Many people question us about the business. ‘Are you able to run this business because of your boyfriend?’ 🙂 The answer is not. We want to show everyone-one in the world that Thai women can run a business without a rich boyfriend’.
“So that’s…six foreigners”, Indy gregariously noted with an eyeroll, immediately earning a chuckle from the group while introducing us to our Chiang Mai cooking class. Almost all of us had just chosen Pad Thai as our stir fried option that we would be cooking later in the day. I justified my unoriginal pick by convincing my new dreadheaded friend that I wanted to master it so I could recreate it when I came back home. Sure.
Guys, I have to admit how impressed I’ve been with my guides. Being funny in another language is really hard and they all somehow pull it off so gracefully. Anyways, back to the story.
We arrived at the Asia Scenic cooking school, ready for an entire day of crafting – and devouring – local dishes. I had already taken one cooking class and one food tour and was ready to let the lessons settle permanently in mind. I chose two repeating dishes popular back home so that I could come home and wow my friends and family with my authentic Thai cooking skills.
After choosing five out of our seven – yes, seven – dishes that we would prepare at the farm, we hopped in the van for our second stop of the day, a local market. Indy led us around, pointing out the names of different vegetables and dry goods, spending ample time explaining the differences in noodles. When we were let loose to explore independently, the non-vegetarians found our way to the meat section, intrigued by spinning pink materials hanging from the ceiling. Turns out, it wasn’t flying pork, but rather flapping towels to keep the flies away. Just another brilliant invention by which I’m constantly impressed.
After photographing full pig heads and almost losing my appetite from watching live frogs lose their skin to talented fingers, we gathered once more at the exit for a demonstration on differentiating rice. Turns out brown rice is more expensive here too, because of it’s health properties. The land of contradictions.
We arrived at the farm with stomachs aching in hunger. The small snacks we snatched from the market were only tantalizing our appetites. As we walked along the gravel footpath in our kitschy Vietnamese rice hats, winding in and out of the organic herb garden, I chose to smell rather than taste each flavor. At my previous cooking class, I suffered from a somewhat embarrassing coughing attack after taking huge bite out of garlic’s cousin, galangal. This time, I decided the odors would reveal enough properties for the lesson.
Armed with ingredient knowledge, we finally gathered around the long wooden table for Meang Kum, or the welcome snack. Indy provided detailed instructions on how to create our hand-rolled pockets, overwhelmed with contrasting flavors. The Asia Scenic cookbook explains it best:
How to eat; Fold the betel leaf as a cup. Put all the ingredients in the betel leaf cup. Top with the sweet syrup. Eat the whole betel leaf cup in one bite chew it slowly. You will touch all flavors at one time.
Lime with skin. Chillies. Coconut. Peanut. Ginger. Shallot. Chillies. Sweet Syrup. The group gathered a pinch of each, placed them carefully in our betel leave cups, and then, with a cheers, experienced the flavor combinations all at once.
I definitely consider myself skilled in the kitchen. I’m no master chef here, but I can cook. However, trying to take notes, take elegant photographs, laugh at Indy’s jokes, and not screw up my meal was actually pretty tough. Rough life, these Chiang Mai cooking classes, I know.
Between chopping veggies with massive butchers’ knives on tree trunk cutting boards and getting down on our hands and knees to put all our strength into the mortar and pestle (by which the loudness indicates a woman’s readiness to wed), some serious bonding time began. I don’t know if it was the top 40’s impromptu singalong or the laughing attacks that had us completely stopping class to separate ourselves, but this group really got along.
I so appreciated that round of deep, belly laughs.
Three dishes in and I was definitely feeling full and seriously questioning how I was going to continue eating. Thankfully, Indy noted that it was
digestion nap time. I found my way back into the herb garden and picked a hammock that was made out of clothing tags. Though a bit uncomfortable at first, I fell asleep fast, hoping someone would wake me for round two.
After a professional power nap, I rejoined the group to finish out the day. I was most excited about learning to make a truly local Chiang Mai dish: Khao Soi. This egg noodle based dish BLEW. MY. MIND. Made with both soft and fried crunchy egg noodles with a creamy red curry coconut sauce, my taste buds were ready to keel over and die. Needless to say, I have had many a second – or third- meal in a row since just because I’ve happened upon a Khao Soi stand.
Pumped full of spicy, I rounded out my overeating with a mango sticky rice. Shocked at how much I had been able to consume earlier, I finally hit a limit and offered up the rest of the classic Thai dessert. Success.
Thailand’s tourism industry is different than anything I have ever seen. It’s packaged and marketed to the masses. So many activities are incredibly generic and reproduced so often, that there’s barely anything truly Thai left in them. I haven’t taken any other cooking classes in Chiang Mai, but I can wholeheartedly say that the owner, Gayray, believes in what she’s producing and truly wants to share her culture with visitors. She’s a traveler herself, and you can feel her passion through her people, her property and her recipes. I can’t wait to recreate some of her cooking love back home!
About Asia Scenic
You can book a half (morning or evening) at the school in town or a full day at the farm. I highly recommend the full day at the farm. A full day at the farm is from 9:00-4:30p and costs 1,200 baht.
Thank you to Asia Scenic and Gayray for hosting me and to Indy for her witty jokes! Regardless of who is paying, you will always receive my honest opinions.
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