a half day course in the evening, from about 4pm until 9pm. This meant we could do some more exploring of Chiang Mai during the day, and then cook and eat our own dinner.
Our instructor, An, picked us up in a songthaew (also known as ‘red buses’ in Chiang Mai – basically open sided trucks with two benches opposite each other. ‘songthaew’ means ‘two seats’ in Thai apparently). It was just the four of us, and two Chinese girls from Shanghai who had their own Chinese-speaking instructor.
On our journey to the school, An gave us the list of foods we could cook. We could choose one dish from each category each: stir fry, appetiser, curry paste, and curry. Since there were four options in each category, we decided we’d cook one each. That way we would see and taste every dish on the menu. Perhaps what we didn’t consider was the sheer amount of food that we were going to produce. Eyes bigger than our bellies? Probably.
To market, to market to buy……some coconut milk.
Our first stop was a local market where An gave Kris a very fetching basket to carry and took us to buy some ingredients. She showed us some of the staple Thai vegetables and herbs and spices. We smelt and tasted the three different varieties of basil, compared aubergine sizes from various countries and learned about the wide variety of noodles. Glass noodles are made of mung beans. Who knew?
The market traders were very patient as we prodded and poked their wares, ending up only buying several large cartons of coconut milk and a bag of eggs.
Stir-fry – there had to be some Pad Thai
Our first course was the stir fry. We each had our own chopping board station with the ingredients ready, and our own wok. An patiently explained how to prepare and chop the vegetables, and then how to mix the sauces to create the specific tastes. After a while living in Thailand, as well as eating Thai food around the world, we found it fascinating to see how the base of soy and fish sauce stay the same, but the introduction of tamarind creates the typical Pad Thai flavour, while holy basil (the one that has a distinct aniseed taste) makes Pad Krapow.
Dishes made, we sat down at the table to taste. At this point we were hungry and cleared our plates. I was pleased to know how to do Pad Siew (although with our electric hob, it’s hard) while Dad’s favourite was the chicken with cashew nuts (typical tourist!).
Appetiser – where Kris blows our heads off with chilli
Second, oddly, was the appetizer. We made a selection of Thai salads – laap moo (Thai spicy pork salad), glass noodle salad and som tam (papaya salad) while Mum chose the spring rolls. Very carefully, An showed her how to distribute the mixture into the dough wrapper and roll it up. She wasn’t that impressed with her first couple of attempts, but soon got her rhythm going.
All through the class, An let us choose how much chilli to put into the food. Thai food, as you know, can be really spicy, but it doesn’t have to be. The flavours come from other ingredients. Some Thais we know don’t like spicy food at all. Kris does. A lot. He puts chillis in his sandwiches. I think he’d put it in his porridge if he could.
His papaya salad was properly spicy. Like it made your eyes water and your mouth gasp for water. It was reminiscent of those had at the elephant camp we worked with. Tears streaming down our cheeks, we left him to eat the lot. I love som tam, and I’m not bad with spicy food, but Kris’ food is for a special kind of palate.
Although we’d already eaten four dishes between us, we managed to do quite well polishing off the appetizers. However, we were now eight dishes in and were starting to feel full……
and there was still another course to go.
Curry – bashing the hell out of the paste and feeling like the Vicar of Dibley on Christmas Day.
Next was making curry pastes. Curries in Thailand are more like spicy soups. The base is a thick paste made from garlic, shallots, lemongrass, spices and other ingredients, depending on the type, all bashed up in a pestle and mortar. There we were, bashing and grinding our pastes, with An looking on, encouraging us to be more and more violent with the bashing. You don’t want to get any of this stuff in your eyes, or you’ll cry even more than if you ate Kris’ papaya salad, but we had to give it more and more welly.
I wonder if that’s why Thais are generally quite happy. They bash their stress out on their curry paste. People must have some amazing biceps. It’s really hard work. I think we’ll just buy it in future.
After an age of bashing and grinding, An decided our curry pastes were done and it was time to cook the curries.
Even after all the energy from making the curries, we were still pretty full by this point. We made our Penang, Massaman, and green curries as well as our Khao Soi, and they looked and smelled devine.
Problem was, we were rather full. We tasted each dish, and tried to eat them, but….
Ever seen that episode of Vicar of Dibley where she ends up going to each different member of the church committee’s house for Christmas lunch, all on the same day? We felt like that.
Rolling home after too much food
An from Galangal Cooking Studio offered to put the remaining curries in boxes to take home and eat the next day, but we were flying to Surat Thani for our jungle trek in Khao Sok national park, and we weren’t sure how they would travel. If the curry leaked all over our clothes, would we scare away the wildlife? Or attract it? I’m not sure which is better.
We had to admit defeat and leave the remainder for the staff. I hope they were suitably impressed by our ability to cook Thai food…..
It can’t be a bad thing to have too much Thai food though, can it? And this food was great, even if we do say so ourselves. Whether we can replicate it at home remains to be seen, but Galangal Cooking Studio gave us a recipe book so we could try.
All through our cooking course at Galangal Cooking Studio, people were working away behind the scenes, putting out equipment and ingredients and then clearing them away and washing up. It was a well-run operation, and meant that instead of doing the boring prep. and cleaning, we could relax, enjoy our food and chat to An and Aoy, the owner.
We’d highly recommend this course as a fun and yummy afternoon. You can contact Galangal Cooking Studio through their Facebook, where there are lots of other happy reviews too.
If we’ve not convinced you to take a course with Galangal, check out our blog How to choose a Chiang Mai Cooking class for a comparison of the popular courses
What’s your favourite Thai dish? What would you want to learn to cook?
All these photos are mine. I really need to get better at taking photos of food, though. Any tips?
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